Project 6 Single colour linocuts

Single colour linocut

1. Spanish landscape

Going back to the sketches I made in summer while in Spain, I was still trying to find a way of printing the different textures and patterns I had observed. I had felt that the landscape had a “knitted” look, and could picture it in knitted into a woollen rectangle, with different stitches representing the different textures of ploughed fields, olives, grassland and straggly savannah, all undulating over the low hills.

sketch Spanish landscape

I sketched this one and made a tracing, in order to organise the positive and negative shapes. I wanted it to be white in the sky and black in the foreground. Trying to create different textures, as well as drawn lines, I also experimented with a flat knife, which I used to scrape the surface to achieve a “distressed” look. By the time I was finished I felt quite impatient to try it and so used a small tube of water-based printing ink, to save on getting out all the oils and having to clean up again just for one print. This was Sakura water-based inks- a pack of small tubes in mixed colours. I chose the brown, straight from the tube and was immediately struck but how much less sticky and rich it was than the oil-based inks. The result was speckled. It was hard to tell if the “distressed” parts were ok or not. I planned to print in oils and see, before redoing the foreground if necessary.

This is it again, in oil. I’m unsure about the foreground, but feel it needs to be a quite solid black to contrast with the white of the sky. What I could do is work in some detail of grasses in close up perhaps, but this would have to be done with a very fine blade.

Spanish landscape

This is it, revised. I tried to work around the “distressed” parts- now, I would be inclined to describe those parts as “damaged”…

Spanish Landscape with further cuts

2. Migrants

I was thinking about what subject matter would be fitting for this medium, and started reading around the history of printmaking, looking at the development of woodcuts in China and Mexico. This reading probably started to put ideas and images in my mind, and if anyone had said “relief print” to me I would have most likely envisaged, first, stark black and white images of suffering peasants, as in Kaethe Kollwitz’s prints which influenced the 1930s Chinese woodcut movement. Then, I would probably have visualised propaganda prints in red and black- products of socialist realist thinking, representing glorious red sunbeams over industrial scenes and human figures, portrayed as the new nobility, engaged in physical toil. By the same token, the woodcuts of 1920s and 30s Mexico portrayed the indigenous people working the land- the rough textures and primitive, mask-like faces asserting new pride in both their nationality and in their emergence as craftspeople. In both China and Mexico, the methods and materials and the choice of subject matter had historical, political and social significance.

Kaethe Kollwitz’s prints made me think again about whether to use white on black or black on white. I felt that white on black in her prints raised the emotional level of the images.

I went back to an old ink sketch I had done, in black and white, one I entitled “fragile”: this was a quick sketch a very dark photo in Newsweek showing migrant workers getting off a boat in the early morning, in the grey blue dawn of UK, and I could imagine their shock.



I felt this was a topic that would lend itself to the same treatment as I saw among the works of Lu Xun prints of Chinese peasants, influenced by Kaethe Kollwitz.

I sketched it again, thinking about the positive and negative shapes, and decided to cut it quickly- to get some of the rough, emotional feel that I felt was there in the examples of naive woodcuts. That sounds like I’m making an excuse for being slapdash, I realise..


I wondered if it was too rough, and decided to something more planned. Sketched white pencil on black paper. Envisage this as a piece made of separate “stamps”, like the stamps in passports.

Migrant passport stamps

It could be printed in the colours- greens, dark blues and reds of customs stamps and possibly printed on photocopies of passport pages. ( I now have the pages ready to do this- and may cut around the faces a bit more- I could create some rounded “stamp” shapes. that would look like rather ironic haloes.)

migrant 1

I would like to try to overprint them- overlapping each other so that the composition is the same as the single print version. Roughness wouldn’t matter, as it could like a swift and careless customs officer’s stamp- but again that could sound like an excuse for being sloppy.


Here they are on the photocopied passport pages.  I printed them first onto perspex then took copies, as if making a monoprint. The ghost prints are quite effective as they look realistic, as if the stamp pad was getting dry.

Migrants A3


Project 6 Single colour linocuts: first cuts

First cuts

After doing the test cut, I was again floundering on the topic of subject matter. I did some searching in magazines and cut out pictures that were in monotones, being aware that this had to be a fairly stylised design. Looked back at sketches made in summer for those with patterns or startling light/shadow effects.






Then I tried a small linocut based on a sketch of Lalinde canal. This suited the kind of grid patterns I had been practising in preparatory sketches. The cuts seemed to lend themselves to the highlights made by light on the ripples in the water. Again, no ink, so could just make a rubbing.

I decided to try more landscape.

I had just got back from a trip to Yangshuo where I sketched the characteristic limestone karsts.  Using the sketches for inspiration, this image was cut almost freehand using the new woodcutting knives I picked up in China (cost only 18 yuan- much less than the interchangeable blade one, and much nicer to use, with wooden handles on all the blades.) It felt more natural to use these than the plastic-handled one. The cuts seemed to be “natural”, in the sense that they looked like cuts with a blade, in that you could see the cutting movement in the finished design, and it was quite a relaxed, loose piece to do.

I tried out other designs based on sketches from Yangshuo-  a school playground which I had sketched in black and white – but decided it didn’t work as a design.















Finally I got some inks too- Sakura oiled-based ones this time There were no water-based available apart from in huge amounts, about a litre- sized bottle. (This is going to be much more awkward to use, and I will miss my garage/ studio space in France.)I tried them out on the lino I had already cut- the sampler, the Lalinde canal, and the limestone karsts.

Lalinde canal

It is a magical feeling, peeling off the paper to see what will emerge! And using black was especially exciting, when I saw how startling the effects were. I have to say the consistency felt better than the water-based inks- much thicker and stickier- and I was really impressed with the depth of colour, compared to what I was getting before. So it’s worth the extra work.

My very first print was ok, though some parts had not been pressed enough to pick up ink, and I had managed to move the paper a bit in turning it over. A second try on a larger sheet of coloured paper came out better.

The Lalinde canal looked much better in ink than as a rubbing. There’s quite a lot cut away in this one, which means the edges are rough. I thought it was quite striking though, when I first saw the black and white version- the ripples on the water seemed to be suggested because of the strong black and white contrast.

The simple freehand sketch of the Yangshuo karsts was in another style- linear, with a large printed surface, like a drawing in negative. Also quite effective I thought! I liked the consistency of the cuts which were the result of working freely. The tapering lines have some of the appearance of ink drawings. I had used two different blades- if doing it again, I would stick to a single size.

Limestone Karst, Yangshuo