So I have a sketch to work from for my prospective new linocut Wood Mouse and Wild Garlic, which will be the first in a series of linocuts celebrating spring wild flowers. You can read the first part of this blog here.
Choosing the linocut technique
So how to do the linocut?
I wanted colour. Thinking about it, the colours needed were likely to be 3 to 5 – brown for the mouse, deep green for the leaves, fresh or light green for the background and possibly a touch in the flowers. That’s three definite colours. Possibly also pinkish or something tonally similar for the mouse’s ears, lower legs and tail, and a dark colour would really be required – for the eyes and probably elsewhere in the image.
One considers whether any of these colours can be made by combining two or more of the others. It’s difficult to have a lot of colours in a linoprint. Too many layers take too long to dry and the medium works best, I think, if one tries to avoid too much complication with colours. It is particularly nice to use just a few colours that repeat throughout the image.
I have always very much admired linocut printmakers who manage to make a wonderful range of colours in a print with just two or three colour blocks, overlaid cleverly with semi-transparent inks. Clare Curtis is particularly good at this.
Look at these two by Clare. Both are linocuts (and both available to buy from her website, by the way). The one on the left, The Border, seems to be created with just two colours – but clever use of transparent overlay (I’m presuming of the red ink) creates a third colour, the burgundy. At least, it looks to me that is how she has done it. And see how cleverly she uses the white of the paper as her fourth colour.
The image on the right, Mistletoe Grove, uses salmon, green and black and I presume the brown colour is created by an overlay of the salmon and green. Not totally sure about this, though, as there seem to be a couple of other shades – a bit of grey, a darker salmon and a slightly different shade of green? Is it just three blocks? So clever!
An alternative to multi blocks is to use just one lino block and cut away more of the block between each colour. This linocut technique is called reduction. It is usual to start with the lightest colour.
I always used to work this way. It is very efficient, registration is easier, and it’s much less expensive to use one block instead of three or four. It’s great fun as well – probably the most satisfying way of doing lino printmaking because the image appears quite magically. In fact, I really must get back to doing reduction prints again.
However, there are a few disadvantages.
The main disadvantage is that you’ve only got the one block and if you go wrong you’re completely stuck with it. This encourages rather a cautious approach. Another disadvantage to a certain extent is that you have to print the entire edition of prints right from the start, and you need to allow for duff ones. And if the final cut isn’t as good as you hoped, you’ve got a whole edition of prints to put in the bin!
More recently, I tend to do multi block prints. This is mostly because it means I can experiment with different colour combinations.
One multi-block linocut technique I sometimes use is to have a key block. This is the dominant block – usually dark. This style emphasises the texture and outlines. The key block holds the design together with colour as a lesser factor underneath. I carve the key block first and use it to register the image on other blocks used for the different colours.
This is the technique I am going to use for this one. Wish me luck!
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