Hey Whoknows (as in “Who knows who is actually reading my blog”)

I’ve recently been doing the wonderful 52 Week Illustration Challenge.  Each week is a different theme and this week it was “printing”.

I had such big plans!   What I got was a  either a successful failure or a failed success.  I thought I’d describe a blow-by-blow account of my process and what went wrong.

Firstly let me say….I’m not a print-maker.  I’d like to be – one of my favourite electives at Julian Ashton and Uni was etching.  But I really don’t have any practical experience I could draw upon – not that this deterred me from the misconception that I could achieve what I was after.  But I’l always wanted to do lino printing – ever since I bought (about 20 years ago) a book called “The complete manual of relief print-making” by Rosemary Simmons & Katie Clemson.  Considering I’d had it for 20 years, maybe I should have actually read it.


So here was my plan.  I wanted to try linocut printing and I thought I could utilise some photos of Venice from a recent holiday.  Firstly I researched transfer printing and while ultimately (as you will see) it was a bit of a waste of time I think it is an interesting process in itself that is worth recording.

1. Transfer printing a photo onto lino

Here is the picture that I started with – which I had already Photoshopped to size and “straighten” it (remove the perspective).

VeniceI then photocopied my picture (just normal black-and white but I assume colour would work as well.  I had researched this technique and found a pretty good description of what to do at http://lostartstudent.com/methods-and-materials/materials-printmaking/printmaking-transfer/0-how-to-make-a-transfer-print.html

Luckily I already had most of the right materials for it.  You need a fixing medium – and I have a bottle of Matisse Polymer Gloss Varnish / Gloss Medium MM7.  I’m an architect and we have a pretty good material cupboard at work…including a whole box of lino from Forbo that we use for dental surgeries.  I figured we wouldn’t miss a few sheets (thanks Forbo). IMG_1956

As for lino cutters – I didn’t have any so had to buy them.  I had a roller/brayer but as for printing inks…..more about that later

I finger-painted the polymer varnish onto the piece of lino I wanted to use then waited it down and left it overnight to dry.


Once dry, you wet the paper and slowly begin rubbing.  The wet paper rubs off in soggy balls, but the image has transferred off the paper onto the varnish and onto the new surface.  I was pretty impressed with the result.  Good trick! and one I may use again.


2. Lino cutting

My plan for the lino print was to do a “reduction” (or “suicide”) print.  In this technique you lay down multiple colours – generally light to dark.  Your first cuts are your “white” (being the non-printed paper) and you print your first colour.  Then you cut the lino again for the next colour, which overprints the first colour except where you have cut away more lino.

Big plan…didn’t come to fruition though (as you will see).

Here I hit my first hurdle.  The transfer print was an ideal way to “trace” the image when cutting the lino and decide what to cut out of the image, but the tackiness polymer medium meant the cuts didn’t come away cleanly.  Every cut i had to pick off the lino bits – which was exceptionally time-consuming.  And then the polymer started to come away too and I realised this would not give a clean print.


So after doing my first cuts, I had to then laboriously peel and pick off the polymer image.  Took ages, but then I guess I was ready for my first print.


3. Printing

So today was printing day.  I had some old water-soluble oil paints that I though would be OK, and I had watercolour paper that I thought would be the right thing to use.  Wrong and wrong.

Attempt No.1

The oil paints were too thick (and not the right colour) so I mixed them with acrylic paints.  But together they dried too quickly when rolled onto the lino and therefore didn’t transfer to the paper very well.



Attempt No.2

So I need to “retard” the paint.  I used glycerol mixed with water (5 parts water 1 part glycerol) but the problem was I had made the paint too slippery and it didn’t even roll onto the roller.



Attempt No.3

Back to the straight acrylic, I rolled once onto the lino, then loaded it again and rolled again onto the lino so that I hopefully had slightly less dried-off paint. Wrong. This time I got the paint to transfer (sort of) but in burnishing the back of the paper and trying to get the paint to stick to the paper I went too far and the paper got stuck to the paint…on the lino.  So when I peeled it off the paper ripped.



Attempt No.4

Maybe Watercolour paper isn’t the right type of paper.  So I tried cartridge paper instead.  It was worse.



Attempt No.5

I’m grasping at straws by now.  Maybe the paper is sucking up the paint too much – what if it was wet?  So I sprayed the paper with the mister on my garden hose (technical fine arts stuff going on here!) and tried again.  Partial success, but it looked a little “watery”.

Not a fail – but still not what I was after really.


Attempt No.6

Tried the same thing again, but didn’t notice one side of the paper was quite wet and it really went smudgy.



Attempt No.7

So I’m down to my last page of watercolour paper – and the last vestige of my patience.  I can tell you that by now I had thrown away any thought of multiple layered coloured prints.  If I could get one single-colour print off this baby I was done.

This last one…while the paint didn’t really transfer 100% at least it did and the paper didn’t rip.

So this one was at least a partial success.


Attempt No. 8, 9 and 10

I have a pack of craft paper (the brown paper) so I thought I’d see if that worked.  Had many of the same problems at the others (plus was too thin so started curling) but at least gave me a different look.



So by this stage I’m all done…finished.  Looking at what I had I decided to use my more developed skills in photoshop and multi-layer them that way.



Plus as a second image, I “quilted” all the various attempts together in the one image.

VENICE combined

And when all was done, the best looking thing I had created was the lino block itself.  I wonder how many frustrated printmakers end up framing their blocks after giving up on the prints?


So no…I may have met the aim of the illustration challenge but I can honestly say….

I’m no printmaker.