Project 10 – Experimental Relief Cuts

exprimental (6 of 10)

My objective in this project was to build on the experimental marks from Project 9 to create an abstract or semi-abstract design for a print. I played around in my sketchbook with marks to see what they suggested. I particularly liked the crisp little arrows from a hammer and the saw marks. I could think of several interesting ideas which I hope to come back to later, but developed these marks as suggestive of flags or banners.

marks sketchbook-2 marks sketchbook-3

My main difficulty was that the hammer marks are small, and I was unable to make them any bigger.  I could add impact by:

  • printing on black paper
  • on coloured paper
  • use chine colle
  • use different coloured inks
  • condensing the marks onto a small plate.

Initially, I proofed in white on black paper (no photo, sorry) but the impact wasn’t what I hoped for. I thought about using little coloured scraps of chine colle, but instead tried one larger multicoloured piece,  to go under all the banners. This definitely didn’t work, although the colours were interesting.

paisley (13 of 17)

monoprint background

I decided that I had to add more hammer marks, and some larger marks using a knife. I also added more saw marks at the bottom.

I printed over my original proof, so here you can see where I have added the second set of marks.

Second state printed over first as a reduction print

Second state printed over first as a reduction print

experimental marks-21

The plate now had much more impact, but I wanted to introduce colour to my banners, so, instead of chine colle, I monoprinted a background using acrylic paint printed through a stencil, the same size as my lino plate. Some irridescent paint was added to the final monoprint layer to increase impact and to suggest movement in the banners. I tried white cartridge paper and black Canson paper. The black paper gave a much better finish, smoother and without rippling the paper.

paisley (19 of 17)paisley (17 of 17)

The monoprinting created a slight texture which has made the linocut seem less crisp, but I thought I could exploit it by under inking and allowing the acrylic layer to show through. I tried printing the lino in both opaque black and transparent blue.

paisley (14 of 17)

experimental marks-22 experimental marks-24 experimental marks-26paisley (12 of 17)

These were printed at the open press, using registration blocks and the Albion press. Finally, having run out of prepared backgrounds, as we were cleaning up, I took ink samples from everyone’s slabs and mixed them on my roller to ink up. There were light and dark inks, so I printed on a mid toned paper. This was terrific fun.

experimental marks-27 experimental marks-28


  • I really like the nature of these marks
  • printing in dark ink on pale backgrounds or coloured paper added impact
  • combining monoprinted backgrounds with transparent ink produced interesting effects
  • mixing inks in different colours and viscocities was fun and produced lovely effects
  • these prints made everyone smile


  • very difficult to produce impact with fine marks
  • monoprinting  acrylic paint produced texture which reduces impact of marks
  • acrylic paint rippled the paper


  •  use the marks for a reduction print
  • upscale the marks on wood with bigger tools?
  • combine the marks using multiple plates

Snail using Dremel

Having made an abstract plate in my previous project using a Dremel, I wanted to see if I could use it to draw in a more figurative way. The Dremel had worked well for a shell in an earlier plate, so I used some recent photos of a snail as a reference.

marks sketchbook-4

I was not sure how to treat the background. It should give context but not be too assertive, and I certainly didn’t want to get into drawing every blade of grass. I decided on a few suggestive swipes in the background, using a Japanese woodcut tool which gives a slightly different cut to a linocutter.

Design drawn out on lino

Design drawn out on lino

I cut around the snail shape with a knife so that my ‘grass’ would end sharply at the edge of the silhouette. In trying to be free and spontaneous with my background cutting, I lost the plot and made more marks than I had in my minds eye.

experimental marks-18

I printed a few backgrounds but didn’t really like them. I used a small roller to add some different tones to break up the flatness of this. The detail for the snail was cut just using just the Dremel, the background cleared using linocutting tools.

I proofed my plate in black, and they in my chosen colour so go over the backgrounds, a pale blue/grey.

First proof

First proof

experimental marks-17

Torn tissue paper used to soften edges

experimental marks-19

Intended colour

I then printed this over my backgrounds hoping it would look luminous in contrast, but it came out much flatter and darker than I had hoped, so I added a bit of the blue ink to white to lighten it.

experimental marks-20

The snail disappears. The plate was overprinted again, in yet lighter ink, in the hope that the snail would standout more and have a more 3d appearance.

fri 9-5-14 (1 of 1)

This has more impact but the detail of the fine cutting is lost with another layer.


  • drawing with the Dremel was very easy, quick and effective
  • the snail makes a good subject with its contrasting hard and soft textures
  • graphic image when background is omitted
  • using different coloured inks on the edge of a roller helped the background
  • removing the background completely except for cutting lines was a big improvement.


  • dreadful choice of background, overpowering snail
  • the marks are interesting but don’t really capture the soft and hard texture of the snail
  • my attempts to cut low lights on the shell didn’t work, very difficult to pile up the marks with a Dremel
  • the snail could be improved with reduction, but I think that might make it even fussier. I think this is best left as a simple one colour print.


  • I think the Dremel is great for drawing on lino and I must acquire more and different bits. Any design needs to carefully consider the balance and density of marks with quiet block areas. I think this would work brilliantly on plastic for drypoint.

More Woodcut using freer marks and the wood grain


I wanted to try another woodcut, influenced by my research and Gail Mallatratt’s and Berndt Zimmer’s work. In my previous woodcut print, I had made a tightly representational piece, and here I wanted to arrive at a greater abstraction of a subject. My garden is always a good source of ideas and the shadows on the fence inspired me for this piece; the play of light over the planking and the grain and knots.

marks sketchbook-5 marks sketchbook-6

I took photos and played about with colours, tones and edges on the computer. To make my plates, I:

  • found some board with distinctive grain
  • sawed off two pieces the same length, giving me four plates since I could use each side
  • used a wire brush attachment in the Dremel to bring up the grain, leaving one side alone or a flat background plate
  • sanded each piece, especially the edges  and corners so as not to tear paper
  • decided against varnishing the wood, so as not to fill in the grain
  • on the least grainy side, I cut rough lines to represent the fence planking, and used a saw blade to make additional linear marks
  • to add interest and rhythm, the plank lines are in a Fibonacci series.

experimental marks-10 experimental marks-9

The first side was proved on lightweight and heavier Hosho paper to see how much grain I would pick up. The lighter weight on the left picked up more of the surface, but I was surprised at how dominant the grain was; I didn’t expect it to be a clear as this.

experimental marks-8 experimental marks-7 wood plate-1

My plan was to print the densest plate, yellow first, followed by the cut plate and then the less dense grains on top.  The thickness of the plank meant printing by hand using registration blocks, and a baren used on top of silicon breakfast cereal packing, to avoid damaging the delicate paper.

As I printed each layer, I was able to respond to earlier layers by:

  • changing the order of the plates
  • omitting a plate
  • printing a plate twice in different colours or reversed
  • using stencils cut from photocopies to preserved the ‘plank lines’ or add diagonal shadows
  • printing on the back of the paper to alter tone.

Strip stencils held down with registration blocks


woodgrain-7 woodgrain-6 woodgrain-5 woodgrain-4 woodgrain-3 woodgrain-10


Printed front and back


Stencil for diagonal shadows

Stencil for diagonal shadows

coot-4 coot-5 coot-6 coot-10

Some of the prints of just the most highly grained plates were really reminiscent of water, and, although a cliche, I thought it would be good to exploit this with a linocut image superimposed. I sketched some waterbirds from a book with the idea of produced a very simple but free design.

marks sketchbook-7 marks sketchbook-8 marks sketchbook-9

I cut this in lino looking to create a solid shape with free textural marks. The white beak of the coot couldn’t be produced just by cutting, since I would be printing over a coloured ground, so I decided to dab ink this small area.

Coot textured with saw blade marks inked in blue with roller and dab inked with white

Coot textured with saw blade marks inked in blue with roller and dab inked with white


Proof, under inked


Test combined print on smudged background



  • the grain of the wood printed well and is very interesting, though much more dominant than I had intended
  • it was very enjoyable responding to how a print was developing
  • four plates gave opportunities for many combinations and variations
  • overprinting a plate twice with a lighter colour produced excellent results


  • my original idea got rather lost in the strength of the grain
  • the linear marks from the saw are insignificant compared the grain
  • the final result is more abstract than intended
  • the non-bird prints are interesting, but I am not sure that the design element is strong enough
  • the coot idea worked ok, and the texture lines give it life, but the head and neck look contrived
  • would any of these be strong enough to stand on their own, in a frame?


  • these plates can make great backgrounds for the future, as could some of these prints
  • find some wood with stronger grain than the flat Japanese ply but not as strong as this larch.

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 10 - Experimental Relief Prints, Project 10 - Experimental Relief Prints Part 2 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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