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How to Lino Print : Beginner's Guide

With my upcoming workshops at Scampston Walled Garden I have really been thinking about the process of lino printing; from inspiration to final print. I want to create a really simple guide that explains the magical process of lino printing but allows for you to find your own ways and experiment with the elements of the process.

Step 1:

I start with my inspiration and I honestly get ideas from everywhere and anywhere. I am currently collecting sticks and twigs with lichen on and am slowly formulating a plan for what do with them! However when out running this morning I kept having to dodge the snails in the road, who had just emerged from the hedgerows after the overnight rain. I was immediately drawn to their bright green shells and thought how I could create an image with these and the vibrant grass that was growing at the side of the road. So for the rest of my run, which was very tiring, I was focused on what I could do with the image and how I could create the most striking image using minimal blocks and in a variety of compositions. So at this stage you need to take photographs, collect images and create compositions/still lifes of the objects that I want to 'immortalise in lino'.

Unwanted Visitors in illustration form

Step 2:

Then comes the trickier part of it as you have to draw the image that you want to print. I always mark out the size of the lino block into my sketch pad and draw the image to fit- this makes it easier. If you are creating an abstract or stylised image then you don't need to worry so much about proportion or perspective! I have found this a really trying process especially when completing my 'Dissolution' series of the Cistercian Monasteries of North Yorkshire. This series was really out of my comfort zone as I had never really got perspective however trial and error and a few Youtube clips later I can say I am finally getting the hang of it. It is at this stage that you need to be thinking about the image that you are going to carve into the lino and the end result you want but more of that a bit later.

Step 3:

Quite simply it is to transfer the image to the lino block by tracing the image and then tracing the impression in reverse onto the lino block. Remember the image is going to be a reverse of your illustration on the lino so that when printed it will print the right way round. If this is your first time doing this then avoid text as you may be disappointed with the results and regret doing it...I know that I was!!! (It is also tricky working out letters in the reverse!!)

Crocus Explosion carving in process

Step 4:

Carving time and one of the crucial things is that you have decent light to do it in so that you can see your transferred image on your block. Also check that your tools are sharp- if you did it at school you will remember that the tools were always a bit blunt and you usually ended up with carving your finger as well as the lino!

It is important to experiment with the different blades/tools on a spare bit of lino so that you can see the marks that they all make before you commit to your final block. When carving you must carve away from you and keep your fingers behind the blade. Use a non slip mat under the block to create friction to reduce slippage when carving. I have learnt the hard way and have carved more fingers than block! Always start with finer tools as you can always carve more away and you can't put back once you have taken out.

Another challenge is that you have to get your head around that you leave behind the image that you want to print. You can carve the linear image out and then print RLH Prints who I follow on Instagram does this style of carving brilliantly. The other way is to carve out the background and it is the image that is the solid block of colour, Lou Tonkin does this fabulously.

Ink on the rollers

Step 5:

Test printing is a really exciting stage that is full of promise for that moment that you see your actual image come to life in print.

So you put a tiny bit of ink- see at end of blog for details- onto a bit of acrylic or a tray- doesn't matter as long as it is flat- then roll it with a roller to warm it up and get it to the right consistency. The way to describe how you know when the ink is ready to apply to the image is when it makes a small squelching sound and it looks like suede.

Then roll the ink onto the block but make sure you are covering evenly and you don't put too much on otherwise the image will appear distorted. If too little is applied then you will get a very patchy print. Apply the ink to the block and test print onto paper- at this point it doesn't matter the type of paper but it needs to be smooth surfaced so that the image can be seen in it truest form.

When looking at your test print you will be able to see bits that you have missed or areas that need more refining by taking out more lino. You can repeat this process until you are happy with the image.

To print you can either place the block on top of the paper or paper on top of the inked block. To ensure that there is an effective registration you need to apply pressure to get the image from the block to the paper. Some printers are lucky enough to have presses but for others- like me- use spoons or rollers. I use an inking roller to press the image but you need to make sure that the image doesn't slide about. I think this is more likely to happen when there is too much ink on the lino block.

Step 6:

Now it is inking and printing until you have got all the prints that you need or want. If I am printing my larger pieces 30cm by 30cm or larger I only ever print between 5 and 10 originals in a series. Sometimes I may only print 3 if I have struggled to line up multiple blocks- but that is another blog subject!

Step 7:

Reflect on the printing that you have done and enjoy it but think about the next project. Is it going to be cards or a bag? Once you have used a block you have to clean it up; you can use baby wipes or other cleaners such Lincoln Wash or Citri Wash from Hawthorn printmaking supplies which I have found to work really well at cleaning up equipment that you really know that you should have done a week ago!

I hope that you have found my brief explanation easy as I have explained very much the process that I go through when I create my prints and surface pattern designs.

Tools for Lino Printing are:

Lino Carving Tools: Essdee are good to start with but Pfeil are the best in my opinion.

Lino Blocks: You can use traditional hessian backed lino or vinyl lino. I use either depending on the type of image that I want to print.

Ink: Speedball water based inks are good for printing cards and are a brilliant introduction. Calico Safe Wash relief Inks are oil based and water soluble are good with a quality pigmentation and produce good images. I have now started working with Hawthorn Printmakers Stay Open Inks, which dry amazingly quickly on fabric.

Rollers: 2 are needed; 1 clean and 1 dirty. Essdee again produce lots of different types.

Tray or sheet of acrylic

Baby wipes.

Paper/Card: I use screen printing paper from Jackson Arts Supplies or recycled kraft card.