Etching lino again

Etching lino again, this time trying to make a figurative picture.

I painted a bird shape with varnish, and then etched the block. The solid black in the middle is where the varnish held on, and resisted the caustic soda; the soft gray around the outside is where the block was etched. The white bits within the bird shape are where the varnish didn’t resist the caustic soda.

Then I printed the block with a mask over the background.
And then on coloured backgrounds.

Danger: Printmaker at work!

We tried etching lino…


  • Lino
  • Glass jar
  • Water
  • Wallpaper paste (the powdered stuff)
  • Plastic teaspoon
  • Plastic toothbrush
  • Caustic soda (sometimes sold as oven cleaner)
  • Mask, rubber gloves, goggles — caustic soda is dangerous.
  • Well-ventilated room or outside space


  1. Fill the jar one third full of water.
  2. Add one teaspoon of wallpaper paste to the water. Stir, and then leave for five minutes.
  3. Put on mask, gloves, and goggles.
  4. Add two teaspoons of caustic soda to the paste. Stir. After a few moments, you can feel the glass jar warming.
  5. Use teaspoon to apply caustic soda to the lino. 
  6. Leave for twenty minutes to two hours.
  7. Wash the lino in running water. Wash it again. And again. The toothbrush helps to clean it.
  8. Remove mask, gloves, and googles.
  9. Print.
These examples show the effect of different etching times. We used two types of lino: “Grey” is T N Lawrence 3.2mm, and “Brown” is Great Art’s; cut lots of blocks, each about 8 x 6 cm; put on the caustic soda; and removed, cleaned, and printed a block at intervals.
10 minutes, Grey lino: Already something happening here. 
10 minutes, brown lino: Nothing happening here (I think the white dots are the result of bad inking).

30 minutes, Grey: Now something’s happening! The lighter parts are where the caustic soda has started to etch the lino. Though we put the soda on randomly, it’s easy to find images emerging in the print.

40 minutes, Grey: 

50 minutes, Brown: At last the brown lino is starting to show the effect.
60 minutes, Brown.
60 minutes, Grey

That’s all the tests for today. As you can see, the grey lino etches much faster than the brown. Next, we’ll try etching the brown lino for longer, to see how far it can be pushed. Does it disappear completely if you leave it long enough?

Etching lino: Making a picture

OK, so we’ve got the basic technique of etching lino to work. Now for the real challenge: using the technique to make a picture.

I made a rough sketch on the block; applied stop out varnish and crayon on the bits I wanted to stay solid. Left the varnish to dry for 48 hours, and then put the block in the caustic soda for two hours. Cleaning off the varnish was hard work — it took about an hour!

Here’s the first proof:

The block is 30 x 30 cm, which is the largest linocut I’ve ever done. Some nice effects appearing, but there’s still work to be done.

More etching lino

More etching lino. Left the caustic on a block of the brown lino for twelve hours, and this is the result:

The block survived the bite. There is still lots of lino left. It seems that extended biting times do not make a big difference: there’s be a point at which the soda runs out of power. Need to find out where this point is.
The brown marks on this print are made by the wet clay of the lino. I didn’t clean or dry the block thoroughly enough before printing!
(Update: Four weeks later, I stuck this print in my sketchbook. The brown marks had not dried, and transferred onto the facing page.)

Etching lino: Resist!

No, don’t resist from trying this! Resist is stuff you put on the block where you want to keep it solid, so you protect it from the caustic soda.

All these blocks were the slower-working Great Art brown lino. Each about 10 cm square. Left to bite for two hours. I tried to put the caustic soda on as thickly and evenly as possible. (I think the thickness of the soda also affect how much it bites, but that’s a future experiment.)

Stopping out varnish: Works, but needs to go on thicker, and leave it to dry longer. This had dried for about one hour.

Wax crayon. You can just about make out some curved lines towards the left of the print, but again, it needs to go on more thickly.

Sellotape: Works well, if you press it down hard enough. This block had several strips of tape across it, which I took off at intervals. The dark stripe at the bottom was not bitten at all; the next strip for about 30 minutes; the next for 60 minutes and so on.

Sellotape: Twisted and folded to make patterns.

Sellotape and wax crayon

Will power: Just applied the soda on the block in selected places. This doesn’t work too well if you do what I did: drop the block so that the soda ended up over nearly all of the block.