How to Lino Print: Beginners Guide
With my upcoming workshops at Scampston Walled Garden I have really been thinking about the process of lino printing; from inspiration to final print. I want to create a really simple guide that explains the magical process of lino printing but allows for you to find your own ways and experiment with the elements of the process.
I start with my inspiration and I honestly get ideas from everywhere and anywhere. I am currently collecting sticks and twigs with lichen on and am slowly formulating a plan for what do with them! However when out running this morning I kept having to dodge the snails in the road, who had just emerged from the hedgerows after the overnight rain. I was immediately drawn to their bright green shells and thought how I could create an image with these and the vibrant grass that was growing at the side of the road. So for the rest of my run, which was very tiring, I was focused on what I could do with the image and how I could create the most striking image using minimal blocks and in a variety of compositions. So at this stage you need to take photographs, collect images and create compositions/still lifes of the objects that I want to 'immortalise in lino'.
Then comes the trickier part of it as you have to draw the image that you want to print. I always mark out the size of the lino block into my sketch pad and draw the image to fit- this makes it easier. If you are creating an abstract or stylised image then you don't need to worry so much about proportion or perspective! I have found this a really trying process especially when completing my 'Dissolution' series of the Cistercian Monasteries of North Yorkshire. This series was really out of my comfort zone as I had never really got perspective however trial and error and a few Youtube clips later I can say I am finally getting the hang of it. It is at this stage that you need to be thinking about the image that you are going to carve into the lino and the end result you want but more of that a bit later.
Quite simply it is to transfer the image to the lino block by tracing the image and then tracing the impression in reverse onto the lino block. Remember the image is going to be a reverse of your illustration on the lino so that when printed it will print the right way round. If this is your first time doing this then avoid text as you may be disappointed with the results and regret doing it...I know that I was!!! (It is also tricky working out letters in the reverse!!)
Carving time and one of the crucial things is that you have decent light to do it in so that you can see your transferred image on your block. Also check that your tools are sharp- if you did it at school you will remember that the tools were always a bit blunt and you usually ended up with carving your finger as well as the lino!
It is important to experiment with the different blades/tools on a spare bit of lino so that you can see the marks that they all make before you commit to your final block. When carving you must carve away from you and keep your fingers behind the blade. Use a non slip mat under the block to create friction to reduce slippage when carving. I have learnt the hard way and have carved more fingers than block! Always start with finer tools as you can always carve more away and you can't put back once you have taken out.
Another challenge is that you have to get your head around that you leave behind the image that you want to print. You can carve the linear image out and then print RLH Prints who I follow on Instagram does this style of carving brilliantly. The other way is to carve out the background and it is the image that is the solid block of colour, Lou Tonkin does this fabulously.
Test printing is a really exciting stage that is full of promise for that moment that you see your actual image come to life in print.
So you put a tiny bit of ink- see at end of blog for details- onto a bit of acrylic or a tray- doesn't matter as long as it is flat- then roll it with a roller to warm it up and get it to the right consistency. The way to describe how you know when the ink is ready to apply to the image is when it makes a small squelching sound and it looks like suede.
Then roll the ink onto the block but make sure you are covering evenly and you don't put too much on otherwise the image will appear distorted. If too little is applied then you will get a very patchy print. Apply the ink to the block and test print onto paper- at this point it doesn't matter the type of paper but it needs to be smooth surfaced so that the image can be seen in it truest form.