(Or: the truth about Lino!)

Maybe it's Martian fortifications?


…was used to make this.

A little while back I blogged about a mys­ter­i­ous work-in-pro­gress — well, it’s now fin­ished, and I can now reveal: it was one of the plates for lino-cut print of a blue-ringed octopus, now avail­able on Etsy.

Since this was my first for­ay into the world of lino-cut­ting and print­ing, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the pro­cess.

I’ve wanted to try lino-cut­ting for a long time, so for my birth­day I bought a few lino blanks to play with. No, you can­’t just get lino floor tiles from a DIY store — it’s all vinyl these days. I needed to buy spe­cial art lino: I also noticed that the art shop had some spe­cial ‘soft-cut’ lino, but ‘how hard can it be to cut lino?’ I thought.

A few days later I had a couple of pristine pieces of (hard) lino­leum in my hand. (Although inven­ted a hun­dred years earli­er, isn’t lino­leum a great ’50s sound­ing word? I’m pretty sure that if you say it three times, Don Draper appears and orders an Old-Fashioned!)

Working, not surf­ing!

I began by plan­ning out the pic­ture on my PC. I had already decided on my sub­ject, a beau­ti­ful blue-ringed octopus, so I used the excel­lent and free Inkscape vec­tor graph­ics pro­gram to sketch out a design (note the ref­er­ence photo) and plan out the col­ours. Each col­our in the print needs a sep­ar­ate lino plate, so I tried to keep it simple: yel­low, blue and black (well, it works for IKEA!).

I kept the col­ours on dif­fer­ent lay­ers of my image, so that that I could print out each col­our sep­ar­ately.

Tip: the final image will be reversed. Only a fool would for­get some­thing like that. Luckily I hadn’t used any text
Okay, so now I had my three tem­plates prin­ted out, but I needed to trans­fer them onto the lino so that I could begin the carving. But how?

Legends spoke of a thing called ‘car­bon paper’, a mys­ter­i­ous rel­ic of a bygone age when type­writers ruled the land. So I went to an actu­al IRL sta­tion­ary shop, did the secret hand­shake thing, and was reluct­antly shown into the musty dun­geon where pre­cious sheets of this lost tech­no­logy of the ancients resided. It’s also avail­able on Amazon.
So now I had my images on the lino, and I was ready to cut. It was at this point I decided to do some pre­lim­in­ary research. Like many crafty things, it seems like every­one has their own tech­nique, but there were a few com­mon points for new­bies like me:
    1.Buy the soft lino (doh!)
    2. Start with a single col­our sub­ject (oops)
    3. Whatever you do, don’t try and start off doing some­thing with lots of curves and fiddly bits (sh**! An octopus has more curves than a bur­lesque troupe and more fiddly bits than a folk music fest­iv­al!)

I was begin­ning to see why some people do their pre­lim­in­ary research at the start of a pro­ject. Go fig­ure.


Anyway I star­ted carving. Luckily I already had some wood carving tools, which work great on lino. It was very slow going, and I got major neck and shoulder cramps, but I think the res­ults (as in the close up at the top of the post shows) look rather cool.
But that was just the first plate: I still had the oth­er two to do!
Tip: Apparently, you can gently heat the lino to soften it. As I was at the oppos­ite end of the house to the oven, I did­n’t try this.
I was very afraid I’d get con­fused as to which bits to leave and which to remove. Especially as the bits that are ‘leave’ for one plate are ‘remove’ for the next: for the blue plate everything but sea is cut away, but for the yel­low plate the sea is cut away but the octopus mustn’t be.
Tip: I put X’s to indic­ate which bits to remove … or maybe which bits to leave … I for­got which!

All done!

And then I was ready to print, yay! This is way more fun than just click­ing the little print­er icon. I’m going to carve all my paper­work from now on.
I eschewed ink for the col­ours because, who uses ink for print­ing? Instead I mixed acryl­ic paint with thin­ning medi­um to pro­duce a vaguely ink-like sub­stance.
The print­ing itself is reas­on­ably simple: use a roller to trans­fer the col­our to the lino, plonk it on the paper, and press it down firmly with a ‘bar­en’ (or, to use a less tech­nic­al term: ‘a spoon’)

After the 1st plate

Now, my ‘ink’ does­n’t adhere to the paper as well as reg­u­lar ink would have done, but I like the stippled effect that it gives.
Once everything is dry, the yel­low lay­er goes atop the blue. The big prob­lem here is get­ting the col­ours ‘in register’, i.e. lined-up with each oth­er — I built myself a card­board template/spacer thing but even so thing wer­en’t always per­fectly aligned. This is, in my opin­ion, part of the joy of hand­made stuff — it isn’t per­fect, and every instance is dif­fer­ent.

After the 2nd plate

I’m also very happy with how the yel­low matches the tex­ture of an octo­podes skin, and their subtle vari­ation in col­our dens­ity. My wife is less happy that I’ve covered the floor of our work room with wet octo­podes, neces­sit­at­ing Lara Croft style acro­bat­ics to get from the chair to the door!
For the final lay­er I used draw­ing ink, because I want a very sol­id black to draw the ele­ments togeth­er. I think it works.

Final Stage Complete!

So there it is: my first lino print. If anyone’s temp­ted to try some­thing sim­il­ar let me know how it goes in the com­ments, below, we’d love to hear from you.

Article Details

Item: Blue-ring Octopus Lino Print

Dimensions: Image — 8 x 6 inches (203152 mm) / Overall — 11.698.27 inches or 297mm x 210mm.

Materials: Acrylic ink hand prin­ted on heavy weight (300gsm) acid-free water­col­our paper

Availability: Available on ETSY — click for details

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3 Responses to In Lino Veritas

  1. […] print (like our Snow­flake card), but in three col­ours instead of just the one. (Also, see here for my first encounter with lino-cut­ting and […]

  2. You know, there is SO MUCH to learn when get­ting into linocut­ting. I appre­ci­ate read­ing what you have learned on the way. I have not tried “soft cut” mater­i­al. But i remem­ber try­ing to cut from a ply­wood plate after doing a lino­leum plate, and it IS SO MUCH HARDER. At first, I was frus­trated, and thought “To Hell with it,” and gave up after half an hour. I was using linocut tools on the wood. Later in the day, I gave it anoth­er go. I knew I knew noth­ing about this. So, why not take my time, try, and try some more, and see what I could get out of it. And that is the best advice I know of. T‑R-Y. Try and give your­self grace. I learned a lot. At first I did­n’t even like the way it looked, BUT over time, well, now I love it.

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