I’ve collected wood block and linocut prints for years, it is a cheap hobby, competently done prints can be bought for a few pounds whilst coloured prints by famous artists can run to hundreds of pounds. I don’t buy so many now as I’ve run out of wall space to display them.
At it’s simplest you ink a surface onto which is carved a design and press it onto paper or cloth, as you can make a number of prints from one printing block a print is cheaper to buy than a one-off original. Some artists limit the prints made and number each print, others are ‘unlimited’ and are not numbered. Originally wood was used to make the blocks but it is hard to carve so when lino was invented it was seized on as an easily carved and stable alternative, lino is made from cork and linseed oil compressed onto a hessian backing. It is easy to cut but the edges can crumble, modern technology has given us vinyl which soft and easy to carve and seems to hold together better on the cut edge.
The cutters can be bought very cheaply, a box of modern cutters of various profiles with a plastic handle costs a few pounds; I have bought a few old cutters with wooden handles, they are designed to fit in the palm allowing a good push to be applied as is needed on wood blocks, they are not needed for modern ‘lino’. You will note that each handle has a flat on it to stop the tool from rolling about when put down.
The first operation is to draw out your design, bearing in mind that you are going to cut a mirror image so that the print appears the right way. A computer graphics program makes life easy, you can reverse the image and change the size to suit the block you are preparing. A printout allows the design to be cut out and stuck on the block or the design ‘pricked thought’ to transfer the outline. Anything to take the ink or paint is left, the rest is cut away to a couple of millimetres below the surface. As with all sharp hand tools, care must be taken to avoid the cutter skidding off or through the lino and into your fingers. When I was teaching I used to tell the kids to count their fingers before starting with sharp tools and again afterwards and let me know of any discrepancy, and remind them that if they kept two hands on the chisel there wouldn’t be any left in the way of the sharp edge..
This design will be single colour, if you wish to make a coloured print then each colour will need a separate block and great care will be needed to ‘register’ each block so that the impression lines up with the design. My next attempt will be two or three colours, maybe black, orange and red if anyone can think of a subject.
When the work is nearly done you can make a test print to see how it’s going, to do this some ink or paint is put on a flat non-absorbent surface, I used an old oven door glass, and spread about with a hard rubber roller. The ink or paint is then rolled onto the design. An oil-based printing ink is best, I tried it but it’s a fuss getting it to dry or set whatever and is only readily available in black so I dug out the grand children’s acrylic paint and tried that. It was not very successful, the ink or paint needs to be ‘tacky’ so that the roller rolls and does not skid and slide about so I mixed PVA glue with the acrylic, that seemed to work well enough.
The lino needs a backing to make it more rigid as you cut away most of the lino close to the hessian backing, I glued it to a piece of scrap wood so that pressure could be applied evenly when printing
The design is to be printed on fabric so a few impressions were made on an old t-shirt and some cotton sheet material and then given a wash at 40 degrees and a going over with a hot iron, the designs were still there, seemingly unaffected, after laundering although how many washes they will take is anyone’s guess. The printing block worked well enough but I thought an accent was needed for the final design so I cut another small block to add a small but important accent to the main design.
For a first attempt, it’s not bad at all, I like the ‘homemade’ look of the print when applied to a t-shirt, what do you think?
Ed. These are available for a tenner plus p&p via GrumpyAngler, email me if you want one.
©️ GrumpyAngler 2020
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