Ok, so you’ve got your tools, you’ve got some lino, you’ve got some spare time, all you need is an image. I chose a photograph I took during the recent snowfalls.
On the first night it started snowing there was a bizarre light in the sky – I couldn’t work it out at first andwhen I stepped outside it freaked me out, the sky was glowing with an otherworldly orange hue and it was so bright that I could easily see my way around the garden, like the sun at dusk.Here’s a photo from the garden:
This was obviously quite a long exposure (1 second), but it did not actually look much different to this by eye. Here’s an image taken at the same time using flash, just to prove it was actually at night:
The flash makes it look really dark, like a normal night, but it really wasn’t.
The sky glow came back every night for the next few days, prompting Polly to suggest that something weird had happened in space, something apocalyptic. Luckily it turns out that it happens because the snow hanging in the air becomes illuminated by all the street and house lights in the city. Even knowing this, it was pretty amazing, and it’s insane to be able to see just how much light our cities throw up into the air. Check out this comparison view of the stars from a rural spot (top) and a metropolitan area (bottom):
I seem to remember that Northumberland apparently has the darkest night sky in England if you were wondering. I also seem to remember that different countries adopt different technologies for their street lighting, so if you look at Britain from above, you’ll see an old fashioned orange sodium glow, whereas the Japanese will see the cool blue-white glow of metal-halide and LED lamps.
Anyway, I digress as always. Once you have your image/design, you’ll have to work out a way of transferring it onto the lino.You need to bear in mind when you do this that your image will be printed backwards horizontally, so if you want it the right way round or you’re printing text, you need to draw it backwards on the lino.
There are various methods to do this:
-photocopy transfer: print your image out, photocopy it, then, as soon as possible, place it face down onto the lino and rub the back with cotton wool soaked in nail polish remover or paint thinner (the crucial ingredient is Acetone, which loosens the toner from the paper). I tried this but I think the photocopy was too old because it didn’t work at all. I have done it successfully in the past though, it just depends whether you have access to a photocopier really.
-draw it on freehand: pretty obvious really, just watch out because if you do it with certain pens (especially Sharpies) the ink may transfer onto the paper while printing.
-graphite paper: this is just a sheet of paper covered in graphite, which you place under your image, then draw over the top, which transfers the graphite from the paper to the lino.
I used a mixture of the second and third methods, except I’m too cheap to buy graphite paper, especially considering that you can make your own in about 30 seconds.
Take your printed image, and scribble all over the back of the paper with a graphite stick or soft pencil:
Place it face up into the lino and draw firmly over your image (its a good idea to blu-tack it down), and just like magic there it is:
I finished drawing in the details freehand, and then went over some of it with a biro because I kept smudging it all over the damn place.
Now the cutting/printing process… there are two basic different methods to multi-colour relief printing. The traditional woodblock method is to carve a key block (black outlines of the image), then use that template to carve a different block for every separate colour. This process is, in many ways, a massive pain in the arse, but does give complete flexibility over each colour and enables loads of sophisticated blending effects and blah blah blah etc. Far more common in lino circles is the reduction process, in which you use one block and gradually cut away more and more with each colour printed. It’s kinda hard to explain so I’ll just go through what I did.
First of all, you want to cut away the parts of the image that you want to be white, or rather, the colour of the paper you’re printing on. If the lino is hard to cut, stick it on a hotplate/top of the boiler/toaster or whatever for a minute just to warm it up a bit, which makes it a lot softer. Remember to always cut away from your hands otherwise in no time you’ll be haemorrhaging like a haemophiliac in a Brazilian police shoot-out.
Here’s mine with the white bits removed (just some of the sky):
Now you need to make some sort of registration method to ensure that all your colours line up perfectly. If you’re using a press you can generally just lay the lino face down onto the paper and line it up by sight, but when hand pulling (referring to printing – not bashing waist, wrestling with the bald champ, hand-to-gland combat, battling the purple headed yoghurt slinger, combing the hair of your bald pig sally, going Hans Solo on Darth Vader’s head, or whatever you sick filth-peddlers had in mind) it can be tricky.
Here’s my rock-solid method:
Put your lino on a table top and secure it in place with some bits of wood or cardboard taped down at the corners.
Place the paper on top of the lino, making sure it’s centrally placed (measure that shit) and then make little corner things for the corners of the paper and tape them down. This will basically be enough to get them in the right place, but I went a step further and put some pins through the corners of the lino and put the paper on top so it gets punctured, this way I know the paper will be lined up perfectly every time just by fitting it back onto the pins. Of course this means that you end up with four holes in your finished prints, but its a small price to pay for stress-free registration.
It’s crucial you get the registration right because if you mess up with one of the later colours you’ve just ruined the whole thing and you can never redo it because you’ve cut away all the previous cuts you did on the lino (this begins to explain why a reduction lino print is also known as a Suicide print). This is why you should do more prints than you want to end up with because as a rule you’ll always mess up at least one or two.
Now we can go ahead and mix the first colour. The most important thing to remember with the reduction process is that the order in which you have to print the colours has to be from light to dark; you print the light colours first, and the dark ones over the top. Obviously if you try and print light yellow over the top of dark blue, you ain’t goin anywhere.
Mix up the ink and roll out a small amount of it onto a sheet of glass using the brayer. You can tell when its ready to roll onto the lino from the texture of the rolled ink, which should be smooth and not too sticky, using too much ink will give an unpleasant texture on the paper and can fill in some of the smaller cuts you’ve made – bad.
Roll the ink onto the lino. Generally you want to cover the whole lino with ink, but if only a certain portion of the print is going to be that colour in the end, you can save ink and just roll that part of the lino:
Now place your paper on top, grab a spoon or baren, and rub a dub. You have to press pretty hard, and with a spoon it will likely take ages (especially if you’re doing an A3 sized print like I was), but no-one said it was gonna be easy, so just man up and work up a sweat.
Here’s the first colour printed, you can see the bits I cut away have remained papery white:
You can also seen where the sharpie has come through and left black outlines, luckily it doesn’t matter in this case because these bits will be black anyway.
Now you just have to clean up your lino with a damp cloth and tissue (don’t get the backing too wet because it could buckle or bend) and then cut the next layer. This time you will be printing another colour over the top of the yellow (or whatever cracker-ass colour you’ve chosen), so you want to carve away all the parts of the image you want to remain yellow. Here’s the second cut/print:
Sixth: forgot to take photos…
seventh: notice the gradiated ink on the right hand side, from dark blue to green
Eighth – Again forgot to take photos.
Here’s what the final thing looks like, it’s not a great photo of it but you get the idea:
all this probably took a week, maybe a bit less, maybe 5 days, I’m not sure, a while anyway. It’s a really satisfying process though; I prefer it to screen printing because you don’t have to mess with emulsions and chemicals and exposure shizzocks; lino printing is a bit more tangible, and actually far more creative due to the markmarking process of cutting.
I’ll put this edition up on my website so you’ll be able to buy one at mjfchance.co.uk or my Etsy shop. It’s a limited edition of 8 prints, and it’s an A3 sized print on an A2 sized bit of cartridge paper.
Since finishing this edition of prints I’ve been designing some flyers and posters for some upcoming Fat Out shows, and the second issue of FATZINE, which you should definitely check out at fatout.co.uk. I’ll post some flyer designs up soon, but here’s a preview of one of them in progress:
Currently listening to: COIL – Winter Solstice: North