Project 6 Single Colour Linocut Exploring Texture

In my test squares, I liked a couple of squares which reminded me of shell texture and, since I have a collection of shells, chose this subject for my single colour linocut.


My initial idea had been heap of shells but thought these were too complicated and confusing. I moved my design to show individual shells from above so that the graphic shape of each was clear. I used a piece of dried seaweed skeleton to pull the shapes together and lit from the side so that shadows interlocked with shells. The idea was then drawn out larger and developed with a silver marker on black paper. The coral became bigger and I developed the shape of the seaweed.


One problem which struck me immediately was how to manage the transition of tone from light in the foreground to dark at the back? It seems to me that the drama and impact of linocut in one colour would arise from the play of light against dark and the switch from one to the other. I decided to use lino for the print, because I wanted to try some of the Dremel textures on the shell in the foreground. I chose a piece slightly larger than my sketch, trimmed it to match and sanded it.  I thought it would probably be easier to work large on this first print, even if it meant a lot of cutting.  A carbon sheet was taped to the back of the sketch and the two layers were taped to the lino so that they couldn’t move as I traced through.

Checking the tracing

Checking the tracing

When I had traced everything, I removed the sheets and clarified some areas with pencil.


Cutting took several days and my fingers got very sore, even with the tools taped for comfort. I used some scrap lino to test cutting each mark before I started a section. When I had done all areas, but been conservative in some about how much I cut away, I proofed the lino with charcoal on tissue paper.


The areas heavily cut away showed up well but the shadow areas were more confusing to read. I did very little more cutting at this stage, deciding I should do a test print. There was a place available on an open press day, so these prints were all done on an Albion press.

About to print

About to print


I made notes on this print of areas for development. I had not decided how far to push my shadows at the top, so I had lots more work to do there, and the cuts at the edges of the lino needed work. The white outlines to the shadows were a mistake, I should have marked the margin of these with pencil and cut hatching away from them. All I could do was soften these lines a bit.


Analysis of the plate

I like:

  • tonal quality
  • transition of positive to negative in the seaweed
  • differing textures
  • mix if bold and delicate marks

I dont like:

  • white surround to seaweed at top is crude
  • the transition in the directional lines of the background cutting from the foreground to the distance. I am not sure quite how I should have handled that.
  • the reflection on the rounded top of the top shell hasn’t worked too well; I think it should have been more broken.

I printed in black on cartridge and then on Hosho to see which gave the better response to the texture. I think the Hosho (above) picked up more subtlety in the textures, especially in the foreground shell.

Having proofed and printed in black, I printed in blue and then in sepia, because I felt these colours better chimed with the subject, evoking the sea and perhaps old photographs. I also tried printing on papers which had been prepared with dropping ink into water, again to evoke a sea shore. The block was also printed on several different sorts of Khadi and Lokti papers. One had inclusions of mica which worked well with the print and the crystalline structures of shells. All the papers worked quite well. I liked the effect of prepared backgrounds but the damp had rippled the surface a little even when dried carefully under blotters.

Prepared backgound

Prepared backgound

Khadi with mica inclusions

Khadi with mica inclusions

Hosho with ink splattered background

Hosho with ink splattered background

One of my prints didn’t print so well because a top felt had been removed without my realising it. In attempting to reprint it, my plate moved, spoiling the print. However, the slight offset was quite interesting, giving a real 3D effect to the shells. P1030875-2 P1030875-3

During the day I managed about 12 prints, all in different combinations of colour and paper.

At home, I wanted follow up on the double printing and see the effect of printing the block in a succession of two colours, slightly offset. It would also give me an opportunity to directly compare hand pressing with using the Albion.


Initially, I offset on both sides by a couple of mm, in my next print just in the one direction, which I think worked better. I think the use of the light colour followed by a contrasting darker colour has enhanced the print. The ink isn’t as solidly printed as using the Albion, naturally, but is quite acceptable. In fact, I like the slight textural effect in the ink.

I wanted to try a slight offset with more contrasting colours, so printed with orange to be followed by blue. Because of  pressure of time, I decided to print over wet ink which produced this effect.


The wet ink offset onto my plate over the second colour, so I printed this as a ghost on Hosho to pick up the less generous ink.

P1030914 P1030915-2

This is exactly the effect I was looking for and struggling to get! I think this has created a really interesting depth and richness.

Other things to explore with single plate/colour linocuts:

  • tiling
  • overprinting in different colours
  • unusual plate shapes (not registration issues if just one colour)
  • smoother cutting using Japanese vinyl
  • non representational

About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
This entry was posted in Part 2 Introduction to Relief Printing - Linocuts, Printmaking 1, Project 6 Single Colour Linocut and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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