Self Portrait

Breaking new ground, subject-wise. But I’m not engaged in making pretty pictures, so why not??

Self- portrait: soft and hard effects

This was a sketch in coloured pencils, then a painting in acrylics, then a carving on a piece of softcut. Each stage was done sitting in front of a rather small portable mirror. It’s my first attempt with this material, and with this subject matter, and you can possibly see how hard I was staring! (This doubles as the professional teacher’s death glare..) The softcut is shinier than the vinyl I use in Hong Kong, and has two sides, one rougher- I wonder if it’s reversible like the stuff I have at home? I don’t think so- the rough side would make a very uneven colour surface.

Here’s the process so far:

I had blocked the sketch to indicate different directions of cut lines to suggest contours, so working towards a single colour print initially, with hatching to create form. Of course, using hatching on a face always comes out quite brutal. Anyway, I wasn’t trying to flatter myself with this, and wasn’t too worried that I made myself look like the wild boy of Aveyron. I took a few prints using some water-based inks, and made modifications. The first print version has a lot of texture, then for the second one I reduced this- I painted on a print with white acrylic in order to decide where to make the additional cuts. However, I felt that this was an image that needed softening, and that this could possibly be achieved through modifications to the block or to the printing surface.

This was an experiment in using:

  1. Wet and dry paper
  2. Different types of paper

I used cartridge paper, Chinese calligraphy paper, banana paper and “papier de soie”, which reminds me of nothing more so than the old Izal toilet paper.

Dry cartridge paper

Wet Chinese Calligraphy paper

Dry papier de soie

Dry banana paper

Wet banana paper


The soft papers give very sharp images, but are thin and inclined to crease. I like the “papier de soie”, but it can only be used dry, as it just disintegrates when wet. The Chinese calligraphy paper is good- it’s strong enough to be soaked, and has nice definition when dry too. The wet banana paper produced a very nice soft image, but lost definition as it dried. Wetting the paper went some way towards softening the lines, which I saw as a good thing.

Another technique that softened the image was double printing in slightly different colours.


Blue on green


  1. Combination mono- and linoprinting

This arose because of the failure of another modification- I tried to soften the lines by using sandpaper. However, unlike the vinyl I use in Hong Kong, which was very sensitive to being rubbed with sandpaper, this softcut material just shrugs it off. I tried rubbing harder, but to no avail. As an alternative then, I took a dry hard brush and brushed off some of the ink after it had been rolled on. This is a way to achieve some painterly effects on a linocut, as, with a hardish brush, the marks are visible.

Dry brushing on lino block

Similarly, I then used the brush to apply a second contrasting colour to the block after it was rolled with the first. This is another way to modify the inked surface, allows for more colours, and doesn’t present problems with registration.

Second colour painted on lino block

Another modification, possible using water-based inks, is to wet the brush slightly and paint on the block, to create hard and soft areas of the print.

soft and hard areas

  1. Reduction printing

The next modification was to cut away more of the block, aiming to make a reduction print. The second block is shown below.

Registration was lousy again. I seem to get it so wrong every time, even when I can see clearly where to place the block. This soft tissue paper moves easily though, and may have shifted on turning it over.

Blue over green reduction print

My favourite out of them is the one with the strangest colour combination- light over dark- pink over green.

Pink on green reduction print

  1. Chine colle

Finally, I had the idea of making an “identikit” effect by placing glued coloured squares of paper onto the printing block. It looks quite pop-arty. It seems like a cheap gimmick, but I prefer the chine colle used in this way, rather than for “colouring in” as I did earlier.

Chine Colle


The softcut is very absorbent of the ink colours. In the end, I actually prefer the softcut block itself to the prints, as it has picked up all the colours of the various print experiments!

Softcut block

Again, it’s been a journey!


2 thoughts on “Self Portrait

  1. Hi Chris, I really like the pop art picture, the colours you have chosen are very harmonious. I also like the painted and acrylic. Despite the “stare” there is a likeness. The softcut block above has some lovely subtle shades to it as well as great detail in the face. Missing you all. Men here today moving some of the stuff out.

  2. All these experiments are very good!

    I’ve used Softcut for one of 4 plates in a jigsaw print for Project 10 (remember those days?). I did printing from an uncut plate first of all, from both sides, and can actually see no difference in the prints – if there is any difference, you’d need a magnifying glass to see it. I know what you mean about its resistance. I felt it almost bounced back as you were trying to cut through – and was surprised, because I’d bought it from a suppliers who seemed to be selling it as the synthetic alternative to traditional lino, highly suitable for use in schools, etc. Whereas I came to the conclusion it’s such a different material to lino, that you actually end up with different prints. I thought you could get super-sharp, clean cuts in it, though, which is why I then opted to use it – for a print of my bike, i.e. sharp lines for the machined metal form. Like you, I also liked the cut plate!

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