MY LINOCUT PROCESS

Drawing

Drawing is incredibly important to me and although it is possible to just go ahead and cut into a lino, I find good preparation is better. A strong drawing will show the format, the variety of line and marks, how the black & white or the colour will vary from form to form, from negative into positive. I spend a considerable amount of time trying to get this right.


The Block

I always mount my lino. It needn't be anything fancy as long as it doesn't move when being cleaned. I use 2mm mdf picture backing board and strong double sided carpet tape. Even so when cleaning my block (after using water-washable inks) I never submerge the block in water. All that is needed is a damp cloth, with maybe a touch of washing liquid. The block need go nowhere near water.

After mounting I always smooth the lino surface with 'fine' wet & dry, used wet with a rubbing block, gently rub until a creamy residue is created. Be gentle, you are not sanding down a block of wood. This helps the ink to pass from the roller to the block, and the block to the paper as solidly as possible.

Even if it's a single colour linocut I set it up as if it is a reduction or multiblock. This then gives me a little flexibility if I do want to add more blocks later.

I always try to square the lino up by cutting in to the size, rather than trimming the lino to actual size. Cutting square can lead to a build up of ink along the edges (a). This becomes even more obvious when the edge is cut at an oblique angle (b) which can be almost unavoidable when cutting lines with a scalpel or knife. When using a knife for this try to cut so the angle is correct (c), this way ink is less likely to build up and if it does then easier to clean away. It's easier to do this using a U gouge.

Linocut edges

When you have lines that go to the edge they often break unevenly, so it is a good idea to leave a margin around the design. This way you can cut the line through the margin, then trim the margin away at the end (as above).


Transferring the image

There are many ways to transfer an image onto a block. The simplest method is to draw directly onto the block with a soft pencil (pencil won't wash off the surface immediately). Of course doing the drawing this way means you have to be able to visualise the work printed as mirror image.

I never use a marker, even brands that are permanent, unless the work is to be printed in black only. There is a strong chance that the marker ink will transfer to the paper, which is especially annoying if you are printing pale tints.

You could use carbon paper, again remembering that the image needs to be reversed. Using carbon paper the image does remain on the block for a few washes.

When the drawing is complex, especially using lettering, I use a PC and tracing paper. I scan in the drawing then adjust the contrast, to make the line work as black as possible. I then print the scan (at the correct size) onto tracing paper. Any quality tracing paper should work fine. There is no need to reverse the drawing, simply print, then turn the print over onto the lino. With a burin (I use a silversmith's polishing tool) scratch/rub the image onto the lino, as you would dry transfer lettering. This doesn't have to be done straight away as the tracing paper print will be usable for quite a while. The tracing paper image can also be used more than once.

Whichever way I transfer my drawing I always register it to the block, as if registering a print. This means I can repeat the process later if needed.


Cutting

Always, always begin by cutting only what you are absolutely sure will be white. If I am making a reduction linocut that will only use one block the knowledge of what needs to be white is crucial as this is the first thing to be cut. In a multiblock what may appear to be white may actually be a coloured area on a subsequent block, so keep your wits about you. The mantra I keep to and try to pass on is, proof, proof, then proof again. If in doubt about the next cut, then proof. If you're not sure the 2nd block should be cut - proof.

Even a single colour job should be proofed consistently as you go through the cutting process. There are many times when you will not know the next cut - so don't, proof and check the print. In colour work, when possible, try to create progressive proofs. These will help show how colours relate to each other, where cuts need to be made and gaps that need attention. The progressive print will also show errors in the outline registration - how squarely the blocks come together.


Multiblock

The first block I create is a key block. This block generally contains ''all” the information required for all the other blocks. Although the key block may in the end not be needed at all and only ever be a template for other blocks. The key block should contain the ''areas” other colours will create on overprinting, it should show textures and the lines that separate one colour from another. I create this key block as if it is a finished work in itself by proofing and checking. When finalised the block is used to transfer its information to all the other blocks.


Notes on: Cutting the block

  • It is easier to cut a white line than to create a black line, try to make the drawing work for you.
  • The easiest way to cut a circle is with a drill. The easiest way to cut a straight line is with a ruler, but not a metal rule which will harm the tip of your gouge.
  • Try to avoid ''thin” cut lines as they tend to bleed ink. Try to overprint instead.
  • Before you cut any mark, check and double check. Do you need to cut it?
  • Always cut away from yourself and don't cut too deep, most of the time there is no need, but not too shallow either.
  • You don't need lots of tools, a gouge cuts all the way along its edge. So a big V tool can cut a large mark or a very small mark.
  • Take care when cutting any block. Start timidly, cutting away small amounts. A lot of time and effort can be lost by cutting too much and revealing unnecessary parts of the paper.
  • When producing curves move the block, as well as the tool, this makes the cut smoother.
  • If there is a large area (or even a small area) that needs to be cut out use a marking knife or a V tool to cut the edge of the shape first, then use a U tool cut from the centre or one side to the other edge. Cutting out the edge first can avoid the tool running over/slipping into another part of the image. But always make sure you cut the right part - there is no going back!
  • Small lines can end either in a stroke or be squared off. The stroke end is achieved by drawing the tool up and away from the lino. To get the square end do not lift the tool but keep in its cut, then flick the tool up. This should create a square end.

Notes on: Inking the block

  • Maintaining a consistent colour over a large area is tricky the easiest way around this, if possible, is to try to avoid large expanses of colour in your drawing. Transferring ink to a roller and then the block is an art in itself. It shouldn't be too thin or too thick. The ink should resemble moleskin, rather than orange peel. If it is too thick it will 'fill-in' fine lines.
  • Most lino is not flat, it can have shallow undulations, which makes consistent inking difficult. This is why I use soft rollers as they fill the undulation without having to use too much pressure which would 'fill in” small cuts.
  • After inking, but before printing, always make sure the block is clean to avoid stray inked areas that look messy and can affect the overall work.

Notes on: Printing

  • Keep your hands clean.
  • Always use a trusted registration method, my own variant using pin registration. It is very simple to set up and easy to use.
  • Printing wet-in-wet will create different effects and will blend colours more effectively.
  • You can merge two colours using a brush rather than a roller.
  • When using a limited number of colour blocks you can create more colours by overprinting, but remember you can also ink up separate areas of the block in two colours, or print separate areas of the same block twice.
  • When possible overprint to create a 3rd colour rather than print a 3rd block. Of course this can create problems when some colours overprint others in ways you might not like or want. A blue sky and an orange/yellow sun will create a green. This needs to be sorted in the drawing before cutting.
  • Bear in mind the way colours react when overprinted.
  • Different red and blues create different purples
  • A red printed over blue, and the same blue over red, will create different purples. Overprinting colours can often run contrary to the norm, ie. starting with light working toward dark. Very often it's the case that you will need to print the darker, less transparent colour first, then overprint with lighter transparent colours.
  • You don't need a press (although it will allow for more accurate registration and faster printing) a baren, a wooden spoon or your hand can all do the job.

General Tips

  • Have a brush to hand to clean off any bits of cut lino off the block before inking.
  • Always keep the inking area separate to the cutting area.
  • Have a roll of newsprint to hand for dabbing away heavy ink and for making 'thinned' inks more transparent.
  • When I use thin papers or large sheets I protect the registration corner by using self-adhesive photo corners, this helps keep that corner square.
  • When cutting always protect the image and cut away from it when possible.
  • If and when possible cut in the direction of the image ie. sea, sky - cut horizontal; trees, cliffs, grass - cut vertical. This way any striation patterns, if inked, will not be at odds with the image.

Materials

Lino & Paper

I buy my lino from TN Lawrence, their battleship grey lino is of a good quality, 3.2mm thick and easy to cut. Of course there are a number of other places you can buy your lino in the UK.

You can use any paper to print on, but generally speaking one that has a smooth surface will work the best. I use Japanese papers for editioning; HoSho, Kozo or Masa which are generally around 60 to 90gsm. I used to make proofs on Sumi-e (Simili) paper which is generally of a good quality, acid free and was cheap. I now tend to proof on the stock I edition.

Tools & Rollers

Always buy the best gouges you can afford, but you really only need a couple of U tools (fine and large sized) and V tools fine and mid sized). Trying to keep tools sharp is not an easy task but once they are sharp, keep them that way by regularly using honing compound and leather strop.

The best rollers (in America they are called brayers) are the most expensive, which would make the best the durathene rollers. Be careful with these types though as the durathene material is always in a semi-liquid state, so cleaning them well can be a tricky task. The next best are soft rubber rollers (the softness is based on their 'shore' grading), which is what I tend to use most of the time. Many rollers come with their own rockers but if yours don't make sure the roller is hung vertically. You should never leave a roller resting on a flat surface it can permanently damage the rollers surface.

Registration

I use a simple peg system on my platen which rolls between the press. As mentioned earlier I always stick my lino (double sided tape) onto thin mdf. Each of these boards has holes cut to match the pegs on the platen. That way my blocks always match up.

This method will work just as well if you have no press and are using a baren. It needn't be mdf, it could be mount board - as long as the linocut and the paper are in the same place throughout the process - that's all that matters.

Until recently I used a simple tick/corner registration for aligning my paper to the block, but now use the Ternes-Burton system which while tedious to implement does help to create tighter registration.

Inks

You can use oil-based inks, but I use water-washable as it makes cleaning down the rollers and blocks simpler and less smelly. As usual the best inks are the most expensive. Some inks can be very runny and do not transfer well to the roller, while others are too stiff and need a lot of work to make-ready for printing. A good ink should be fairly tacky so that they cover evenly. I buy my inks from the Graphical Chemical & Ink Co, T N Lawrence and Intaglio Printmakers.


Some useful websites

Link to other info Click to go to information about Eric and links to some of the best printmakers around. 4 A full listing of the exhibitions, books, editorials and publications Eric has been listed in and a few public collections his work is part of. Click to see the listing. new Click to go to this latest linocut. canal linocuts book "... this book offers a charmingly different view of our waterways in the 21st century"
Waterways World 2009
8 We have made three "canal" sketchbook videos, this is Vol 1 it contains all the drawings made around our canals from 2006 to 2010. Click here to go to "Volume 1" on youtube. 9 Number two sketchbook video that contains the drawings made around our canals from 2011 to 2013. Click here to go to "Volume 2" on youtube. 10 This is the third sketchbook video. It contains all the drawings made around our canals from 2014 to 2016. Click here to go to "Volume 3" on youtube. 11 We love Cornwall, who doesn't and Eric has spent many summers there. These youtube volumes are full of drawings in many media. This volume is mostly drawn from Fowey, Polruan and Polperro, but there are other places as well. Click here to go to "Volume 1" on youtube 12 This second youtube volume of Eric's Cornwall Drawings are full of drawings from around Cawsand and Porthleven, but there are other places too. Click here to go to "Volume 2" on youtube