Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

Prints on a theme: The Vamp: Combination Lino- and Monoprints

While making the linoprints, I was often struck by how attractive the actual linocut block looked, so made some monoprints from it as I was going along.

The second lino block

Some of these were painted onto the lino block, some used backdrawing. I used tissue paper for all of them because it was delicate enough to pick up details, even of the cut marks painted over. Here are two examples. Painting directly onto the lino allowed me to create three-dimensional effects to contrast with the flat colours of the original lino prints. I used three colours on the bikini to suggest light and shade, and was able to round out the body shapes with shadows and contours. The inked cut lines in the background now suggest a soft surface, and imply a different orientation of the body, as if she’s lying down.  The second print here is lifted off as a ghost print then backdrawn over a second inking of the lino, in red. This one does not aim at three-dimensional effects, but combines flat colours, patchy and distressed, with line.





Prints on a Theme: The Vamp: Kitty Cougar Linocut

Kitty Cougar: Lino cut

This was unfinished work from before the trip to Bucharest, so this is a bit of a recap before going on to discuss how this print eventually developed.

This was a departure into a different style, because the figure has a very different character. This is a burlesque dancer whom I sketched at life drawing. I’ve already used one of my sketches in a jigsaw lino print, and this is another pose that I found interesting. It’s a complete contrast to the introspective feel of “Meditation”, or the quietness of “Enchantment”. It could suggest movement, like “The Hunter”, but this is a still position, rather bold and provocative, not to say risqué.

In my earlier jigsaw print, I used brash unnatural colours, experimenting with green and blue for the skin, and reduced it to simple flat colour blocks. These colours were probably inspired by prints by Philip Sutton. I felt that the green skin and pink hair emphasised the commodification of the female body, and also gave the image something of the gaiety theatre air of a Toulouse Lautrec poster.

I had in mind something similar for this one, and wanted to arrive at something that would reference a promotional poster.  I also envisaged applying gold leaf to the background to make it both gaudy and ironically iconic. I was envisaging white skin- printed, not the white of paper, as I wanted it to be a positive shape, a thick viscous look if possible. The bikini in a garish colour- emerald green. Gloves in black.  A yellow background, which I would then apply gold leaf to, like a religious icon, to reinforce the boldness of the pose.

I had in mind here lino prints by Gary Hume. When I saw these at the Hong Kong Art Fair I was impressed, first of all, by their sheer scale. That I can’t aspire too, obviously. The other aspect of them that I would somehow like to emulate is their – I’m not sure what to call it- thickness, plasticity.  Their sheen. They have no need for outlines, as the layers of ink create edges in relief. The ink is built up in layers, it seems. In order to try to do something similar, the only ways I can think of using are:

  1. Using my oil based inks, which seem to be shinier and more viscous, and
  2. Layering colours one over the other, as in a reduction print
  3. Using a less absorbent paper, perhaps with a sheen.

I decided to use the biggest size lino I have, which is A3, and which would be harder to handle, printing by hand.

My problem at the time was lack of suitable paper of a size to print on. I had to scratch around for anything  that might do.

Now I’m just going to show the different versions of “Kitty Cougar” in order to talk about  the different finishes that arise from using different papers at the linocut stage.

I printed this in oil-based inks, and used the following papers- white tissue, coloured tissue, newspaper, wrapping paper and cartridge paper.

Printed on dark blue wrapping paperThis worked quite well, with the ink sitting on top of the paper and preserving its sheen.  There’s a lot of texture in the ink though- not a smooth finish at all- due to that resistant surface. The ink shows the suction marks where the paper was pulled from the plate- I’m not sure if there’s a name for these kinds of marks, but there needs to be…! I’m sure in professional printmaking terms, these are to be avoided like the plague, but I have a certain liking for them- they do serve to draw attention to the medium, pinpoint the relationship between print and surface, and yell out “This is an artificial construct” but I’d be worried about submitting it for assessment as it would probably be judged as inept, and I can’t in all honesty say it was a planned effect. I like the colours though- it’s garish- the yellow is battling against the blue in strength of hue, as well as showing its viscosity/ tenacity.

This was another one I liked. The transparent yellow background couldn’t hide the newsprint, so it has a back story and another layer of pattern. I like the contingent fact of it having a centre-fold too, and, like the wrapping paper above, it has a texture of its own from folds and creases. The paper is shiny so the sheen I wanted is there. It is a smoother finish than the wrapping paper- no suction marks this time- well stuck!

This next one is on plain cartridge paper. It has a less smooth print and no sheen because of the surface of the paper, and I’m altogether less keen on it. It has a lack of definition.

This one, above, is one tissue paper. I printed some on white and some on yellow tissue paper. They have a good sheen on them, and some wrinkles- they look both delicate and brittle.

Finally, a ghost print on red tissue. Since the tissue paper is so sensitive, it can pick up the remnants on the printing plate, including the texture that is created by lifting off a previous print, here on the skin tones. This is a less brash image and I like the contrasting tones on the flesh itself as well as how they contrast with the flatness of the clothes.

Picasso, Le Banderillo, 1959

Picasso, Le Banderillo, 1959


I was just going through some of the images from the London Original Print Fair, and was struck by this one. Partly because the bulls were subjects I used earlier, in monoprinting.

Trying to deconstruct this one from the online image, I think it may be done in two layers, as a reduction print. The first layer, which looks greyish/ orange

(Image from London Original Print Fair iPhone App)

in my image, has the cuts that reveal the paper, and these are mainly gestural, with a broad curved blade. They suggest movement. But there are also fine lines in areas which define shapes, around the bull, faces in the crowd, and for the embroidery on the bullfighter’s costume. There is also what looks like sandpapering- cloudy white areas. I think the first inked layer may have been wiped or brushed, as there seem to be texture marks, making it a combined lino and mono-print.

The second layer is black, I think, and again there is evidence of mono-printing effects, as the bull seems to have been brushed to give it solidity. The second bullfighter figure, on the left, has the kind of rough scratched marks that I termed “distressing” earlier in my own lino cutting. All these different marks seem to work well here, whereas when I mixed marks like these (Gauguin Self-portrait), I felt they just “didn’t go” together. Maybe just my own unfamiliarity with the style at that point, combined with lack of confidence. But if Picasso did it, it has to be good…!

And at this point, I do feel a lot more familiar with the techniques of printmaking I’ve been introduced to, and feel capable of choosing from them for different effects. I think I may now use this technique of wiping the ink on a relief print I’m doing as part of my final series.

Portrait 2

I do like this woodcut print which is hanging on the wall at Krys’s house- the artist name is Hasemann, and my research suggests this is Arminius Hasemann (1888- 1979) who was a printer and illustrator. I couldn’t find a copy of this one online, but he illustrated an edition of Don Quixote, and I wonder if this print is from there. I love the style of this, and the character it manages to convey: I could make several comparisons with the self-portrait I tried to do, all of them to the great detriment of mine.

The use of contrast is striking and unexpected- the focus is on the single open eye and the bright white shirt (which is strangely appearing orange in this photo), and the composition of the whole is a pleasing balance of geometric shapes. The image has both character and drama- the woman is giving him a wary look, as if distrustful: he has a shifty look because of the one open eye, which is looking sideways out of the picture (the other eye is presumably closed due to the smoke coming up from the stub of a cigarette in his mouth, which also has the effect of twisting his lip). He is an insalubrious looking character, and the bright white shirt perhaps belies a corrupt nature.

The carving looks rough and gestural, as it comprises mainly straight lines. These are fine lines, and are used to define geometric shapes. Sometimes the lines follow the contours of the face, sometimes not: the cheeks of both characters have been cut in straight lines as if they are flat shapes, and this tension between flatness and three-dimensionality creates interest. The hat only just stands out against the dark, scratched background, like the jacket, both emerge from the darkness in a quite sinister way. The shirt highlights, cut with a broad blade, create a real shock.

This was one of the images that came up on Google search, and I would suspect comes from Hasemann’s series of prints on a circus theme. It is a rich, in fact busy, composition, and shows a wide variety of marks: thin lines evident also in the portrait above; straight lines made by different widths of blades, marks made by rocking the blade, crosshatching used for pattern, strong contrasts of solid black and white, tension between flatness and three-dimensionality. It’s busy, as I said. I prefer the more concentrated portrait, but as a sampler of wood/ lino cutting marks, it’s excellent.

(Addendum: Information provided by Krys:

I think the 3 wood cuts on my wall incl the Matador portrait are from the cycle “Himmel und Hölle auf der Landstrasse: mit 41 Holzschnitten des Verfassers” (Heaven and Hell on the Country Road, with 41 wood cuts of Hasemann)

>> if you search for the book title and hasemann google pics shows you the matador from Page 117 link. The wood cuts are published in 1915, but they had been done before the 1st World War, 1912 -14 on his travels through Europe, where he apparently travelled with 2 violinists and he himself played the lute in order to get enough money to live. is the German wiki link – there is not much info on him there either)

I decided to go back to my self-portrait and try another using more of an atmospheric style. I also wanted to have a white “shock”, so chose to make the hair (which I have, shockingly to some, bleached white..) and the chest stand out. For the face, I worked within geometric shape, also varying between following contours and making flat areas. I used a thin blade and a nail to get the rough scratched effects. The large white areas were cut using a broad curved blade. The result is more interesting than my previous one, which I think was just too much about giving information. But it’s not got a strong character,  and isn’t in the act of doing anything, so lacks drama. I’m probably not the best person to make a caricature of myself! Although it does look evil. Nuff said.

The shock of white hair is a bit reminiscent of Andy Warhol, so I’m tempted to print this in multiple colours.

Et voila.

It’s printed on sheets of papier de soie- which does translate as tissue paper, but is really different to the tissue paper I have in Hong Kong. This is very delicate, and simply can’t be used for Chine colle following the procedure I used before. It disintegrates on contact with anything water-like, therefore glue. These were printed first then placed onto the backing paper, hence all the wrinkles. As I have observed, this paper stretches. Anyway I like the wrinkles, and I think this will look interesting behind glass.

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!

Combination mono- and linoprints

Mono- and linoprint

This piece of work is a development of my rune- crucifixion prints.

I wanted to cut letters in lino: not that anything I did was going to come close in terms of either skill or scale, but I thought the lino cut maps by  Mark Andrew Weber were awesome, and wanted to at least try cutting out text. It was also a response to the feel of “typesetting” I had when doing the rune prints, and so, at first I planned to cut word-strips that could be rearranged in different permutations on paper.

Random words are always fun, as they resonate in different ways depending where they end up. I remembered this idea of making poetry from moving sheep, which I liked very much at the time!

However, I realised that if I set the words on a single piece of lino, it would be easier to print. Doing the runes, which were repeated patterns, involved stamping the pieces face down on the page, which led to a less dense ink-coverage. That was fine with that particular piece, since it made an ambiguous brick-work type of pattern. And to be honest most people wouldn’t be reading runes: it was sufficient that they just be suggested. However, to get more even inking a single piece would be preferable. The option to cut it up into separate words would still be there, and besides I could create some variety with masking.

I used the same text as the inspiration, extracted from an inscription on the Ruthwell Cross, and gathered related words from different historical periods. “Ic waes with blode bestemid” is in an Old English (Northumbrian) dialect, and translates the runic inscription I used earlier “ I was with blood bedewed”. “Dream of the Rood” is the old English poem from which these lines come, a longer extract of which is inscribed on the Ruthwell Cross. The “I” of the line is the tree/ cross/ rood. The Ruthwell Cross is an important source for the study of this poem, which has been found written in different Old English dialects and must have been well known. The poem describes a piece of “the true cross” telling the story of the crucifixion and it has elements which link it back to earlier pre-Christian times, yet its relating the story of the true cross also links it to the fashion for collecting religious relics, an obsession with ownership of material objects which were deemed to be holy.

“Idolatrie utterlie to be suppressed” is a quote, with a nice, if threatening, ring to it,  from an act by the Aberdeen Assembly of the reformed Church in 1640 to the effect that all crosses were to be destroyed, and specifying the Ruthwell cross. This, then, is the voice of a later age that had no tolerance for any objects, images or visual effects that mediated in any way one’s relationship with God. It’s an idea that I feel has a lot of resonance still today, for example, with our image-dominated media on the one hand, and similarly intolerant Islamic doctrine on the other, or with what some would argue is the replacement of spirituality with celebrity and materialism.

I consulted a scholarly text from the beginning of the 20th century and pulled out words and phrases that seemed to have some relation to each other, but that also had sufficient ambiguity to be read outwith the context of the actual Ruthwell Cross. The texts states that “The upper block [of the Ruthwell Cross] is stained blood-red, but the stain does not pass quite through the stone”. These words fitted with the idea of the original tree being “with blood bedewed” during the crucifixion: in fact in another part of the poem, it is described as being “stained”. But the word “stain” has certain other connotations of corruption and degeneration, as well as being the basic foundation of printing, staining the paper with ink.

Another historical source, reporting on the state of the inscriptions on the Ruthwell cross reported that “time and ill using hath abras’d them” I simply liked the sound of the word “abras’d”. The phrase “time and ill-using” neatly summed up the concept that the passage of time is inevitable, but human actions over the course of history are often consciously ill-intended.

As suggested above, I chose words with a feeling for how they sounded and looked: there were certain words that harmonised because of having similar vowel sounds, and those whose consonants were similarly produced- labial and dental consonants in fact- made using the lips and teeth. Repeated consonants and vowels created assonance ad internal rhymes. All in all, I felt they could achieve a poetic effect, while seeming slightly random.

The meanings of words tended to play around concepts of change, destruction and death, and I chose to keep the phrase “Idolatrie utterlie to be suppressed” as a whole with the word “Idolatrie” highlighted by its positioning and the size of the letters. The definition of what is idolatrous has changed over time, and I chose to print certain words vertically, those involving the passage of time, and the verb “to be”, which I placed near the centre of the lino block. Bearing in mind the links to typesetting and newspapers, I decided to print the word “Idolatrie” in red, using selective inking with a small roller. I wanted to achieve an effect of a red-top headline, (referencing Gilbert and George), with emphatic language “Utterlie to be suppressed” and shocking revelations, true-confession style,  underneath “I was with blood bedewed”. In line with a modern front page news story, I chose to copy modern computer fonts. By using several fonts, I could still suggest the semantic links between the original phrases.

This is a very wordy introduction, but I guess that’s what happens when words are introduced into art works, and why people prefer their 100 words to be painted.…

(I was paying particular attention to works involving words when I was at the Hong Kong art fair. Martin Smith was telling whole stories with his, and quoting communications verbatim. Willliam Kentridge used them to link his drawings in a way that made them almost become graphic stories. Tracey Emin’s were a little too much like soppy tweets for my taste. “Fucking Art” was perhaps the one I could most identify with, where the words and images were playing off against each other in a satirical way.)

So, to the image.

The monoprinted background was to be either a tree or a cross I thought, or something that could suggest both. It means that the relationship between the two layers is something akin to illustration I guess, which may or may not be a good thing. But with all the words, there is a lot going on already. I made patterns by painting directly onto the inking plate, used a palette knife to spread and smear and scratch effects into the ink, used torn paper masks, and took first and ghost- prints.






















I limited the colours- black and red for the print, and no more than two in the background. In fact I think perhaps limited them to just black and red might be best, although the olive green tree works reasonably well, I think, as it’s does just enough to communicate that it’s a tree without dominating.

Another decision I had was whether to show the inked outlines of the texts. (I had kept my options open with the lino block, leaving blocks to be reworked, or ignored through selective inking and wiping) I felt that leaving the outlines could emphasize the “printed” look of the text, and make it look rough. Finally I think the clean versions are probably better, and I can try to get a roughness into them by wiping the text a bit before printing so that some of the letters are only suggested.

It was an enjoyable journey, making this print, and I feel quite chuffed at not getting any of the letters back to front!