This document describes how I combine the old graphic technique of lino carving with a computer aided preparation. This creates new creative possibilities for surprising graphical art. All examples in this document are from linocuts I made. Elsewhere on this website (cityscapes, industrial subjects, nudes) you can view my linocuts.
I will briefly discuss why I find making linocuts attractive, followed by a detailed description of the technique used with its digital innovation. This approach can also be used for woodcuts. Then I will briefly discuss the traditional part of making a linocut.
The linocut is a versatile graphic technique with which detailed multi-coloured representations can be made, such as in figure 1 of a stall in the “Mercado de la Corredera” in Cordoba. The carving or gouging creates angular lines that entail a certain abstraction.
My work is figurative, but I strive for such abstraction that the work gives the viewer a special aesthetic experience: dynamic and stimulating. The linocut technique offers good opportunities for this.
In figure 2 a detail is shown from the same linocut, approximately life size, which shows the intended effect more clearly.
The angular lines suit me well, because I also use them in other work. When modelling, for example, I often work with a knife to indicate surfaces more clearly. The surfaces make it easier for the viewer to follow the movement in the work and at the same time the touch remains fresher.
In linocuts, this angular line design also forces me to define the forms I want to show well and clearly represent their character.
In the following chapters I discuss the following:
Carving linoleum is an old and well-known graphic technique for printing editions of an image. (The edition is the number of copies of a printed matter.) The first linocuts date from the early 20th century.
You make a stamp by carving away part of the linoleum with gouges. You can then make multiple prints with that stamp.
In the most commonly used technique, the maker prints in one colour with a stamp, in which a representation is cut once. See the examples in figure 3 and figure 4.
More complex techniques are now in use, which we will discuss in the following sections.
Advantages of these more complex techniques for the artist are the application of multiple colours and the ability to apply more variation in light and dark areas without shading, as in figure 5.
The first method I want to mention works with separate stamps, such as the small linocut of the southern French village shown here. This linocut is made with three stamps (the first multi-coloured one I made). So a separate cut-out piece of linoleum for both red, yellow and blue (figure 6).
The final edition can be determined later, because the stamps remain available indefinitely (apart from wear and tear).
You can experiment more with different colours. Also per layer, see background in the example with cranes in Shanghai (figure 7). This was made with three stamps (black, light blue and the background).
The prints do not need to be perfectly aligned. Experimenting with offset stamps is possible.
The image quickly becomes “ muddled” and the number of printing passes (= stamps) is practically limited to three, unless huge effort is put into alignment etc, like in Japanese prints.
Reduction prints are made with one stamp, where you cut away a new part after each printed layer (“sheet pass”).
At the end of the process, almost everything is cut away (figure 8), hence the name of this technique.
In the linocut of Venice (figure 9), for example, the first few pieces were cut away that had to remain really white (see detail in figure 10). Then the yellow layer was printed. Next, what was to remain yellow was cut away and so on with blue, light brown, sepia and black.
Each layer with a colour is one “sheet pass”. Each copy of the linocut in this example has therefore been run through the press five times, with the same piece of linoleum as a stamp.
The colours in one layer do not have to be even. The blue in this example progresses from green grey blue at the bottom to clear ultramarine at the top.
Advantages and disadvantages of method 2 with the reduction print technique (compared to method 1 with separate stamps)
In the example in figure 11 on this page I printed 5 layers on top of each other (5 printing runs), applying several colours in each layer.
Above is the first sheet pass with the lightest colours. In the second, the light green colours of the lotus leaves, among other things, have been retained. So this is also the part that I cut out before the second sheet pass.
The last colour I applied is the dark green, almost black colour. Then almost everything is cut away from the stamp, except for the parts with which the black colour is printed (bottom right).
My photos, drawings or paintings constitute the basis. The quality of the representation also forms the basis for the quality of the lino. This means that composition, pattern, colour contrast, etc. are largely fixed, although many choices can be made during the making of the lino. For example, by using different colours or carving out extra angular shapes.
The image in figure 12 shows fragments of the photo, painting and linocut I created, starting with the photo. The painting served as the basis for the linocut.
The illustration in figure 13, top left, shows a scene that I painted after I took a photo, while sailing past the IJsselwerf (top left).
At the bottom left the linocut is shown.
On the right there are two details to show the differences between the painting and linocut. Even a complex linocut is usually less detailed than a painting.
The starting point for the carving and printing plan starts with my own work. As mentioned earlier, the starting point is a photo, drawing, painting or design.
In the examples shown in figure 14 and thereafter, my starting point is one of my drawings of which I made a photo. I can then digitally edit this photo in order to prepare the carving and printing of the linocut.
In this case I first added a simple background (figure 15).
The edited digital image forms the master file.
Many more operations are obviously possible on the computer or manually. For example, like the photo of the (old) train station in Utrecht, the edited files and the final linocut (figures 16 to 19).
On the computer I “cut” the master file into several layers.
In figure 20 I reduced the number of different colours to 8. I plan a sheet pass per colour. I can then use each colour to “cut” parts from the master file with more or less the same colour. This creates 8 new files, one per planned sheet pass (figure 22).
I do the splitting based on brightness levels and/or colour matches. In this example I used the latter method.
If I want to use brightness differences I change the parent file to greyscale and then reduce it to the desired number. Figure 21 shows the illustration in 8 shades of grey.
The choice between the two methods is mainly determined by the type of contrast in the image: with a high-colour contrast and highly saturated colours, the use of colour matches is appropriate. If, on the other hand, a light-dark contrast plays a major role, the use of brightness matches is best.
The number of layers depends on the result to be achieved.
Whichever method I choose, I create a new file for each layer (figure 22). I also make a distinction between what has already been cut away and what must remain for later layers. For example, the second file at the top left in figure 22 are the yellow shades, the colours I want to print, black has already been cut out after the first sheet pass and the white tones in the first image must remain grey for subsequent sheet passes.
By way of illustration, the result is shown in figure 23.
Along the way, I played around with semi-transparent layers for the background and adjusted the foreground colour. The performance therefore forms more a whole, with sufficient liveliness.
I recently wrote a plug-in for Gimp (public domain photo editing program) so that I can perform all planning steps quickly.
This not only saves time, but also makes it easier to compare different choices. The choices mainly concern:
The plug-in can also create a colour table with samples of the more saturated colours per layer (figure 25).
I often use several colours per sheet pass. This table gives a number of colours that appear in the image. During printing I often choose different accents, so the table is mainly an indication.
This table is also sometimes useful to avoid optical illusions when mixing colours. This optical illusion can lead to incorrect colour choices. For example, too dark or too light, too red or too green, etc. The right choice of colour is important, because it cannot be corrected in this process.
Another example of the process (Marine Oils Ridderkerk). The left row in figure 26 shows the carving instructions from the plan. On the right the printed intermediate stages are shown. This linocut is built up in 8 printing passes. Nothing has been cut away in the first layer, I only applied various light colours.
First the plan is developed, which is the followed by the printing process. Making the linocut includes a number of steps, which I will summarize below and then explain in greater detail.
Some of these steps involve artistic input, examples of which I describe in this italic font.
In order to print different layers of a linocut exactly on top of each other, both the linoleum and the printing paper must always be placed in exactly the same position on the press.
For the linoleum I usually use passe partout cardboard that I fix at the right place with double-sided tape. In figure 28 these are the white areas on the brown plate of the press. I can then slide the linoleum stamp against this. The top of the stamp must obviously always be placed in the same orientation.
For positioning the printing paper I use registration pins and corresponding tabs that I ordered from the American company Ternes Burton. See figure 30 for a close-up of these products. The pins are also attached to the brown plate and when they are secure I stick the tabs with a piece of tape on each piece of paper while they are slid onto the pins.
I draw the main elements of the different layers on the linoleum (figure 31) and then apply shellac on top (figure 32).
You can do the drawing very accurately or merely as a first reference. I often mainly draw the parts that should remain light or very dark. I then have the planning at hand on a tablet screen to cut subsequent layers. In the meantime I draw up more details, if necessary. The less you draw, the looser the image becomes. It is surprising how many details can be omitted without affecting the image. On the contrary, it often becomes more interesting to look at.
With very complex subjects it is better to draw more in advance, otherwise it becomes very confusing and you may lose track. In these cases it may be worthwhile to use some form of image transfer onto the linoleum.
Shellac is an old natural product extracted from the secretion of certain lice. It prevents the drawing from disappearing while cleaning the linoleum between two printing runs. It does not dissolve into water or turpentine. It can therefore be used for both oil and water-based paint.
This step can be skipped if the paper colour is not used, as is the case with the example of “Marine Oils Ridderkerk” shown earlier (figure 26).
In the example in figure 33 with a detail of the 'snackbar in Beijing', the grey greenish paper remained unprinted in many places. The dark paper enhances the light from the lamps.
This linocut is also not printed from light to dark as is usually done on white paper, but vice versa from dark to light. Before printing the dark blue-black layer first, I cut out the parts that retained the paper colour. Then I applied four more layers of yellow and white colours to bring the light into the scene.
I apply the printing ink with rollers on the linoleum, after first applying paint to the roller on a glass plate, also rolling.
I usually use oil based paint. It dries slower, but it is more durable.
The rollers can have different sizes and their use depends on the size of the surfaces you want to cover.
The colours used are obviously an important artistic choice when printing a linocut. Colours that deviate from the plan can enliven the linocut and give it a different expression. In “Façade of old houses in Langres” I gave the wall all kinds of shades, while in reality the façade was much more greyish. It is also often more interesting to colour black areas with dark blue or a little purple, even if it is barely visible. The shadow in the laundry on the balconies "Houses in Porto, Rua de Miragaia" is light blue. See also the detail in figure 41.
Printing sometimes requires a great pressing force. Especially if you make large linocuts and little has been cut away yet.
Linoleum is a soft material. If you put a lot of pressure on it with the roller of the press, it will stretch a bit and can also shift a bit. This leads to unusable prints and should therefore be avoided.
The pressure force must also be well distributed over the surface.
For this I put a felt cloth over the paper, followed by a stiff plate. The press has compression springs to hold the top roll up when not printing. The whole sandwich of bottom plate, linoleum, paper, felt and stiff plate can be easily pushed in between.
With the levers in figure 38 I set the pressure force by feel.
A special possibility is to set the pressure so low that the ink is not printed opaque. This can be clearly seen in “Nieuwe Gracht in Utrecht during twilight” where the white is visible in the sky, as if the moon were shining. It is difficult to predict where the speckles will come, so the prints differ from each other. Something similar can be achieved with transparent paint. You can buy an “extender ink” for this.
I usually work with oil paints, so drying can take a few days. It is important that the paint is dry, otherwise unwanted deformations can occur at the cut edges during printing.
There are several methods to hang or lay down the sheets of paper without damaging the paper. The photo in figure 39 shows the wooden clamps I use. (Copied from the Middelste Molen in Loenen, where paper is still made in the old way. )
Each carving round is an opportunity to enhance shapes or omit details to make the final result more powerful.
The plan can be seen on the iPad on the table next to me.
Steps 4 to 6 must be repeated for each sheet pass.
With each new layer it is interesting to see the intermediate result and judge how the next layer will be made. (Think of different use of colours, light-dark contrast and the like.)
As a final step, I select the successful copies and sign them with title, year, number / edition and my signature.