Lino printmaking has its roots in a cheap floor covering created in the 1800s. Previously wooden or metal blocks were used but they were expensive to buy and very time-consuming to make. Not only was lino cheaper to produce but it was an easier surface to carve, especially when warmed.
Apparently, the word “linoleum” comes from combining the Latin word for flax “linum” with the Latin word for oil, “oleum” and was coined by Frederick Walton, the English manufacturer and inventor who invented Linoleum in 1863.
Having started out as a cheap alternative in printmaking used in schools and colleges, in the 1900s Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso started using it in their work, giving it more credibility as a product for use by the wider artists community.
When cutting into the lino, a variety of sharp tools, V-shaped, U-shaped, chisels or gouges are used to remove the top surface. As with other print making methods, the piece of lino used to print from is called a ‘plate’. This is the same for collagraphs, mono-prints, dry-point, copper and aluminium.
The lino plate is then inked up using a roller to cover the surface but without allowing it to sink into the cut groves.
Paper is then placed over the plate and using the back of your hand, a wooden spoon, a baren or a printing press, the image on the plate is transferred to the paper. Remember that the finished print will be a mirror image of the design you have cut into the lino.
The way I teach my students to work with this product is as follows.
First, decide on the image you want to create. You can take inspiration from books and magazines if you are struggling to come up with an idea.
Decide how big you want your print to be and have a piece of paper the same size as the printing plate on which to create your design. I suggest that at this stage you only need to think about filling the plate and not anything beyond the plate. We will come to that.
Having settled on your design, you then need to use tracing paper to trace your design ready to transfer it to the lino plate.
I use yellow wax trace-down paper as it is the easiest method that I have discovered, but you can achieve the same results using carbon paper or by pressing through the pencil marks. If using these methods it is worth coating your plate with a thin coat of white paint and once dry making the transfer in this way so that it is easier to see the lines. See images above.
The image you transfer onto the plate will print out as a mirror image so remember to flip the tracing paper over before transferring the image. This is particularly important if you are going to use text in your work.
Having transferred the image you need to decide which area you want to cut and which you want to keep.
Do you want to have fine lines of black showing, making the print light or do you want to have a darker finish with the line you cut showing the image? Before making such decisions it is probably a good idea to look at other lino works and see what you enjoy looking at most.
When I cut the lino I use bench hooks. A bench hook is a piece of board with a piece of attached wood that ‘hooks’ over the edge of the table, keeping the board from moving and one or two other pieces of wood that stop the lino from moving on the board when cutting. It is a safe way to work, allowing you to keep both hands on the cutting tool and ensuring that neither the lino nor the board move. Your hand should NEVER be opposite the cutting tool.
It is essential that you follow these safety rules as apart from injuring yourself, I know that the fear of cutting or gouging your hand with a tool has put people off using this great printing technique, which is a real shame.
You also need to be careful when cutting the lino as once cut it can’t be repaired. Take the cutting slowly, enjoy the sensation of removing the lino as part of the process and don’t be tempted to rush to the next stage.
If you are not sure that you have cut enough, get another sheet of tracing paper or other thin paper and, using a soft pencil, take a kind of rubbing of your plate. It will help you to see if you have done enough.
Once you are happy you can do some test printing. If you think you need to remove more lino from the plate, you simply clean off the plate and cut more.
Having printed this first piece I realised that I wanted the face to stand out more so cleaned the plate and removed more lino.
When you are ready to start the print run, decide how many you want to make and get your sheets of paper ready. You need to think about what size your paper will be in relation to your printed image. It is always good to have a decent border around the print and this also allows for space to sign the print, which I will come to later.
If you have a small piece of glass to use for rolling out the ink, that works best. However, I sometimes teach in a secondary school so for safety reasons when there, I use plastic pallets which I buy from Seawhite (they can be bought in other art outlets or online).
Squeeze out the printing ink onto the glass and, using just a small amount on the roller to begin with, start to spread it onto the glass. Roll the ink back and forth and from side to side to get an even coverage across the glass. If you need more ink just add a little at a time. Don’t roll loads of ink onto the glass as too much ink on your roller will transfer into the groves you have cut on your lino and your print will not work properly.
There is a lovely sound that the ink and roller make when you have the correct amount of ink rolled out. Listening out for this squelchy sound will help you decide when the ink is ready to transfer to your lino plate.
Cover the plate with the ink on your roller, making sure that all the plate has ink on it. Carefully place the paper over the plate and gently push down with your hand to make sure the paper is sticking and won’t move.
Then, depending on the method of transfer you have chosen – hand, wooden spoon, baren or press – apply pressure to the paper to transfer the image.
I suggest that before you remove the paper, lift up one edge and check that the ink has transferred properly. If not, you can gently release the paper and rub some more. Check both sides before removing the paper as with this simple one colour method we have not considered registration. That becomes important when doing reduction lino printing, which I will cover in a later blog.
The series of prints I produced to illustrate this blog are of one of our fish, a rather beautiful Sarasa Comet. As you can see from the photos below, I took some time working out how I wanted the final image to look. I knew that I wanted to include gold and toyed with a large circle or the line that I finished up using.
Placement of the fish on the paper was also a consideration. I wanted to ensure that it looked balanced on the page.
The point is, even though I knew what I was aiming for, it was only through experimenting with the lino image that I was able to come up with my final run of prints.
For this particular run of prints I used water-based printing ink. This means that any attempt to add hand-painted colour would not work. If you want to add colour to an image once printed and dry you can either use oil-based printing inks with watercolour or coloured pencils with both water-based and oil-based inks.
Experiment until you find a design you are happy with and a finish which works for you, too.
These prints have been framed and will be on display for the next two weeks at Denbies Vineyard, Dorking.