This weekend past, I took another workshop with Petra Siering, in order to begin learning about linocuts. I have a dim memory of making these in school but it is not a happy memory (probably due to adolescent issues unrelated to lino!) but I have not really found linocuts attractive ever since. As I have been exploring other forms of printing occasionally at workshops over the last couple of years, I decided to get over my dislike of lino prints and learn more. I was additionally inspired by the recent post on notes to the milkman which reported on the 20:20 Print Exchange – a wonderful idea; the full range of prints from that project can be seen on Flickr.
I like to go to workshops with a “feed me” attitude: I know that there will be resources in the form of the tutor, as well as books, catalogues and samples of work and I wait for ideas to emerge from these. Ideas are very much a product of an environment – that is one important reason why workshops with different tutors and for different media are so useful and enjoyable.
As I was leafing through a catalogue of work by the late Polish artist Jerzy Panek (1918-2001), I admired those of his wood prints that abstract the outline of a figure / figures. A few examples of his woodcuts and some information on this artist can be found here. It occurred to me that I might be able to use a gesture drawing as the basis of a lino cut if I simplified it to create a cleaner line.
I found the image below left (a 20-30 second gesture drawing of a model in “thinker” mode) in my sketchbook and traced it to reduce it to a simple outline (below right). I used a chalky white pencil on the back of the tracing and then drew over the outline to reproduce it on a small piece of lino (14.5 x 10.5 cm). The images do not directly superimpose because they have been scanned separately and brought together in a screenshot. This also applies to the other images used for subsequent prints.
I then began to cut with a fine (2mm) tool… oh, dear – I took a deep chunk out of the outline of his left arm, creating a jagged edge and odd outline to the arm. I then proceeded with a lighter touch but it was too late for the thinker’s arm. Petra suggested that I make a print to see what it looked like thus far and then decide what to do. Here is the first print, which has scanned with an odd greeny tinge – the ink is actually black with a touch of yellow:
A further suggestion was to use a piece of kneadable eraser to fill the ridge and then “carve” a new line with a fingernail! Here is the plate with the gummi-filled arm…
Here is the print made from the “repaired” lino plate. The arm does look better but, all in all, the figure looks a bit heavy-handed and the ink is much too heavily applied. However, maybe not bad for my first attempt since long ago schooldays…
Moving hastily on, and designating the Thinker a learning experience, I chose another gesture drawing and simplified it on tracing paper, altering the position of the arms. They are still a little too long and the back is too rounded but these things were slightly refined on the lino after tracing:
I decided to create the figure as a negative image, silhouetted against a lighter background. Not sure how to do this, I began with as shallow an outline as possible and then cut diagonal lines outwards, approximately parallel with the sword. In order to give the figure a context, I decided on an edge that would be created by the lines’ ending. I then created lines at an angle to these to create a floor on which to ground the figure. I attempted to get a light / dark balance in the image, such that the figure was not the only “dark” part.
Encouraged by the outcome, I made another print in a crimson / ultramarine mix:
I like these prints for the light, as well as for the way in which the colours blend on the front of the figure’s robe in the second image which creates more depth. Is the figure male or female? I seem to remember that the original gesture drawing was of a man but the figure in the print seems too slight to be a man. So, “she” then (despite the size of her nose…). One thing I was not happy about: she has “linocut feet” which I then tried to refine before printing again, this time with more muted colours. The feet look better but I have lost the sense of a figure emerging from the darkness. However, this is a “darker” image in a different sense – there is a sense of urgency and movement in this figure.
Day Two: I chose two more gesture drawings. Here is the first with its resulting tracing. I traced it on Saturday evening, ready for Sunday. It came from a different sketchbook so I had no reference, other than the tracing, when trying to judge what was wrong with it (the “hump” on the right shoulder….she has too many bones!). I can see from the originals that the hump is probably the right elbow. Also, this is another drawing that appears to have been male but become female when transferred onto lino. This time it was a was a conscious decision that had its origins in the tracing – I thought that more curves would produce a more “fluid” image. Her arm is too long but I like the line and overall form, so…
The image continued to develop after transfer to the lino. Again, I wanted a lighter background in order to throw the figure into relief. I thought of having her emerge from a flower but had no reference for that. I settled for abstract flames, which others interpret as a waterfall. That works, too… Here is the initial print:
The left leg has been extended, flamingo-like and the hump on her shoulder has become a head of hair! Since this is how it looks, that’s what it has to be. I had originally placed the head too far forward in the tracing through oversimplifying the gesture drawing and losing the original sense of the pose. This is a quite different figure but that’s alright… I commented to someone that her right leg had disappeared and was told that she was probably testing the water in the shower… It’s all in the interpretation…
Her right buttock looks odd. Petra suggested adding a line across the existing line and this has improved the shape – see further prints below. I refined a few of the flames / water streams and then printed again. This time I chose a grey paper for the print:
The image below is the same one but scanned rather than photographed (image above). The scan produced much brighter colours and a white background, rather than grey. I include it here despite the inaccuracy of the reproduction because the colours work so well. I will have to try to reproduce this blend in future prints / paintings.
I tried a further print on a black background:
One last refinement: the gap formed within the crook of her arm has been enlarged. I am still not happy about the cabbage-like structure that began as her head but at this point am not sure what to do, so it stays for now. In places, I have managed to lose the outline but this could be improved upon. Ink intensity is problematic, as is attaining an even distribution – I am swinging between too much or too little in an uneven spread, and rarely get it right.
I chose the final image because the gesture was relatively simple and I wanted to reproduce the gesture as accurately as possible on the lino. It might be worth trying to capture a gesture directly on the lino in order to produce a more spontaneous image.
Again, decisions had to be made about background. I drew swirling marks but these seems at odds with the distress and position / angle of the figure. The photograph below shows the lino plate in development.
I then began removing “tear-shaped” pieces of lino but was not sure where this was going, so made an initial print part of the way through to help decide on direction. Having done this, I decided to recede the marks. Both prints were made directly into my sketchbook. After the second print, I decided to keep the foreground dark, relying on the outline to place the figure in the frame.
Here is the finished plate:
….and one final print. I wanted to try a dark background. This particular ink was a bit runny (perhaps I hadn’t shaken the bottle sufficiently). However, the dark background creates a quite different atmosphere which better fits the apparent distress of the figure. I am pleased with this image (bar the unintentional ink splodge) – it seems to have its own narrative.
Where to from here?
I intend to explore the use of gesture drawing in printmaking further, including drawing directly on the lino in order to create a more spontaneous image.
I would like to try different backgrounds, including printing a background first with an uncut lino block.
Develop technical skills for inking the plate for more uniformity of colour. I would also like to dry applying colour with a brush in order to control colour distribution occasionally, although the randomness of the colour is one of the joys of the process.
Try subtractive printing although the plate is destroyed during this process and prints are necessarily limited and must be carefully planned.
Try to keep ink off the bits where ink is not supposed to be!