Project 9: Experimental Mark Making on Lino
This project will allow you to experiment with different tools to create a broader range of cuts and textures that linocutters alone can not offer.
After ransacking both kitchen and tool shed, I emerged with a random selection of tools and implements that would hopefully make some kind of mark on my test lino block.
- Small flat head screwdriver – Most marks were very straight, even if I tried to curve the line, it became angular as there was no flexibility in the blade. I couldn’t make a mark with the flat end of the tool as it wasn’t sharp enough. Although repeatedly scraping backwards and pushing the blade into the lino made some impressions. Most marks were made by using the corner of the blade. Wiggling it from side to side made a nice, uniform pattern.
- Tile saw blade – As it’s a straight blade, I had to bend it into a curve to be able to make any marks at all. When I moved the blade back and forth in a sawing motion to scrape the lino, it didn’t actually cut as such. By using the curve and therefore a wider surface area, the tiny teeth of the blade made a set of lines and these could be changeable in width according to pressure used. Again curves were difficult to produce, however a nice calligraphy type style could be made but only in an angular shape. No deep cuts could be made.
- Stanley Knife – Although the blade is sharp and clean cuts could be made – it was very unwieldy to use and I was aware that it cut better pulling the knife towards me rather than away from me, which was a little worrying. I thought I would be able to cut shapes out easily but I was unable to gouge out the centre of them – so I would have to use another implement in conjunction with the knife. I also cut right through the lino a couple of times. Any marks made were very fine and I don’t think they would print much if anything.
- Fork – This was more interesting to use and safer. I could make the more obvious straight marks with the four prongs. However, by adding pressure and twisting the fork into the lino, it produced the most successful curves/almost circles so far. It was difficult to achieve a complete circle but was effective none the less. Thickness of line could be varied also by using the fork flat on or sideways. By twisting the end prong into the lino, nice circular holes could be made.
- Assortment of keys – I had what appeared to be padlock keys – like small Yale type. These made some scraping marks but did not cut deep. Other keys may have been for bicycle locks – with a stubby cylindrical end with slight variations at the opening. These made some interesting circular marks, particularly where the actual “key” notches were, by pressing and twisting into the lino. Neither made a deep imprint.
- Pastry cutter wheel – Why is it the implements that you would assume make the most interesting marks turn out the least successful? It made minimal impact on the lino although the faint marks were attractive – I’m not convinced they will print at all.
- Smaller flat head screwdriver – this was a little sharper than the first screwdriver and also made good wiggly marks. As this was a little smaller and easier to handle, I tried using it as if drawing rather than cutting and it could be useful for texturing marks.
- Small pair of scissors – Using the tips of the blades and actually scissoring into the lino, made interesting pairs of marks that were not at all symmetrical. I also used just one blade and “drew” with it. Producing slightly curved lines was possible this way. I also managed to gouge circles with just one blade point.
- 7cm long brass screw – I thought I’d be able to draw and make lines with the pointed end, but no – it wouldn’t move in the lino. It did however, make good stabbing marks on its point and slightly angled. I tried using it on its side with the spirals but nothing at all appeared. The screw head also failed to make an impression.
- Fruit zester – After the pastry cutter, I did not hold out much hope. However, this actually had the best gouging capabilities although it seemed to blunt quite quickly. It could make light marks similar to fret work patterns, or by exerting more pressure, make deeper ones although not for such a long stretch. It could also, be dug in and twisted to give a set of curves. Using it sideways gave fairly ordinary faint lines.
Once I’d completed my ten squares of experimental marks, I prepared some red oil based ink and some A3 sheets of cartridge paper. I pulled two prints which were a little faint, replicating the lack of intensity I had experienced in Project 8. Then I remembered reading that dampening the printing paper may help the ink adhere more successfully. This I did by wetting both sides of the paper sheets and then pressing them between sections of kitchen paper – this made the paper consistently damp but not wet. This worked much better and my next two prints were sharp and intense in colour.
Looking at my test prints, apart from random scratches and more organic marks and shapes, some of the implements used have created quite an urban and/or industrial feel. I then reviewed my test print of marks to establish the most successful of the selection. These proved to be:
- Small flat head screwdriver (1) – wiggled side to side and reminded me of cogs/wheels/chains. If they could be made into arcs, it would be reminiscent of gearing. Some of the other marks could be sparks flying from a furnace or welding equipment.
- Stanley knife (3) – using the corner of the blade, these have the irregular appearance of globules of molten metal being flung through the air. Other very thin strokes made by the knife didn’t actually leave a white mark but, instead, a darker line or streak where the ink collected. These could be the “tail” a bright light leaves in the vision after it has gone.
- Smaller flat head screwdriver (7) and 7cm brass screw (9) – both used in stabbing and flicking motions gave a varied set of marks in both size and depth. both 7 and 9 placed in my mind the pitted mark that molten metal can scar other metal surfaces – as if sparks were flying around and landing on other things in their vicinity. This fits in with the other elements mentioned.
- Fruit zester (10) – These marks remind me of grids or lattice – particularly in metal, looking through railings or bars/portcullis and such rusty metal structures. Because I had used red ink, I think this made me think of heat, the shapes I discovered made me think industrial – therefore metal or steel works.
I then made thumbnail sketches trying to develop and expand on these ideas for my experimental lino print.
Considering colour to emphasise atmosphere for the experimental lino print:
The colours I would choose would have a large impact on the atmosphere I wanted to convey. I wanted to show heat and bright white light that would reach into dark, musty corners of a workshop or industrial steel works. I had some inks that would be useful in orange, brown and copper but they were water-soluble, plus I needed some other colours to help create the vision I had. As needs must, I had another attempt at using acrylic paint mixed with printing block medium and experimented with yellow, red and ultramarine blue. Once mixed in and left for a few minutes, the medium became tacky enough to obtain that “sound” when rolled which indicates it’s the right consistency. I wasn’t sure whether to mix some colours or just layer them to give a subtle overlaid colour mixing effect. I settled for a combination, the yellow and orange were fairly “out of the box”. I had an “iron” brown, that when mixed with copper produced a less flat colour with a hint of metallic. My main challenge was the dark – I’d tried mixing and layering the brown and ultramarine but neither method quite got dark enough. In the end, I decided to mix a little black ink with the ultramarine but also to dab off a little of it from the block after rollering from the lighter areas. This worked well to give depth in the darker corners and fine outline around the shapes.
Instead of drawing out the shapes on the lino, I just worked freehand reversing the drawings in the thumbnails so that it would print the right way round. My main mistake was not creating a cardboard jig for registering each layer accurately, I thought I could make it work by drawing guidelines on paper to align each colour because I was working so small (A5). I was very wrong and this spoiled what could have been a very interesting print. However, there’s no point making mistakes unless you learn from them and this has been one big lesson. Another lesson learnt was that when experimenting with other cutting tools etc, the same materials should be used in the actual work otherwise similar results can not be guaranteed. I used easy cut for the test block and grey lino for the final print block. They reacted in different ways to the zester tool for example. It had become a little blunt from the mark making trials anyway, and then using it on actual lino, which is much harder changed the marks considerably. I tried a few samples on some off-cuts of brown lino, which is harder than the grey but I gained more understanding by doing that.
Below are the four prints taken using the reductive technique and non lino cutting tools. The registration is very hit and miss and this has had a major detrimental effect on the result. However, I still like the prints – the atmosphere has been captured, the marks are very abstract and can suggest different images. My intention had been to create an illusion of hot, sweaty, noisy, dark with blasts of light and sparks place of industry and some elements of that have worked. I can also see an urban landscape depicted in almost thermal imaging of rows of terraced houses, factories etc – maybe the light source is the sun, maybe it’s just a flash of electricity emphasising the man-made world? When I showed my husband he saw an aerial view of where we live – next to a large (dormant I hasten to add) volcano that has an urbanisation growing up around it – you may almost imagine the volcano coming to life and threatening the civilisation beneath it. I know this is probably the opposite to the intention of most print editions but I also like that there are differences between each one because of the dabbing off of the dark ink. It’s almost as if they are time-lapse photos of the same scene.
My favourites are, I think, 2 and 3.
Anyway, enough of being fanciful – the registration was still rubbish!