Top tips for new linocut printmakers - part one

When you’re just starting out exploring printmaking, there is so much to learn about learning the actual craft that sometimes the little details can be overlooked.


This post details things that I've discovered over the last few years that have helped me on my printmaking journey; they're a bit different from your usual printmaking tips but I hope are just as useful.


The physical side of printmaking

Your mind may be a printmaking machine but it’s really important to look after your body too while printmaking. I’m guilty of carving for hours on end all pumped up creatively and then wondering why my back and shoulders hurt and why I’ve got a headache all of a sudden.


  • Have a bottle of water on hand to keep hydrated

  • Take regular breaks, even if it’s just to walk around the room for a couple of minutes

  • When you’re taking a little break, have a little stretch too as you’ll be surprised how much tension can sit in your shoulders after being hunched up concentrating on your lino block for any length of time

  • Help prevent eye strain by using the 20:20:20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.



Sharpen your tools regularly


It’s really important to sharpen your carving tools regularly to help prevent any accidents from slipping and to make your blocks easier to carve. A good rule is to do this after every 20 minutes of carving (perfect time for a break then, too).


Below is a really great video showing how to keep your tools in tip top shape using the flexcut slipstrop that I use.



Prepare your workspace

I’ve talked before in a previous post about preparing your space before you start carving or printing, but I think it’s a really important part of the printmaking process so worth mentioning again.


If you’re carving, have a little tidy up so you have enough space to be able to move your block around comfortably while carving. Make sure you have all your tools laid out before you start, and have your slipstrop for sharpening and a bottle of water on hand.


If you’re actually printing, this is especially important as there's often a lot of clean-up required after printing and the last thing you want to do is leave ink drying on your rollers or brushes that could potentially damage them.



Think outside the box

This may sound cliché but I think it’s one of the most important things to know as a new printmaker.


If you can imagine it, you can create it.


Linocut printing is such a flexible medium and you can create anything you want to. A lot of printmakers begin by carving simple birds and flowers and then progress onto much more complicated designs. Be sure to plan your illustrations carefully, knowing in your head which areas are to be carved and which will be left raised.


Be kind to yourself

I think it’s really important as a new printmaker to go easy on yourself.


You’ll get super messy, print letters backwards, rip paper, under-ink, over-ink and a million other ‘wrong’ things besides that on your lino printing journey and that’s okay. Every printmaker (I believe, even if they don’t admit it) has had moments early on when they just threw their hands in the air and had to go cool off before they snapped their wooden spoon in sheer frustration! It’s all part of learning a new skill and slowly but surely, you’ll learn how to listen to the ink popping as you roll it out and how much pressure to use with your tools and before you know it, things are starting to fall into place.



Practise before starting


This is something I still find useful to this day; I take five minutes to carve a few lines on some scrap lino block at the start of a carving session.


I really find that it takes a little while each day to 'get my eye in' and there's a chance I could make a mistake if I just dive right into a complicated block. It really helps to spend a few minutes limbering up!



Sleep on a design


This may seem like a strange suggestion but I think it's worth doing. What I mean by this is to let a day or a few hours go by before you start carving your design.


I sometimes find that when I leave a design for a little while, I come back to it with fresh eyes and I'm able to pick up little details or tweaks that I didn't spot before that will make the print even better.



Easy ink cleaning


This is just a little tip I've found super useful for cleaning ink off your glass plate.


Use a palette mixing knife to scrape the ink in lines and pop it all into a tissue. This will save a lot of water and tissues (or however you clean your plate) because you'll have removed most of the ink already!


Cleaning linocut printing link Caligo
Cleaning up linocut ink

Thank you for reading. You can read part two of this list of linocut tips by clicking here.