As usual, Lionel Richie leads us forward with a tantalising glimpse of the future: he leans back, grooms his audacious moustache with a lingering, faltering sweep of his tongue, pauses, lets his eyelids close tenderly downward and, with a gradual gathering of the self, exhales smoothly through doughy lips which lovingly intone: ” . . . … lino… . . . “.
Though his message is barely audible, his grubby ink stained fingers truly tell a tale of their own. Each one, besmirched with crimson like a battle weary steed, stagger onwards to raise the standard of their noble art. Steel glints atop the printer’s pike, this hand-held halberd, this formidable blade, this … weapon of inestimable glory. It’s trough is deep, it’s edge keen; forever hungry for the taste of rubbery carnage. The brayer’s roller spins slowly still, as if to will on it’s flagging master, spitting hematic flecks onto folds of white poly-cotton: these are the slacks of a history-maker, patterned with innumerable ink stars, red on white; the trouser-flag of a nation we all may come to find one day, within ourselves.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been doing a lino cut, and will now proceed to explain how it’s done.
First of all, and rather obviously, you need to get hold of the right tools. This is basically what you need to get started:
The bare essentials are: lino cutting tool (handle), at least one blade (reasonably sharp v-shaped ones are the handiest all-rounders), a brayer (ink roller), a piece of lino, and some block printing ink. You can get a kit like this for about 20 quid or less, but it’s certainly worth shelling out a bit more wonga if you plan to do more than just experiment/play around. Luckily I managed to nab some tools and ink from the Bedford School supplies when I went in over christmas with my dad.
The other thing in the picture is called a baren, and is used to burnish (rub) the back of the paper in order to print the image.
In the European tradition, printmakers have usually worked with a press of some kind in order to ensure speed and consistency of prints, but many printmakers today do not have access to a press, which are usually very large and incredibly heavy (some albion presses for instance, which were designed for printing trays of block letters to form newspapers or books) and always expensive. Eastern printmaking tradition has instead favoured a more sensitive and labour-instensive hand printing process, allowing the master printmakers to achieve unbelievably beautiful gradations of colour and tone by subtly altering the pressure applied to the back of the paper (as well using a variety of techniques to ink the block itself.
While we were on our way from Nagano to a village in the Japan Alps called Hakuba a couple of years ago, we stopped off for a bit in Obuse, where Hokusai spent some of his final years. Because of this, you can find there the Hokusai-kan, a tiny museum with an impressive collection of prints. I was already familiar with his work, but was blown away by just how incredible these prints are when you can see them up close; such fine detail and sophisticated use of colour. The quality of draughtsmanship and fine, flowing linework is astonishing even before you factor in the fact that these images were carved into a big hard block of wood.
Anyway, the Japanese invented the baren in order to hand pull (print) their images. The traditional baren is made of a disk (itself made from many layers of paper painstakingly glued together), with a coiled rope of bamboo glued on the bottom (to create a strong textured surface) covered with a bamboo sheath (which reduces friction), tied in a loop at the top.
More modern designs either look like the plastic red one in that picture way up there^^ (which is not very good), or this:
which has a teflon-coated rubbing surface and I imagine would be pretty good, but I’m not sure because I can’t afford one right now. For now I use the trusty old spoon instead. I used a normal tablespoon but in the future I’ll probably use a big wooden spoon for extra coverage.
By the way, if you want to know more about the woodblock printing process, check out this site, it shows step by step woodblock printing in all its difficult and lengthy glory.
Luckily, thanks to the enterprising Frederick Walton, we have Linoleum, which brings block printing to the masses and is a piece of piss to carve compared to wood. In the next couple of posts I’ll go through the reduction method of lino printing, but I feel I have rambled for long enough now, so I’ll leave this post simply as an introduction.
Currently listening to: Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program – Brotha From Anotha Planet