Making a linocut
To create a linocut from my location sketches, I draw the image in reverse on a block of lino, and then carefully cut away the parts that I don’t want to print (in other words, the parts that are to show the white of the paper); the bits that are not cut form the image. Then I roll ink onto the block, lay the paper on top, and pass the block and paper together through a printing press.
Multicolour prints: First stage
To create a multicolour print, I used the reduction method. Each colour is printed by using the same block of lino. At each stage, the block is cut away and printed on top of the previous colour.
First, I cut away from the block the parts that are to remain white, and then print the block in the lightest colour that I want in the image (in this case, pale blue for the water and the sky). All prints that are required for the edition are printed at each stage, because the reduction method destroys the block. Once I have started cutting the block for the next colour, I can’t make corrections to the previous colour.
Multicolour prints: Second stage
Next, I cut away the parts that are to remain pale blue, and then print the next colour (mid-blue for the distant buildings and the midtone of the water) on top of the first, carefully registering the block and the paper so that the colours align perfectly.
Multicolour prints: Third stage
The image starts to develop as more detail is cut into the block, and another colour is printed.
A third stage of cutting and printing adds a darker blue to the buildings and the water.
A five-stage reduction print
Original prints are distinct from the prints found in many picture shops, which are usually mass-produced photomechanical or digital reproductions. An original print is an entirely handcrafted piece of art. Every stage is controlled and performed by the artist.
The printmaker uses a range of artistic skills and judgments throughout the whole process from creating the blocks or plates, choosing and mixing colours, and controlling the variables in the printing process.
An original print a piece of art in itself; it is not a copy of a painting or drawing. The printmaker exploits the nature of the specific printmaking technique to create an image that could not be created any other way. For example, linocuts are often associated with bold, flat colours, and strong contrasts between light and dark. Other methods of printmaking such as etching and wood-engraving, have their own unique and distinctive characteristics.
A printmaker works closely with the materials and processes of the medium to create a number of prints of the image; these are known as a limited edition. While in theory all the prints in the edition are identical, the handmade nature ensures that in fact each print is slightly different.
When all the prints in the edition have been produced, the blocks are cancelled to ensure that the edition cannot be extended. With the reduction method of producing multicolour prints, the method itself destroys the block.
The artist signs and numbers the prints to complete the edition. A number such as 1/20 indicates the first print of an edition of twenty. 10% of the edition is signed as “Artist’s Proof” (or “AP”); these are retained by the artist and not sold.
History of linocuts
Compared to the more ancient techniques of etching and woodcuts, lino has a relatively brief history as an artistic medium.
Linoleum itself was invented as floor covering in the 1860s. It was first used for printing in the Warsaw ghettos in the 1890s as it was an easily obtainable medium that was quick to work. Franz Cizek was the first artist to create fine art linocuts in 1896 in Vienna. Its use was popularised in the 1920s by Horace Brodsky in New York, and Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School of Fine Art in London, when the “futurist style” was popular. The futurists were attracted by the immediacy and fluidity that lino can achieve, and used linocuts to create images of modernity and dynamism.
Picasso created his first linocuts in the 1950s, and is often credited with inventing the reduction method of producing multicolour linocuts. Picasso’s friend and rival Henri Matisse created dramatically simple linocuts of the human figure, expressed in a few white lines on a black background.
In England, the leading printmakers of linocuts were Edward Bawden who created hundreds of distinctive images for book illustrations and graphic designs; and Michael Rothenstein, who explored the use of linocut in producing avant-