Project 8: Reduction Method Linocutting

18/10 – 05/12/16

Project 8: Reduction Method Linocutting

In this project  you will learn how to cut and print a multi-coloured linoprint from a single block of lino. This is called the reduction method.

Preparing Your Design

Following on from tutor feedback, I had decided to try to expand on a subject that I was exploring as my personal voice. That being misogyny perpetrated by other women, which is a puzzling subject – however, I decided to be brave and zoom in on a very personal angle. From my experience of not having children, I was surprised and often quite hurt by the attitude of those lucky enough to be mothers. Assumptions abounded that I was selfish, career driven, cold and unfeeling. The question “Do you have children?” became, from my perception, almost accusatory and, with my answer in the negative, I felt the superiority dripping from my interrogator’s words. Due to the frequency of my own “near misses” shall we say, this feeling was reinforced many times.

As my sketchbook was in transit between the UK and Lanzarote, I resorted to using roughly A5 sized paper to work through my design, these I joined together horizontally to create a long, type of story board. This worked well as each page was visible as I progressed my thoughts. I began with the positive aspect of my subject, looking at general symbols for fertility such as the Madonna and Child, Lotus flowers and the moon. Others were explored for example, elephants, cats, frogs and pomegranates. As I moved along with my thoughts a circular motif evolved, which naturally gravitated to include the moon, lotus flower and the Madonna and Child. I also felt I needed text to help illustrate the meaning behind these symbols. I tried sentences, yet they seemed too explanatory, I felt that just relevant words would be better for both establishing meaning and composition, yet leaving a little interpretation to be made by the viewer. I think I was subconsciously inspired by a video my tutor suggested I watch, of Angela Cavalieri creating a large-scale linoprint. She drew with words to create her work which also heavily relied on symbolism. I watched this several times and once more to write  this blog – my efforts seem extremely elementary in comparison but I still feel they do the job required of them. However, on reflection, I could have maybe curved them around the centre pieces to accentuate the cyclical element – maybe I missed a trick there?  After working on the positive, I needed to address the negative, which after all, was the more personal experience to me.

Following a similar principle, after a little experimentation, I decided to work with a circular motif again, although this time in a wreath style. This alluded to remembrance and I felt drawn to the Christmas Rose flower for the wreath. As tears were many during these times, they began to formulate into a constant shape throughout the images, I considered hearts both whole and broken, however, I felt this was too obvious and pulled away from the shapes I wanted to use. As with the previous image, I worked in thumbnail sizes, evaluating the overall appearance and composition and how it was to symbolise my message. The fetus shape contained within the main tear drop is, hopefully, not too gruesome but a simple representation of what is lost so early in its life. The Christmas Roses signifying the number that was lost and the three small tear drops the average number of months of those lives.

After both sets of thumbnails, I began to think of creating a diptych type print as, the images would make more sense as a pair. To this end, it was important to refer backwards and forwards between the two, they were opposites, yet joined as if two sides of a coin. As both images were circular, I needed to think about the space they were placed in. I felt that a square frame was ideal, plus when they were placed next to each other in the jig for printing, I would have a rectangular whole image made from the two images.

As I worked, I discovered that, and then exaggerated, the tear drop shape was repeated in both the positive and negative images. After all it is common to have both happy and sad tears. This was another factor that linked the two. The Madonna and Child were simply indicated by two tear drop shapes combine together and even the highlights on their faces resembled a tear drop.

The next thing for both images was to explore the text aspect. I knew I was making it harder for myself but the subject was too important to me for half measures. I felt that I should make the lettering soft and not “type cast” and uniform. The actual words to use must also reflect my perceptions and make the viewer ask their own questions. I suppose my objective is to make those that have successful outcomes consider the feelings of those who don’t – it is not a medal of achievement and therefore, the opposite should not be of failure. It is just the way it is.

Colour was also important – I wanted them to be representational, they had to be fairly minimal in number and had to be uniform across the two images. I decided to keep the text white, the robes of Madonna and child the traditional blue along with the text background and tears, with silvery grey for both moon shapes, flesh/peach for the faces and the internal petals of the lotus flower and the Christmas Roses and finally a deep red for accentuating elements of the roses, the outer lotus flower petals and the main tear drop. With a little experimentation these fell into place nicely. I had considered a final black outline on the main objects but after printing the blue, felt that this would deaden any subtlety that remained.

I was really pleased with the final designs and was keen to get going.

Planning process for the positive image:

Planning process for negative image:

I transferred the designs on to two pieces of lino cut to the size and shape I had determined using the scaled designs from my sketchbook, that being 15x15cm square. This was also in response to suggestions by my tutor, where she rightly surmised that I had worked to the scale and shape of the pre-cut lino block and not through any real thought process. I had also decided to add a thin border line, purposely making the internal line ruler straight and the outer more ragged/natural, this being left white like the text it would contain. Using tracing paper to follow the outline from the drawings and being mindful to reverse the image when transferring to the lino – particularly important with the text element! As the lino was going to be cut in sequence and frequently washed of used ink, I enhanced the outlines with indelible pen.


The Cutting Process

I took my time during the planning to work through in which order I would print the colours and therefore considered carefully how to proceed with the cutting of the lino. I worked through the colours in pencil on my sketches and then hatched out each stage to ensure I was cutting the right lines – no going back!

I was using genuine lino this time so was careful to keep warming the surface with a hairdryer to make cutting easier. Although I was using many different shapes and lines, I couldn’t quite see how to incorporate a variety of mark making – maybe a different subject would be more appropriate for this.

I took rubbings of each stage to check the success of cutting before each different colour was printed. See below:

In between cuts, prints were taken as documented in my sketchbook. I only have the three primary colours and black oil based inks. As I needed to mix pale colours for two of the print runs, I decided to try Titanium White oil paint to mix with the inks as necessary. The first colour being a pale pink/peach colour using white, a little red and even less yellow. The mix was just right in shade and with the addition of a little linseed oil, appeared to be the right consistency. The next print run was to be a pale silvery grey and consisted of white, a little blue and minute amount of red – again this was very successful and with a little linseed oil, printed very nicely.

Surprisingly, my most challenging prints were the straight colours of red and blue. I again mixed a little linseed oil with each, as I have done with all the oil inks so far with success. This time, however, the coverage was sporadic and varied in both colours. This was very disappointing as these solid colours really needed to be just that. I was convinced, because of my previous use of the same inks, that my prints would be successful particularly at this stage, the hurdle, I thought, would have been the mix of white oil paint. This was one challenge, the other was my registration jig.

I had created a jig of cardboard for both lino cuts, with apertures for each square measured out equidistant horizontally and vertically to place the two images centrally in an A3 sheet of paper. I marked where the A3 sheets should be placed to maintain registration. There did seem to be a millimetre or two of play in the apertures which gave a couple of instances of misalignment in my printing. The main problem occurred where the printing paper got marked and made the printing a little messy. The main culprits being:

  • an unnoticed crease in the cardboard where I had cut the apertures, which eventually picked up ink and printed
  • a stray fibre or two from the lino, which again picked up ink

Having noticed this, I snipped off the offending strands – and checked for any subsequent ones and also masked the apertures with tape when inking, and removed it before printing (except for one occasion where I forgot!).

Below are some work in progress photos following the process:


The paper used was a heavy weight cartridge paper size A3. The inks were Sakura Printing Oil Colour in Red (19), Yellow (3), Prussian Blue (43) with a mix of Titanium White Winsor & Newton Artists’ Oil Colour. I attempted a run of 12, bearing in mind potential losses and an artist’s proof, I was looking at an edition of 8 prints. I am still at a loss as to why the red and blue inks did not print consistently as the lino was well inked but not over inked, the burnishing was thorough and it didn’t seem to matter I let each colour dry thoroughly before applying the next. There seemed to not be a common denominator other than it being out of the tube and mixed with a little linseed oil. I will have to do further research. I don’t even think a press would have made a difference so I can’t blame my tools!

So in conclusion, up until the third and fourth colours, I was very happy with the progress. My greatest leap forward was with the subject and its personal connection. I feel that I depicted my thoughts well, which I admit did get a little dark at times, however, I feel the overall vision was more positive and pleasing to look at regardless and in spite of the message. It was also therapeutic for me, and has left me with a sense of making the best of what I have and still finding happiness – in life (except for the last two colours – in my prints!!).

Sample print from an edition of eight

Sample print from an edition of eight

The above sample probably shows the best registration but unfortunately is a little patchy and not overly clean around its edges.

Below are close-ups of each square image.



Close up (warts and all) of the positive print in square format

Close up (warts and all) of the positive print in square format

Close up (warts and all) of the negative print image in square format

Close up (warts and all) of the negative print image in square format



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