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, you need to cut the paper to size. I use a range of different papers, including beautifully smooth Japanese Simili and hand-made Indian papers.
Next step is to prepare your inks, and I use oil-based pigment inks which are intense, rich colours. 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 - you never quite know how a print is going to turn out, and a linocut looks so different to the initial drawing. Each print turns out differently every time, depending on the colour and amount of ink, and the pressure used to lift the print. 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. Each print receives a number. 100 original prints, for example, were made of this red hen print. These prints were labelled from 1/100 up to 100/100. Once these 100 prints have been sold, no more prints will be produced. The edition number is pencilled in along the bottom of the print, as well as the title of the print, the artist's initials and the year the print was produced.
Multi coloured prints are much more difficult to produce than single colour prints. For each colour, you need to cut a different piece of linoleum. You need to consider how each layer of ink will interact with the other colours of ink. In this eider duck print for example, you have the colour of the paper (white); the light blue ink; the black ink; and the grey-blue of the ripples of the water where the blue ink has covered a layer of black ink. When creating multi coloured prints, you also have to be very careful in lining up, or 'registering' the print correctly. Another technical challenge is successfully printing large areas. The eider duck print, for example, is made of a flat blue background. Transferring the ink from such a large area from the linoleum to the paper requires the print to be put through the press multiple times and using a high degree of pressure. The additional complex processes attached to multi coloured prints make them much more time-consuming to produce.