Carved plate

Lino Cut Printmaking

Lino cut printmaking is a form of relief printing, where the flat surface of a linoleum block is used as the printing surface. Any parts of the design not to be printed are cut away from the block, leaving the image raised in relief. Ink is applied to the block surface (usually with rollers) and transferred to paper by direct pressure. In lino cut printmaking, the block is made of linoleum which is usually carved with gauges to form the design.

A classic form of lino cut printmaking is a single layer print (usually black ink on white paper), producing a high contrast, clear cut image. Artworks with more than one colour can be made by inking the block with other colours and adding new layers with the block in different positions, or by preparing new blocks for extra layers.

Stages of single colour lino cut printing.
Stages of Lino Cut Printing

Reduction Lino Cut Printmaking

Reduction Lino cut printmaking involves the re-use of the same block for successive layers of colour, where the block is re-carved between each layer. Each re-carving removes more of the raised area of the block, meaning that a smaller area of colour will be transferred onto the paper. Because the same block is used, each printed layer matches up perfectly with the others. This also means that by the end of the process only the raised area of the final colour remains.

Reduction lino cut printmaking always produces a limited edition of prints because the block is destroyed in the process – there can never be more artworks than the number printed at the first step.

My Approach

I am drawn to reduction lino cut printmaking because it is a form of creative expression that combines drawing, carving, and the use of colour.  The physical process of lino cut printing is very tactile, involving carving with gauges, mixing with palette knives, rolling out inks, and pressing paper to plate. I also find that each new artwork presents an enjoyable technical puzzle requiring me to plan how the overlapping layers will combine to create the final image. The first printing of each new layer is both exciting and suspenseful, as a whole edition can go wrong at the final step, and with reduction printing, the steps cannot be redone.

Notebook with written plan.
Planning Printing Stages
Image of glass barren
Glass Barren

Technique

I approach each new artwork by trying to discern what it is about a scene that catches my attention and draws me to it, and reflect on how to express it in simplified forms and colours. This need for simplification is a benefit rather than a restriction, because it helps me to focus on the heart of a scene or subject, and express it more clearly with less distraction.

I draw directly onto the linoleum surface starting with the white areas and, for the most part, working my way from light to dark colours as the printing stages progress. Between each stage I draw again and use small gouges to carve out the areas I want to remain unchanged by the print that follows.

I mix the ink with palette knives on a glass surface, and use rollers (brayers) to apply it to the linoleum surface. I can ‘paint’ with the rollers by applying different colors to different areas of the block, and I can achieve colour gradient effects by loading a single roller with more than one colour at a time. On occasion I experiment with other effects, for example producing a softer edge by using a rag to remove some of the ink prior to printing, or creating a mottled effect by applying ink to the block with a nail brush instead of a roller.

Part of the printing sequence in the making of Garden on the Hill.
Printing Sequence of ‘Garden on the Hill’

I print each layer by hand, pressing paper to plate with a barren, or occasionally the back of a metal spoon. This gives me control over how much pressure is applied to different areas of the paper, allowing me to achieve subtleties and effects that would be difficult to achieve with a press.

Colours

I use oil-based inks, and select only those containing pigments with high lightfastness. I also select pigments that are transparent or semitransparent where possible, as this increases the scope for successive layers of colour to interact and show through each other.