Reduction linocut – Nan print

Design / composition stage

Further to the last attempt, I chose to spend a lot longer playing with designs in my sketchbook before starting the carving process. This meant I knew exactly what I was doing right from the outset and produced a much more satisfactory outcome.

In order to be efficient with my time I gridded up a photo and drew an original version, which I then photocopied a number of times allowing me to refine and work over the top with colours.

As I was working there were many memories and associations of my nan that started to filter into my psyche. I remembered hearing that she had worked for boots at one time hand colouring black and white photographs. This technique creates a rather strange atmospheric effect which I thought might be interesting to explore.

The results were not particularly pleasing but from this exercise I knew that I wanted to use a very subtle palette with very limited saturation. An overpainting in gouache led to an interesting outcome which I chose to use as a basis for my print.

I was unsure how to develop the background so to be efficient I decided to scan the image in and have a quick play with different ideas on the PC in GIMP. I decided the polka dot version worked the best out of these.


I really liked the painterly effect of the brushmarks from my little study and wanted to replicate these shapes in my print. I had been looking at the linocuts of Jess Bugler recently and particularly her Nightwatch series. I found her process very interesting. She made clay sculptures of the militia men and then photographed them in bright sunlight, these were then translated into linocuts. The resultant prints had a very sculptural, material quality that I had not seen before in print. I wanted to use this same process but using the painterly marks that I had made.

unspecified3I scanned my painting in and flipped it then printed in black and white. I traced around each shape for each relevant colour and transferred these to the blocks.


I found the black marker that I had used for the dark areas came through when I printed the pink colour. This wasn’t so much of an issue as I knew it would be covered up with further ink but it is something to remember for the future.

Whilst I worked I referred closely to the photograph of my nan rather than the initial painting. This was because I found that upon reflection the painting was not a very good likeness and I wanted to refine it as I cut. This on one hand worked to get a better likeness but on the other hand I did make some mistakes and so needed to repair the block several times with wood glue and pieces of lino. This is the stressful part of reduction lino – you can’t go back.

I chose to use a lot of extender with my colours as I wanted to emphasize the passing of time and depict that faded look. I felt that layers of transparent ink allowed me to achieve this effect quite successfully.

Through the course of printing the layers I found the more that I cut away that it was easy for ink to get into the unwanted areas. To counteract this I used a baby wipe after each inking to remove these areas. Some ink remained but most was removed so that it wasn’t too distracting on the print.

My initial sketch had 4 layers but when I added a further layer it was a step too far and ruined the atmosphere of the intial print, I therefore took the decision to keep it with three.

Final print - 3 layers

Final print – 3 layers

I tried many different types of paper to print on: Japanese papers, thin tissue and also fabric. The last two materials related to the ephemeral nature of the subject matter that I was trying to capture. Also there was a link to my Nan by using fabric reflecting that she also worked as a dressmaker.

To print onto fabric I had to use a different method. This involved placing the block upside down on top of the material and then using a hammer to hit the lino down. I found the resulting print was quite patchy and faded but actually I like this effect and feel it is in keeping with my initial intentions.

Registration worked well using my mountboard corners, however I noticed on the last layer that there was a slight overlap on the bottom even though the top was in alignment. To find out how this could have occurred I posted on facebook, and was really grateful for the support and response from various members of the group, I wanted to share a few comments here:

“I noticed it is fine at the top so your lino has stretched with cutting and printing which makes registration impossible – this happens to lino once most of it has been cut away” (student 1)

“my painting tutor said to me that a painting should look like a painting not a photo. I think your Nan print lives as a print and the fact that the overlap shows is authentic to the medium! It really doesn’t detract from the image at all, in fact I think it adds to it” (student 2)

Bowing to their greater technical knowledge, I am relieved that actually this is just something that happen when printing lino in reduction and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. I like what Hilary says about how this creates authenticity in the print and immediately makes me think of Walter Benjamin and my initial intentions. I did not set out to create a rigid, perfect reproduction, instead I wanted to embrace the various idiosyncrasies of the medium to produce prints that retained the aura of painting, so this minor blemish is in keeping with these concerns. This has also made me consider the next exercises. I would like to develop this last print into a series of more experimental prints which exploits variation, difference and imperfection.

Evaluation summary

What worked well?

  • Successful outcome in terms of colour and nostalgic / melancholic atmosphere.
  • Strong composition
  • In keeping with intentions of depicting fading time.
  • Printing onto fabric and using transparent layers of ink works well.

What was challenging / not worked so well?

  • It was a challenge to keep a clean print after cutting away large portions of the lino. It took a few runs to realise that it was a good idea to wipe the lino with a baby wipe after each inking and prior to printing. Luckily I had produced a large number of editions initially; otherwise I would have not achieved the result I wanted.
  • The overlap at the bottom edge was a frustration to me, but as discussed in the previous post – I had received feedback from other students with technical experience who explained the lino had stretched and there was nothing I could have done – its just one of those things that can happen through the reduction process and its good to embrace the imperfection.


Thinking about the idea of imperfection and authenticity has reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s criticisms of reproduction and printmaking. I would like to explore this and take this print further in project 10 when I produce more experimental prints.


Project 8: Reduction woodcut

Further to my statement of intent (here) I decided to look through various old archive photos as a starting point for this project. There were 2 ideas I had:

  1. Fading boat – A photo from Mull of a decaying boat. Personally I find this boat very poignant and affecting. It is present in our photos but in the recent storms it had been washed away, so it is now just a trace. There are also underlying narratives and associations: memories of my father and also a reflection on the fishing industry / times past. All linking with ideas of loss.
  2. Nan as a young woman – an archive photo from my Mum. Her hairstyle is of a particular era / also many personal associations and memories I would like to explore.

Reduction woodcut – Boat

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