Cleaning a linocut after you’ve used it to print your latest masterpiece is really important if you want to keep all your linocuts like I do for printing another day. One of the great things about printing is the variety of ways you can experiment with printing the same block, achieving a variety of fantastic results. I wanted to write this blog to help any new linocut artists who might be wondering what the best way to clean up and preserve their blocks were.
When using oil based inks, like many relief prints, you cannot really clean the ink away with hot soapy water (as I tried to). It doesn’t really work and takes ages if you do persevere with it and also takes a lot of effort which can actually damage the linocut block.
The best solution is to use a cleaning fluid that breaks down the oil based printing ink and allows you to gently rub the ink away from the linoleum. I would recommend two options; vegetable oil, or if you can get it, ZestIt. Some people use white spirit or turps, but these are not very nice chemicals and I would not recommend using them. They stink and are also difficult to get rid of.
Vegetable oil is cheap and available anywhere. Just pop down to your local corner shop or supermarket and you can buy a bottle really cheaply. I use vegetable oil with a cotton wool pad. Simply dab the oil onto the pad and gently start applying this to the surface of the inked lino.
It takes a moment or two for the oil to begin to mix with the ink on the lino, but as soon as it does, it essentially dilutes the ink and breaks it down into a more fluid consistency that you can wipe away with the cotton wool pads. Make sure that you are gentle with your precious linocut so you don’t damage it (it will be worth a fortune one day when your work is in Tate Modern!). On the image above you can see the area of the lino I cleaned with vegetable oil to the left of my whale print.
Vegetable oil is great for cleaning a linocut and very cheap as well. If I had to point out a downside it would be that it leaves a slightly oily residue, but to be honest this is not the end of the world and you can easily wipe it all away.
The product I actually use the most is ZestIt for cleaning a linocut. It is an effective natural eco solvent. It is basically as effective as white spirit or turps but is not as bad for the planet and smells of oranges! I use it in exactly the same way as vegetable oil, applying some of it to a cotton wool pad and then gently rubbing it over the surface of the inked linoleum block.
ZestIt cuts through the ink like a hot knife through butter and leaves no residue on the lino block. You can order ZestIt online from various suppliers. I get mine from my local printmaking art shop Intaglio Print Makers in London. It comes in a few different size bottles; ranging from 125ml, 250ml, 500ml and 1litre bottles.
If you have kids then obviously you will want to keep this out of their reach.