Linoleum sheet and tools

Edge of linoleum sheet - it's not very thick! A composite material on a Hessian backing.

Lino prints are made from linoleum...this used to be a very popular flooring used in the home, schools and institutions as it was very cheap, readily available, and incredibly hard-wearing.

 

It makes a perfect medium for printing as it cuts nicely, taking on intricate detail, and it's surface not only takes the ink but allows it to transfer to paper fairly readily. Being a popular flooring linoleum was always available as off-cuts, or in store, so was easy for the artist to obtain with very little out-lay.

 

Linoleum was invented by Englishman Frederick Walton in the mid- 1850's. Nowadays modern versions of 'linoleum' are used as flooring but are considerably more expensive and are not suitable for the purposes of printing. These modern 'linoleums' are very different to the original and made from different substance altogether. The artist now has to rely upon sheets of material specially manufactured for the purposes of 'lino' or more specifically, 'block printing'.

Wood can also be used but finding a wooden block big enough for some designs is prohibitively expensive.

First, as with all pieces of art, an idea for a design is formulated. For this particular one I actually visited the Botanical Gardens at Kew in London, England. I took numerous photographs  and sketches of the plants to put together as a design for a print.

 

Once I had an idea I drew this on paper. The drawing has the basic outlines of the elements of the design but no great detail. The detail is put on the lino during the final phase of the process - the final cut and colour are responsible for the detail.

 

The drawing has the key outlines traced and transferred to the lino block. Now, with printing, you have to remember that the image is one way but is reversed on the lino block...you have to be able to visualise the image as it will turn out to be not as it is on the block i.e. you work on a 'mirror' image.

 

First you cut away everything you want left white i,e. the highlights, where light is falling, and print the first colour. In this case yellow. All the colours are mixed from base colours to achieve a unique colour for the project in hand.

"Tea Rooms at the Botanical Gardens"

Once the number of prints for the first colour is finished, the block is cleaned, dried, and then has the next 'cut' made for the second colour. (A run of prints is as many or as few as the artist wants - I generally do 3O.)

 

Once the lino is cut for the second colour the first colour can never be printed again - the lino is effectively destroyed as the print is developed, so it is critical to print the correct number from the beginning. This method is called the 'reduction' method. If the artist wants to print a design over and over, then each colour would have it's own piece of lino (printing block).

 

The second cut removes all the lino to leave everything that you want to be the first colour, in this case yellow. The second colour is then printed. The final colour brings the whole picture together. It forms the shadow and the detail.

In this example only 3 colours were used, in my other prints I use 4. The number of colours depends on the subject matter and what the artist has decided will be the most effective - sometimes only one colour is needed.

 

To the left is the final print, to the right is the linoleum that was used - note the mirror image.