Project 9 – Experimental Mark Making on Lino (etc)

I wanted to use this project to explore several areas of experimental mark making on lino and other materials:

  1. expand on some of the marks in my original mark making exercise and try more tools
  2. exploit further the marks made by a Dremel and revisit an earlier print, ‘Astro’,  which my tutor suggested could be developed with colour
  3. try mark making on polystyrene sheet
  4. try etching lino with caustic soda.

1. More Mark Making on Lino

exprimental (6 of 10)

Having looked over my shoulder in a perplexed fashion, my husband went to his workshop and returned with more things for me to try: tungsten carbon tips etching tools in various sizes and diamond tipped scribes. More marks were added.


2. Astro

My objective was to develop my original idea of this single colour print, as suggested by my tutor, as a reduction print using a Dremel for the majority of the cutting. I wanted to use a series of bright colours with a contrasting dark colour over the top.

space lino003

Original print ‘Astro’

I could have reduced my original plate, but I would not have removed the large block areas if that had been my original intention. I recut a new plate from scratch using various cutters in the Dremel and moving them either with the direction of rotation of the bit, or against it. The latter makes for ragged edged cuts rather than smooth curves. The first layer looked similar to the original print but without the large stripped out areas (but I forgot to keep a copy). I printed on a range of coloured papers.

Some cuts were opened out further using lino cutters. I developed the image as I went in response to the marks. On the third layer, I decided to strip out more area top right to create greater tonal contrast.

tundra (4 of 7)tundra (5 of 7)

I thought that I would print a couple in a lighter third colour and do a further reduction, creating dark areas along the line of my original print. I deliberately under inked this layer to let the lighter colours glow through.

tundra (3 of 7)

I quite liked this version, so I used photo-editting to crudely and quickly  mock up a further reduction by combining two prints.

astri trial 2 small astro trial 1 small

I didn’t think this further reduction would add anything, so I left my prints at two reductions.

astrocuts (1 of 1)

I like:

  • the quality of the lines and the way the layers interact at the margins of the lines
  • subtle under inking
  • spontaneously developing the image through the process

Disappointed by:

  • I should have tried some more contrasting colours in the paper; the green and pale orange don’t even show up in my photos
  • I should have tried printing on black paper
  • not sure about the balance of interest in the composition against interest in the quality of mark

Possible developments:

  • using a Dremel is like drawing with your left hand – try drawing from life on lino
  • try reducing a plate more and more just using expressive lines – tones and colours would need balance and thought.

3. Mark Making on a Polystyrene Sheet

I had been given a bit of this to play with at the Affordable Art Fair by Artichoke Press, and I was impressed by the quality of line it could achieve. There we drew on the sheet with a pencil, it was inked and then printed using an etching press and damp Somerset paper. After printing, the plate was a flat as a pancake and fit only for the bin.

I bought a pack of sheets from a children’s craft store and collected various implements from around the house, impressing them into the soft surface. This was inked up and run through my mangle with just a little pressure onto thin Hosho, which I find very responsive.

poly (1 of 1)

Annotated negative

Annotated negative

The polystyrene creates a soft, grainy image, with no hard edges. Detail is easily lost and shapes run together if you press too hard. I think the nature of this plate could be exploited by:

  • printing in a bright colour on black, or a pastel colour on a bright coloured paper
  • drawing from life
  • printing two sheets over each other
  • experimenting with cutting the sheets with a scalpel (without crushing) for jigsaw printing.

The little figure who grew spontaneously on my plate linked to an idea I have been developing  based on Papua New Guinea ceremonial masks and I thought this might work well with this medium.


exprimental (2 of 10)exprimental (3 of 10)exprimental (4 of 10)

I combined design elements from various masks and from the monster in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. I wanted to create my own take on these masks. To create my plate, I:

  • painted my image loosely in paint, so as not to indent the fragile plateexprimental (1 of 10)
  • pressed the image in using a biro, lego wheel, potato peeler, drill bit, circular bottle tops, cylindrical cutter grinder tip and paint brush handle tip
  • cut around my image with scissors
  • selected earth coloured sugar paper and white ink, to echo the original masks
  • inked with a roller without pressing down
  • used the mangle press on medium pressure with a single felt.
  • exprimental (5 of 10)

    Embossed plate, hole punched in nose!


exprimental (7 of 10)

I like :

  • the naive quality of this print, I think it suits the subject
  • the textured surface, not flat like lino
  • the spontaneous feel of the drawing
  • variety of mark
  • slight asymmetry
  • although the sheet was flatten out by printing, I was able, to my surprise, take a second print and could have taken more.

Not pleased with:

  • the polystyrene has a nap so marks work better drawn in one direction than the other, next time I would be aware of this
  • very fragile
  • difficult to put paper down on top of the sheet, it just wafts away
  • some marks too trepidatious
  • design too smiley, not enough presence
  • finely judged pressure for mark making; if one presses just slightly too hard, pattern detail is lost

I could develop this by:

  • making a jigsaw print; the plate cuts very easily but is so light that it moves very easily so the jigsaw could be tricky to put together
  • drawing in a life class?
  • cutting really delicate shaped plates
  • trying something more abstract.

I like this design and decided to exploit it with more traditional lino mark making. Following my research into Chris Pig’s linocutting, I wondered how precisely I might be able to cut and in how much detail. I decided to develop this design on a photocopy of my print and cut it in vinyl, for crispness. I thought it would also profit from reduction, which was impossible with the polystyrene plate.

marks sketchbook-1

To print, I:

  • cut around the vinyl shape but left two flat edges for registration in a card jig
  • selected black, brown and white paper
  • explored the original earth colours but also other colour mixtures including a ‘rainbow’ roll which I though would work well with the two sides of the face
  • used scraps of tissue to mask cutting lines.
Inked plate in card jig on the bed of the Albion press. Tissue marking and cutting lines.

Inked plate in card jig on the bed of the Albion press. Tissue marking and cutting lines.


Proof on brown paper

Proof on brown paper

'Rainbow' inking

‘Rainbow’ inking

blow torch  (16 of 11) blow torch  (17 of 11)

I photocopied this print and developed it with felt tips in different ways to decide on my second cut. This was again printed on an Albion press. I was able to try different colour combinations, and experiment printing lots of different colours, transparent, opaque, light and dark.

Proof of second cut

Proof of second cut

experimental marks-29 experimental marks-30 experimental marks-32 experimental marks-33 experimental marks-34 experimental marks-35

Many prints hanging up to dry at the press

Many prints hanging up to dry at the press


  • at the beginning of this course, I would never of dreamed that I would be able to cut like this although it is hardly perfect
  • printing on dark papers has worked well for this subject
  • cutting around the plate has worked well although I had to plan registration very carefully
  • registration is not universally perfect but I am pretty pleased with it – it could easily have not worked at all
  • the design has real drama and complexity
  • the rainbow roll worked very well but I prefer the prints on black paper
  • cutting and reducing this type of design was fun with lots of options.


  • the brown kraft paper was very effective with this design but, since it came of a roll and curled, I couldn’t reliably register it for a second pass
  • I tried to make the design my own but  it is not that original
  • it is very stereotypical linocut
  • I have no ideas how to translate this kind of cutting into a less stylised subject.

4. Caustic Soda Etching

I prepared small test plates by:

  • sanding and then cutting up a lino strip
  • marking all with acrylic paint marker, latex masking fluid, candle wax, oil pastel as resists
  • marking the pieces on the back with the time I was going to expose each to caustic soda mix
  • preparing caustic soda by adding two teaspoons of wall paper paste and two teaspoons of soda to half a cup of water.

cedar (2 of 2)

The mixture was painted onto my test strips and they were left for half an hour, one hour, two hours, four hours and overnight. It was clear after a few hours  that this solution wasn’t strong enough. The lino discoloured and changing texture a little, but not etching. The wax and latex masking fluid had successfully resisted the etch, the others hadn’t. I repeated the test but doubled the strength of the soda. I also tried scratching and cutting into the lino to see if this influenced the etch. This experiment was little better than the first. I repeated the test, but this time I made a supersaturated solution of caustic soda and dripping onto a lino plate without wall paper paste. I thought that either the paste was stopping the soda dissolving or was acting as a chemical buffer. This final test was no better. This is deeply frustrating because I know that Caustic soda etches lino; my husband has demonstrated this whilst unblocking a drain in the kitchen. Maybe Intaglio’s grey lino is better quality than my kitchen floor!


About SteveCussons

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in Part 3 Advanced and Experimental Relief Prints, Printmaking 1, Project 9 - Experimental Mark Making on Lino and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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