Project 8: Reduction linocutting: The Alps

Reduction linocut 2 The Alps

This subject goes back to my trip to the French Alps last October. It’s partly documented in my Watercolour blog. And this print started with a photo from then.

It’s a photo I really like, and one which reminds me of two images:

Caspar Friedrich David’s “Wanderer”


And this lithograph from the early 20th century with its rather pointed vanishing point.


The juxtaposition of these images is quite interesting for me, as the figure in this photo is my son, and there are lots of interesting comparisons and contrasts to be made about his aim and vision in being there with the way the Alps have been visited and interpreted by poets and artists. This would be a whole long discussion, but maybe only interesting to me. Suffice it to say that the things some people might not like about this photo, I do like. By that I mean the absolute centred-ness of the figure. The over-the-shoulder viewpoint which suggests that the viewer is looking with the central character. The cropped nature of the figure- as opposed to the David free-standing one- which makes it feel as if one can reach out and touch him. Not so with the Wanderer. The way the head is “cut off” by the waterline, as if the character is only just keeping his head above it- nuff said on that…! The mountains are clear, sharp and are facing, even blocking this figure, not sitting fogged and conquered, as by the Wanderer. But there’s a directness in the way he is squaring up to them, reminiscent of that determined perspective of the lithograph.

There you go. As I said, maybe only of interest to me.


Anyway, I decided to approach this linocut differently from the yellow bag. That was planned, all the layers traced beforehand and colours chosen. This one I thought I’d make more fluid. I started with the photo and photoshopped it, coming up with line drawings and posterized versions.









Yes, I’m sticking to the photo, because, as I mentioned, I like it. People can say what negative things they like about using photos, but my feeling is, I’m not Amish… and I took the photo in the first place, hands still shaking from the white-knuckle drive up there, and remember it well.

I knew I wanted the sky to be dense, and the last layer to be black (‘cos the course book tells you to and I ignored it last time) but was unsure which order to do the layers in. I did a few sketches in my book, trying to think through different approaches- the trouble is there’s almost an equal amount of lino-space in the figure in the foreground as in the sky, so it’s not clear to me which should come first. The ink is opaque, so it seems to make no difference. It’ll just be a case, like when making a computer image, of ‘sending to the back” or “bringing forward”. So logically I should start with the furthest back, i.e. the sky. On the other hand, I could deliberately bring it to the front by doing it later. As it’s a reduction linocut, I don’t have the luxury of trying it out both ways. I’m going with the common sense choice, sky first. This might turn out to be boring.








So, what I intend to do here is do the first layer then plan the second layer: i.e. take it one layer at a time. And, unlike the yellow bag, where I aimed to produce lots of identical prints, this time, I will experiment with more colours as I go along. I will not make extra layers if I don’t feel they are needed. I’m already wondering if I could do this with just two colours in addition to white. The contrasts are pretty strong.

The first step is to create that great white slab of snow in the middle of the picture. I trace from my ink/ watercolour sketch. Once it’s cut, I try using various shades of blue. I like the heavy steely blue, as it makes a great contrast to the white, but fear it may be too dark for the following layers, so try lightening it, making it a purer, cleaner blue (a bit ski-slopes picture perfect, that..) and a bit lilac. The lilac is definitely influenced by 1900s lithograph posters. It feels twee.

The second layer I cut freehand. It’s not hard to figure out. I want to leave the sky and a reflective patch on each side of the figure. And some patches on shadow in the slopes which are reflecting the sky.

The colours now become mixed as I try out a variety of new colours on an already mixed batch. I number them on the back, but am not sure what that will mean, if anything. I start with a dark blue, the same shade as the sky I started with. I’m now even more concerned about building in more contrast. Maybe black will hardly show. But I like the effect, and wonder if red can be used instead of or as well as black. A blue/ black/ red scheme appeals.









I switch to a greenish grey, and try that out on different blues. Some of them look very conventional. Some look like a Christmas card. I add blue, change to blue/ green, which is better.


Then go for a grey, with just a hint of blue/ green. Also nice.








Finally go with pink. Just to reference those 1900s posters.



Project 8: Reduction Print: my yellow bag finished

The next layer was the orange one, the first layer of shade. I cut back into the lino, leaving the major areas of shadow, and trying to create some definition. The shape isn’t an obvious one, so I had to try to make it coherent enough to the viewer. Once it was cut, I experimented until I got the shade I wanted, and ended up mixing loads too much ink.

orange layer

This is the orange layer on its own. I decided to alternate orange and yellow in the background and exaggerate the “sunburst” effect by alternating them again on the outer edge. It’s meant to a light-hearted image. The second layers went on quite accurately, using the jig.

orange on yellow

Here’s the orange on yellow. Again I’m struck by the comic-book effect, but that’s such a commonplace that I must stop saying it…

Next was the darker shaded areas. I planned to do two more layers, one in green and one darker one in purple. When I cut this layer I decided to try to create a hatched effect that would apply to the green layer, while the solid shapes would become the purple layer, and created this hatching by using the smallest knife.

It took, again, quite a lot of experimenting to get the right green. I envisaged a mint green, and was surprised by how much white I had to add to get it right. The blue ink is very powerful.

This is the green layer on its own.

green layer

I was unsure whether to leave the cut marks in the background, or whether to make it clean-lookin by wiping. (I could also have simply cut around the outside shape of the bag at this point to save wiping, but I wanted to be able to use the jig and that was cut to the rectangular shape of the lino.) I tried a couple of versions with the background cuts showing, then decided I liked the clean versions better.

yellow, orange and green

I was very happy with the look of it at this stage, liking the way the complementary green and orange worked. I also felt the image was clear enough with this amount of definition, and wondered about stopping there.

HOwever, I carried on to see what it would be like. I cut away all the hatched lines, leaving only the darkest shadows. Here is the purple layer on its own.

purple layer

I decided to do half of the prints with the purple layer and leave the rest to think again.

Here is the completed 5-colour print:

my sunburst iconic handbag

At this point it became clear that exact registering was required. Getting it slightly “off’ had no good points whatsoever, and in fact would cause a headache…

Finally, the version with more layers may look more sharp, but somehow I am still more drawn to the previous one, with only yellow, orange and green. Less is  more.

I still have the prints in yellow, orange and green, and wonder what it would be like to do the last layer in red instead of such a dark purple. It would create a pattern of complementary colours, becoming ever darker, and perhaps that would be more harmonious. I’ll have to allow for more prints in future, to give me even more room to experiment.

Project 8: Reduction Print: My yellow bag

Yes, a yellow handbag. Seems insignificant and somewhat girly/ bourgeois as subject matter, but it’s a key possession for me as it carries everything necessary for functioning. And I love the yellow colour. The yellow of Gauguin and van Gogh. My favourite colour.

my yellow bag

Started with sketches.

Then made drawings of layers on tracing paper.

Then cut layer 1 and printed 15 copies (Never sure how many to do!) using yellow mixed with just a touch of red and white to give it a bit more body. I was undecided what kind of background to do. Detailed ? too fussy and distracting. Tiles? Likewise. Plain yellow? Boring. Horizontal lines maybe. Decided on a sunburst design- a cross between a Chairman Mao propaganda poster and the wrapping of a Tunnock’s caramel wafer, which I though would give it the air of an iconic status….

layer 1

Module 3 Project 8 Reduction prints: practice

First reduction print.

I decided to do something quick to start with, having learned from experience that there are always mistakes to be made that one is not forewarned of in the course folder, so it’s better not to invest too much in the first attempt.

Decided to do a picture of one of my dogs. Ever since I heard of one of the OCA tutors being brutally sarcastic towards a student who chose her dog as a portrait subject, I have been perversely determined to do this. Chose a quick iPhone sketch of Jessie.


I did a quick drawing on lino, keeping a circular shape, and only having a few cuts for white highlights. My plan was to do a light brown layer, followed by a black layer, then some small highlights in another contrasting colour such as lilac or red. I also wanted to do these prints in pairs- with the title “Sleeping dogs”. They wouldn’t come out identical, and this would be fitting, as Jessie is a mongrel- and no two are alike.. (This was a theme the SPCA tried to use recently to persuade people to adopt more mongrels.)

I mixed the brown, did some single images, then realised the registration for the paired images would need to be planned, so cut out a jig from mounting board, with two openings for the prints. I also made a couple of prints using water-based gold ink, on smooth brown craft paper.

Two days later I did the black layer, and found the jig worked well for registration.

Jig: using a pencil to raise the first image while printing the second

What I forgot:  to keep a print of the first single layer.

Once they were printed, I didn’t think the highlight I had planned would be very good, so am leaving them at two layers.

sleeping dogs vertical

Sleeping dogs horizontal