Some people I meet ask me What is a lino print? So I thought this might help answer that question and personally I’ve always loved a good step by step tutorial – so here it is my lino carving friends, my first complete run through of a project (more or less) from start to finish. I hope you enjoy it!
Step 01 – It’s all in the planning
I decided that I wanted to create a series of linocut prints that celebrated the genius of my favourite film maker Ray Harryhausen. I grew up watching films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, and apart from the fantastic narratives and heroic adventures of the various protagonists I absolutely loved the stop-motion animated characters created by Ray. He was the grand-daddy of modern special effects and I’m sure he has inspired multiple generations of people like me.
I chose to start my series with a Cyclops creature from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and began by searching for as many movie stills as I could find to use as reference material for my linocut. Once I’d collated a load of images I started to look at them to see if there were any images that might work perfectly for my composition, which I decided I wanted to be in a square format. Obviously you can choose whatever format you like, but one thing I will say is that I am really drawn to compositions that fit neatly within the boundaries of a geometric shape (square, rectangle, circle etc). I don’t know why but this lends a really powerful graphic strength to a composition and I recommend that you try it out yourself.
Step 02 – Prepare your canvas… I mean lino!
Once I’d selected my chosen subject and collected a whole bunch of reference material together there was only one more logical step I could take. Put on a rolling stones record and start putting pencil to paper. Working within a square compositional format I decided to map out the edges of my composition on the lino first as a 6′ x 6′ square and then break the area down inside my composition into a 6×6 grid of one inch squares.
Step 03 – Plot the points of your character
The reason for this is to help me map the proportions of my character relatively accurately on my design. For instance, if I measure the that the legs and waist of my figure are 2/3 of the total height, I know that the top of his waist should roughly reach the top of the fourth grid line. Once you start to measure and plot the main points of the character like this in relation to other points you can create a map of points that you then just have to join and add a splash of artistic interpretation to start bringing the whole thing together.
Step 04 – Add in the details to your sketch
Once the main shape of the character is mapped out as an outline it’s time to begin adding in the details and areas of light and dark. The great thing about linocuts and the resulting lino prints are the ways you can use mark making and block areas to create strong contrasting textures and shades, so don’t shy away from being bold and experimental if you want to be. I absolutely love detail and with a great set of tools you can achieve some really wonderful and massively satisfying results.
I liked the idea of creating an extra layer of contrast on this composition, by using different complimentary styles of cutting into the lino in the top and bottom halves of the figure. For the lower half I really wanted a detailed, yet simple folk art style to describe the fur on the legs, and on the torso, head and arms I wanted a much more complex and textured effect that emphasised the contours of the body and the light and dark areas.
Step 05 – Ink that linoleum
OK so you’ve spent ages mapping out, drawing, then rubbing out and correcting mistakes, looking at the drawing with a semi vacant expression for undetermined lengths of time and finally got around to adding the final flourish. If you’ve done this in pencil like me, I recommend you now get a really nice fine tip or brush pen with black ink and start going over the top of all your hard work. Don’t be precious! You’re going to cut it out with a carving tool soon so just get on with it. It will really help you start to get an impression of what the final lino print will look like and this will really help you solve a few areas you may have been struggling with and show you a few parts of the composition you might need to adjust or add to in order to ensure that all areas that need definition are fully thought through and defined.
Step 06 – Start Lino Cutting
I decided to begin on the upper half of my character. I decided to try and imagine carving in a way that described the 3D shape and contours of the form. Even though I’m cutting these areas away the magic of lino printing is that the process always seems to reveal the mark making of the artist, and so I figured that I wanted to exploit this to add an extra layer of detail to the print.
The image below really starts to demonstrate what I am trying to explain about following the contours of the shape of the characters body. You can see what I’m explaining particularly clearly on the arm holding the spear.
As mentioned, I also wanted the lower half to have a totally different, but complimentary texture to the top half of the figure, and using a fine v-shaped tool I was able to accurately pick out the fur details I wanted on the legs.
Once all the internal details are cut out and done, then you want to start on cutting out the surrounding areas. I really wanted the area around the character to print cleanly, so you want to make sure that (like an ex boyfriend or girlfriend) you cut deep! Not to the canvas backing deep, but deep enough – probably 2mm-3mm roughly.
Step 07 – Add a second block (if you want one)
I wanted to add a simple second background layer to this lino print, so using the multi block lino printing process I’ve described previously I set about adding some simple background elements. I saw a really simple two colour print that used red to highlight some basic background elements like a church and some trees at an exhibition, and thought I’d try the same technique on this print by adding some simple clouds and a horizon line.
This is always a really exciting step, because it gives me the first opportunity to roll on some ink to my linocut and get a sneak preview to the upcoming final lino print.
By transferring the ink onto the underside of a sheet of tracing paper, I can transfer the wet ink back onto my second block which I use to then sketch out the clouds and the horizon.
The image below shows the transferred design on my second block, and you can see the cloud and horizon layers I sketched being cut out with my Pfeil carving tools. The background layers go right up to the outer border and behind my characters body so this means getting an accurate registration template is going to be really important for my final printing session in the studio. The technique for this is outlined in the blog I wrote about multiple block registration that I linked to above.
Step 08 – LinoPRINT
Once you’ve created your colour registration template it’s time to get printing. I like to use an etching press in a shared studio, but I also have a book press and a barren or a wooden spoon that I use at home from time-to-time, so if you don’t have access to an etching press don’t worry about it… just go to the kitchen drawer and grab a wooden spoon!
Starting with my background layer I ran off a bunch of prints and then went to eat a sandwich while they all dried.
Once they’d all dried, or more accurately when my patience ran out, I started to ink up my main character block (oh yeah!!). This run of prints was going to use just two really strong colours – black and red on white – but the great thing about lino printing is that once you’ve cleaned off the lino blocks you can experiment with all sorts of other colours or gradients. Just be bold, follow your gut and have fun I say.
Step 09 – Enjoy a beer and stare at your beautiful print
So there isn’t a step 09 really, by this point you will have ruined a few mis-registered prints and discarded them like a knackered old pair of pants, but if you’ve used all your skill and at least 50% of your luck reserves for the day, you will have some beautiful prints that you can hang on the wall, give away to friends and family or even try to sell. Good work!
Great job on the Cyclops, I remember the movie fondly. Love the textures you achieved, the clouds are a nice subtle touch in the background. I’m working on a reduction print that I might approach differently again once I see how it turns out. Just put the second colour down last night and 4 more to go. I can see where I could use the method you used here for some of the elements of the picture.
Very nice. That’s a pretty fancy print hanging device you’ve got there!
Excellent lesson, thank you!