I have to admit, up front, that whilst I admire linocuts, they’re not me. I find it hard to get my head around the management of tone in a linocut. I find them overly controlled. Before this course, I have only ever done about three or four linocuts. I have everything to learn.
I have two nice small linocutters, a 2mm V and a 3mm U. I have a set of cheap cutters, second hand but newly sharpened. My first experiments cutting within marked squares was on ‘softcut’ which is stocked locally. I found this very elastic. Whilst easy to cut, it moves and compresses in front of the cutters. I also found instantly that I hated the cheap cutters with a vengeance. I completed a set of squares, but mostly with my decent cutters.
I ordered a couple more good, Swiss cutters and also sourced some grey lino and some Japanese vinyl for comparison. I have heard that this is very good, and was surprised that it was cheaper than lino. I did some small test squares on these whilst waiting for my new cutters. I tried cutting both materials and also tried printing on both thin, Snowdon cartridge and Hosho Japanese paper. I experimented with the marks each cutter could make, but also the two in combination. Hot paperclips and metal wire were also tried out.
The thin Hosho seemed more responsive to me, but since it comes off a roll, curls easily. It is so thin that you can see through the back how your print is doing. It is surprisingly strong. I enjoyed cutting the vinyl more than the lino, which improved once warmed. The vinyl cuts more cleanly, but you can gouge the lino and flick bits out. It has a more organic, less controlled feel. The vinyl takes a crisper cut and prints a more uniform surface. The lino has a slightly ragged edge and bits of hessian from the backing can intrude. I found it difficult to cut crisp angled shapes, so I also tried cutting shapes with a knife and then a cutter, which was some improvement.
When my cutters arrived (5mm U and flat gouge) I did more test squares.
I had read that some printers sand the surface of lino with wet and dry sandpaper to make it smoother, so I tried this on my next experiment where I attacked some lino with a Dremel. This made good organic marks and spots using drum shaped cutters and round cutters respectively. Some of the calligraphic marks were too shallow to print well. Pressure also made a big difference to the mark made. I think the sanding did improve the smoothness of the lino and the crispness of the print.
All these samples were hand pulled.
I can see lots of suggestions of textures in these samples: hair, grasses, rain, fabric, waves, shell, bark etc.
I thought it would be interesting to cut up some of these squares and use them as repeat patterns. The Japanese vinyl is really easy to cut and would make good jigsaw plates.
I had got a little fed up with black and thought it would be fun to overprint in a couple of colours. My yellow layer doesn’t really show through the strong red. My squares weren’t exact and this really shows up in the registration. I quite like the tiling idea though and it shows how a simple pattern can rapidly build complexity. Transparency of ink is another issue to be considered.
I think my cutting has improved through these exercises and I can see why people talk about ‘warming up ‘ on spare lino before cutting a project.