Photo of walkers in the Mendip hills walking the charity Mendip Challenge for Weston Hospice.

Mendip Challenge linocut

Just over a week ago I went back to Somerset, where I grew up, to take part in the annual Mendip Challenge with an old friend. Thousands of people sign up for a sponsored walk of various lengths across the Mendip hills back to Uphill cricket ground on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare.

This is all in aid of Weston Hospice in Uphill, and one can choose to do 5 miles, 10 miles, 20 miles (us!) or 30 miles. There are some pretty steep gradients up and down, but one of the best bits is the stretch towards Crook’s Peak where you get some fantastic views over the Somerset Levels and towards Glastonbury.

When I got back to Hastings, I felt inspired to try a smallish (A4) linocut of the Mendip Challenge. The difficulty is in the carving of small human figures, I find, but I thought I’d give it a go.

Here is the drawing I made.

This is based on the view an hour or so after our lunch stop, as we walked in a very strung out group along the crest of the Mendips, heading towards Crook’s Peak. To the right is a low dry stone wall. To the left are magnificent views of the countryside below. Might save them for a later linocut …

First I carved a dark key block. This would do most of the work in creating the image, and I thought I would worry about how to add colour once it was done.

So here is a print from the key block.

I was pleased with this. It showed the scene I had imagined. I used a couple of photos I had taken on the walk as a reminder and the people were invented. I needed to tidy it a bit before moving on from test prints, and I thought I might experiment with and without the birds in the sky.

So how to add the colour?

One possibility was hand painting each print. I don’t normally do this – but in this case the image is small enough to print on my new small press. This means I can use thicker paper to print with less worry about the paper buckling once watercolour or gouache is added. If I do decide to go along this route for this print in the future, I will need to print the black (or dark outline) in Caligo – as Akua water-based inks might not be happy on top of other paints. The time I tried to print over acrylic with Akua was a disaster – the Akua still hadn’t dried after months!

I decided to add colour with additional lino blocks instead – which is the usual way of adding colour to linocuts. In this case, with the outline so dominant, I don’t feel heaps of different colours are needed. I thought I could get the result I was looking for with just one additional block – cut into two pieces. And after a bit of experimentation on the computer, I thought the image worked best with some of the “fiddlier” parts of the composition (the people and the wall) left uncoloured.

I inked the dark key block again, and transferred the image to a piece of tracing paper – then rubbed this onto another lino block to get an accurate template for the colour block.

Here is a test print from the colour block once (some) of the white highlights have been carved. I wanted to see if the two blocks were aligning correctly.

This one colour works rather well, I think. I might print some in this single colour for the final edition.

So then I cut the “blue” block in two so that I could ink the sky and the furthest hill separately from the rest of the print. The idea is to ink this top block in a light or medium blue. I will print the bottom two thirds in a gradient colour of blue-green at the top and green at the bottom. I think this is also known as “rainbow rolling”. I’ve never done it before, and this seemed the ideal opportunity to give it a go.

Here’s the test print showing how that turned out.

I think this is coming along nicely. The sky was a bit experimental. Still not sure whether the birds are going to stay.

I’ve cleaned the blocks and inking slabs and will return to them this evening or tomorrow to carve out a few more tiny bits. And then I will start printing on printmaking paper!

(A few days later..)

Here is one of the final prints using water-based Akua inks on Kent printmaking paper.