What Is Printmaking?

Printmaking is the process of creating marks on a surface - say, wood, metal, card, or in my case, linoleum - then rolling ink onto this surface and taking a print.

The process starts with sketching out ideas on paper,  and work these up into a final design.  If there are multiple colours involved, I carefully plan each layer, trying to anticipate how the different colours will interact.  Mostly, my inspiration comes from nature, and sights I'm lucky to see while walking in the countryside locally or while on holiday.

I use a variety of beautiful cutting tools to clear the 'blank' areas, and leave the lino intact where I want ink to be.  This means that you have to think about the design in reverse and the process is the opposite of drawing with a pencil.  It is vital that the cutting tools are sharp so that you can create a clean, controlled line, and before using any tools, I sharpen then using a grinding stone, finishing off a strop with honing paste.

Mostly, my linocut designs do not fit to standard paper sizes, so once the linocut is finished, it is time to cut the paper. 

Next step is to prepare your inks, and I use oil-based pigment inks which are beautifully rich.  If it is a one colour linocut in a standard ink colour, then usually you only need to add a little bit of extender and linseed oil to reach an ideal consistency.  If you are creating a linocut of many different colours, it can take a long time to mix all the inks to the correct shade.  I have learnt that it is important to keep a 'recipe' book to note down the exact proportions of different inks to create a particular colour. 

Once the ink is mixed, you roll it out on a smooth surface - I use a piece of safety glass.  You transfer the ink to the linocut using the roller then carefully carry it over to the press for printing.  I use a letterpress proofing press, over 100 years old.  I place the paper I'm going to print on over the linocut then.  I cover it with packing - card and newspaper - to exert the perfect pressure to transfer the ink onto the paper.  Rolling the press by hand is hard work!

The reveal of the print is the best bit.  Initally, it may be necessary to clear additional areas of the linocut or adjust the placement or pressure.  Once any problems are resolved, you can take your time to print a limited edition, hanging the prints to dry on completion.  Once the prints have dried after 2 - 3 days, they are signed, titled and editioned.