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Top tips for new linocut printmakers - part two

Part two of my list of hints and tips that I wish I'd known about when I first started linocut printmaking. Some of them are obvious, some less so, but they're all things I hope will help you on your linocut journey.

caligo safe wash prussian blue relief linocut ink

Waste not, want not

Ink is precious. And it's expensive. I often find during a long printing session that I've spread out across my glass desk by about 30cm as I'm continually adding, rolling and re-rolling ink. It's a necessary step but you'd be surprised how much ink you use by spreading out so much.

In part one of 'top tips for new linocut printmakers' that can be found here, I talked about using a trusty palette knife to scrape ink off at the end of a printing session to aid clean up. This palette knife trick can also be used whilst you're printing. The photographs below show the steps for essentially gathering up your ink ready to be used again and not wasted if you've rolled it out too thin.

cleaning caligo safe wash linocut printing relief ink

Test and check

Most people find one of the trickiest aspects of linocut printing is printing solid blocks of ink. Apart from the age old saying practise makes perfect, which most definitely applies here too, testing and checking is one of the ways you can ensure that your ink coverage is as solid as possible.

It can be super daunting at first when you start printing by hand but there is an easy solution, as illustrated in the photograph below. You slowly and carefully peel back the paper to see where you've rubbed with your baren or wooden spoon. You'll then be able to see if your ink coverage is solid and if you're on the right track. The trick here is not to let the paper slip. Even one millimetre of slippage will be very visible on your paper so you need to keep one hand or tool on the paper to keep it steady and be sure not to peel back too far as you still want the ink to grip the paper and hold it in place.

You can repeat this process as many times as you like until you are confident you have the desired coverage of your paper.

testing linocut print forage

Checking for debris

No matter how careful you are with your own hair/pet hair/dusty surfaces nearby, etc. you will almost certainly experience flecks of dust or hair appearing out of thin air seemingly and landing in your ink.

Some printmakers aren't bothered by the odd speckle in their print, it certainly adds to the hand-printed feel of a print. If you do miss a little bit of dust on your block, you can decide what you yourself think is acceptable of course.

To help limit this though, what I would encourage any linocut printmaker to do is have a quick glance over their block before they add their paper to check for anything that shouldn't be there.

In the picture below, you can see how even the tiniest amount of ink can show up on your lovely white paper. This tiny fleck is certainly not enough to throw away a print over, but it does give you an idea of how easily ink will transfer in this way. You probably can't even see in the bottom picture how small the single strand of hessian is (from the back of the lino block) that has some stray ink on it is.

In the top picture you can see how noticeable it is when pressed against pure white paper.

flecks on linocut prints stray marks

The best thing to do before laying your paper is to bend down so that you're at eye level with your block, like the angle in the photograph below, and just double-check there are no flecks of dust or anything on your inked block.

You want a pristine inked surface like this.. believe me even the tiniest specs will show on your print.

solid ink linocut print

Colour matching

This is just a little idea I had for prints that don't use ink 'straight out of a tube.' My St. Ethelbert's Gate print is a dark stone grey colour and I wanted to have a record of that ink for when I print more editions.

I have lots of these little air-tight bags from various items I've received over the years so I simply used my trusty palette knife again to scoop up a little bit of the ink before I cleaned up last time and sealed it into a bag like in the photograph below.

The ink isn't often fresh enough to be able to use itself but rolling some out gives me an idea of how close I am to matching the same dark stone grey colour for future prints.

storing excess linocut printing ink

Masking marks

Printmakers tend to develop their style with or without using chattermarks. Chattermarks are the lines you see that typify linocut prints.

They happen when ink catches the raised parts of the lines carved on a print. Most printmakers either love or loathe them. I personally prefer my prints cleaner with less chattermarks but still think they look wonderful on the prints of others.

If they bother you, there are a couple of ways you can use to hide them. One if using masking tape on top of the erroneous ink marks and the other is by making a mask out of paper to keep the edges neat.

memento mori linocut print

I really hope you've found this post useful. You can follow my linocut journey on my Instagram here.


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