True Grit

Preparing your lino.

reduction linocut

It’s not often these days that I make a breakthrough rather than a series of small adjustments in improving my lino cut. This breakthrough is so modest, simple and, now I think about it, so embarrassingly obvious that I am pretty sure most people do it already: it’s to sand the lino before using it. Give lino a very gentle sanding with a fine paper, I use the black wet/dry 600 (dry), and printing large areas of perfectly smooth thin, thin ink becomes a doddle.

Thin, thin ink is rather important for my kind of printing: I usually go to six or seven layers of colour and because I use my dip pen drawings as my pattern to cut, there’s usually a lot of very fine detail. The gloopier the ink, the more detail goes and the messier everything gets. My friend and fine printmaker Ian Phillips mentioned the business of sanding as a throwaway comment and he’s changed my life. Well, not my life; the house still needs cleaning and there’s no masseur available on tap, but it has improved my printing no end.

The other bit of preparation I find helps is to rub a bit of colour into the lino: cutting through a colour (I usually use red) into grey is so much easier than grey on grey and somehow much more satisfactory.

The print here is inspired by a poem by Carol Ann Duffy about Red Riding Hood. The connection is loose to say the least, I’m taking part in an exhibition for World Book Day next year and this is a possible entry. As you can see it is layer on layer and registration is critical. I also use cobalt dryers to speed up the drying of my now exquisitely thin ink layers. Cobalt dryer is a pretty purple liquid which I add in tiny drops to the inks (it doesn’t affect colour at all) and instead of my waiting around for days between layers, I have only to hop from one foot to the other for a few hours before I’m printing again.

Words to the wise about this sanding business though – do try and remember to do it before you do the master drawing on the lino block. I was in peril of scraping off all my pen lines on this one…