Single Linocuts: Mum

Context and planning

Visiting my mother at New Year was an opportunity to work from life and to improve my portrait skills as she I quite happy to sit for me. My tutor had picked up on my portraiture needing work so I thought this would be good practice.

Whilst sketching I noticed my tendency to rush, as I don’t want to put the model out, so my initial studies were very quick sketches, I also took some photos.

When I came to working light onto dark I found the process very challenging. After speaking to a fellow student she explained it is probably because I am focusing on line too much rather than areas of tone, which I need to address.

In this print wanted to produce a portrait with feeling. As I sketched Mum I noticed the lines on her face. It is interesting that you don’t often look closely at you parent’s face, I think there I a tendency to take them for granted, and it was quite disquieting to notice her ageing. I wanted to try to convey this sense in my print.

My research led me to the linocuts and woodcuts of the German Expressionists who were concerned with depicting emotions and difficulties within their work. I had a look at a number of this group. (See slideshow below)

I wanted to look closer at these artists’ prints so decided to produce a few studies of them in my sketchbook. It was a useful exercise to explore their mark-making and the way they handled the subject. I found they used dramatic lighting and strong contrasts to convey a strong sense of emotion and atmosphere.

A number of these artists were very economical with their use of line, leaving large areas blank to suggest areas rather than presenting lots of detail. The viewer’ mind fills these areas in and makes sense of the work, so simplification is key.

After returning home from my holiday I chose to continue working on the subject from photos I had taken. I cropped these down on the PC and turned them into monochrome studies.

It was important for these not to be photographic in nature, as I was looking for expression rather than accuracy, so I gridded the photos up to get the correct placement of the features but then continued to produce sketches, drawing very freely.


• Problems with this image – I transferred it onto the lino using conte crayon and so the initial drawing rubbed away as I started to carve which caused a few issues.
• Placing the photo in front of a mirror so I could refer to the lines as I carved and meant I could work quite freely.
• I made cutting mistakes due to the lack of initial drawing. Luckily the OCA facebook forum gave me good advice on how to repair a block: – by filling unwanted gap with acrylic medium and then sanding down. I made the mistake of using modelling paste which had a very chalky texture when dry and didn’t take the ink very well. Further advice from the group suggested using cotton buds with ink on to go over the areas that weren’t printing successfully.
• This advice meant I was able to retrieve it from a complete disaster and the result was OK.

“Mum 2”

• Learning from above I traced the image with a pencil and then reinforced with a biro.
• This produced a much more accurate result and I was pleased with my mark-making particularly in the hair.
• Considering the ‘fragile style’ that my tutor had referred to I wondered whether reducing the contrast between paper and ink would create a more delicate atmosphere.
• I tried a number of alternatives using lighter inks or darker paper which provided  different types of atmosphere that I found pleasing.
• I also used a piece of cheap tissue that had some wrinkles in – I felt that these crumples and the nature of the surface linked to the theme of the fragility of life, and therefore added meaning.
• Another technique that I had come across was the use of double printing – this meant producing two prints on the same paper – there were slight differences between each pass which added an interesting atmosphere that I quite liked.

NB – After finishing my multi-block prints I had some spare background prints that I chose to print on, which were quite successful. One with a brighter sky blue colour was the most successful and was reminiscent of a print by contemporary artist Per Inge Bjorlo that I had been looking at.


What went well?
• The subject matter and the way they were handled link well together, emphasizing the fragility of life which is a burgeoning theme in my work.
• Mark-making: The hair works well; the hatching is quite successful and the rugged expressive lines work to express a feeling and emotion of ageing and perhaps loss.
• Using a variety of papers and colours provided interesting textures and atmospheres.

Didn’t work so well/ Challenging?
• Issues with initial block transferring the design using conte crayon and losing the drawing alongside attempt to repair the block.
• Inking the lino was a struggle. I received great advice from the facebook group on how to do this – for lino she recommended I either sand the block or clean it down with a scourer before inking and then go over the block with a large number of thin layers. This took time but resulted in much better and consistent prints.

Future Development?
• Other ideas have occurred to me since completing this print – in the future I may come back to it and print onto text or perhaps I will do this as a self portrait when I get to part three of the course.