Relief Printmaking – Linocut

Introduction

Linocut is the first technique covered in the course that uses a variety of tools (knives, gouges and V-tools) to cut into the printing plate (block). The block is traditionally linoleum but there are other types such as the softer carving material trademarked “Softcut”.

Linoleum, generally referred to as ‘lino’ is a composite sheet material made from a mixture of powdered cork and linseed oil that has a hessian or burlap backing. The lino that printmakers use is specially prepared for the purposes of relief printing and usually comes in thicknesses such as 3mm or 5mm and is either brown or grey in colour.

  • Tools and Materials
  • Linoleum blocks, available in a range of sizes (e.g. 30cm x 20cm and 3mm thick) or as a larger roll (e.g. 2m length of 90cm wide and 3mm thick)
  • Selection of lino cutting tools (v-tool, gouge etc)
  • Stanley knife / craft knife
  • Relief printing ink (either water-based or ink-based)
  • Palette knife
  • Roller
  • Glass slab / printing surface for rolling out ink
  • Printing paper (smooth surface)
  • Cartridge paper
  • Roller, baren or wooden spoon for burnishing
  • Pencil

Process

The general principle is that any lino material removed by the cutting tools will not print. This makes it a negative mark-making process. Once the mark making has been completed, ink is applied all over the plate with the roller. The inked-up plate is positioned centrally on a sheet of backing paper and the printing paper gently lowered over the top of the plate, lining it up with the backing sheet.

Having carefully pressed the printing paper onto the plate using your hand, firmly hold the paper so it does not slip and burnish the back of the printing paper using one of the burnishing tools. Check to make sure the ink has been properly applied by peeling back one corner to see. When the print is complete, gently peel the paper back to clear the plate.

You can then re-ink the plate and repeat the process on as many printing sheets as you have chosen to use. Note that each print will be the same subject to correct inking and burnishing.

In this module, only one colour was used. In a subsequent blog post, we will see how we can apply two or more colours.

I have attached a copy of a block showing a bird perched on a tree branch and its hungry chicks chirping in their nest plus a print in black ink.

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Bird & Chicks – One Colour

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Bird & Chicks – One Colour – Print

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Conclusion and comments

This blog has not done justice to what is my favourite relief technique. In terms of tools and materials, here is my current set-up:

  • Linoleum
    I have experimented with Essdee’s Softcut carving blocks but found them too flexible. Trying to cut small corners was difficult as the block was being pushed away as I tried to cut. I have gone back to using the traditional grey linoleum.
  • Ink
    I tend to proof my work using water-based ink as it is quick and easy to clean the block and roller. Once I am happy with the plate, I change to ink-based inks; at the moment I am using Hawthorn Supplies’ “Stay Open” inks.
  • Paper
    I proof on clean newsprint and edition on Somerset White Velvet (300 gsm).
  • Cutting Tools
    I have a range of Pfeil tools, both V- and U- profiles.
  • Rollers
    I use Hawthorn’s rollers for most work and a Hawthorn mini spindle roller for the larger works.
  • Burnishing
    I either use a wooden spoon or my etching press.