(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 (203 x 152 mm) / Overall – 11.69 x 8.27 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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