How I Make My Linoprints
Have you ever wondered how linoprints are made? I am sometimes asked whether my linoprints are original artworks, as the word “print” often suggests something mass produced, so I thought I would take you through the traditional process of how each one is created.
Each print begins with drawings in my sketch book. I will make lots of small sketches trying to decide what it is I want to say about a particular bird, or plant, whether it is the hunched form of a waiting heron, or a blackbird snaffling the last of the brambles from a hedge. It is really important to me that I know the bird well, their manner and habits and quirks, and while I use my photographs for reference purposes, it is observation and drawing that is most important.
These thinking sketches are combined into a fully formed design on paper and are then traced onto a piece of lino with a sharp pencil. I turn the drawing over to create a reverse image of it, as once the print is printed, it will present the mirror image.
I prefer to use traditional grey lino. Not only is it more environmentally friendly than some of the alternatives available, but there is something very satisfying about the way it yields to the sharp blade of the tool. I also love that it is a natural product, made from just cork and linseed oil. When freshly made, lino responds beautifully to the pressure of the gouges.
I don’t make my drawing too detailed, using it only as a guide, and allow the marks I carve to develop into the shapes and details of the bird. The process of carving is both addictive and meditative. Hours can pass by without me hardly noticing, as the bird begins to emerge from the lino, feather by feather, until I finally decide that it is complete.
The carving process can take place over two or three days, depending on the size or detail of the print. I always try to pause before I grow too tired, as one slip with the very sharp tools can mean that the whole print can be ruined in a careless moment, though it is always dificult to stop!
And now it is time to see whether the print has worked. I ink the lino with water based ink and the design begins to be revealed as the black ink picks up the areas that haven’t been carved, hence the term “relief print”.
The lino is then placed on the bed of my press, and a piece of paper laid carefully upon it, being mindful not to shift the image. Three woollen printing blankets are laid over the top to protect the print from the pressure. By the turn of a wheel, the print is pushed under a roller and then, as it is pulled across the bed, the blankets and paper are lifted to reveal the impression from the lino.
The first print pulled from the press is always exciting as you never quite know what it will look like, as all the while you have been carving the print in reverse. I never tire of the thrill of seeing it appear for the first time.