Great Art Blog-December 2014

Great Art Blog-December 2014


Hello and welcome to my second materials blog for GreatArt!

This month: Lino Prints, using Abig Lino cutting tools and Gerstaecker water based block printing ink.

It seemed like a good idea to take a look at Lino printing, as I think many people are put off printmaking because they think it’s quite tricky, and also in the mistaken belief that you need a ton of specialist equipment! In reality you only need a small amount of simple and inexpensive kit to get you started…so this month we are going to look at a beginner’s guide to working with Lino and Lino tools, using an ideal starter set of cutters made by ‘Abig’, and water based printing inks by Gerstaecker…which are inexpensive and very easy to handle and clean up.


Starter set of Lino cutting equipment

In addition to the Lino tools and printing inks, I used some standard printmaking Lino, a print roller, plenty of paper towel or kitchen roll, a wooden spoon and an old ceramic tile-full details of everything used and how to order them at the end of the blog.

Getting Started…

I started by unpacking the Abig Lino cutting tools-In this set there are 4 shaped tools and a flat blade tool. These slot easily into the wooden handle and are very quick to change, when you need to swap blades. If the blade doesn’t come out easily use the little piece of dowel provided; push it into the rounded end of the handle and push the blade out.

Safety!- Lino tools are obviously sharp, so do please keep them out of reach of young children.

They are very safe to use so long as you remember a couple of key safety guides:

  • ALWAYS cut AWAY from you, rotate the Lino as necessary to cut away your design but keep the fingers of the hand you are holding the block with, well out of the way! Using a Lino cutting board is also helpful, but can’t be used all the time depending on the angles you want to cut-they clip onto your work surface and give you a two sided frame to cut against.
  • WARM the Lino first-you can do this in several easy ways: place it on top of a warm radiator, or in a bath of warm water (dry before use), I also have a hairdryer to hand, and use this to heat areas of my block as I am cutting….Warming the Lino before cutting is VITAL as the blades will cut through the Lino more easily, making the process safe and much less hard work!
  • Don’t press too hard or try to cut too deep in one go-this makes it much more likely that you will lose your grip and allow the blade to slip. Instead, cut with a gentle pressure which does not hurt your hand, and cut away gradually to get the desired effect.

Cutting my test block, trying out all the tools


Test block using all the Lino cutting tools

I like to start using new tools by making a test block. All I do is take each shaped tool in turn and experiment to see what sort of cuts they make, and how best to use them. Broadly the tools are either flat bladed, and ‘v’ or ‘u’ shaped cutters….this set has two each of the ‘v’ shape and the same of the ‘u’ shape. As a guide the narrow ‘v’ tool is ideal for fine outlines and the broad ‘u’ is great for cutting away large areas of Lino.

*The photo above shows the test block, with a print taken from it and the tools next to the corresponding cut areas.

When I had tried out all of the cutters, I took a quick ‘proof’ print to see how the marks came out when printed…To do this take a flat ceramic tile,(if you don’t have anything suitable you can buy a flat plastic tray), and squeeze out a small amount of watercolour block printing ink-any colour will do.

Next use a roller to roll out the ink on your tile, until the roller is completely and evenly covered…you will get used to how this feels and the ‘tacky’ sound it makes as you roll your roller up and down. When you are happy that the roller is nice and evenly covered, gently roll over your print block to cover all the surface area…float the roller over the surface, and don’t force the ink into the indentations in the Lino, otherwise the print will be spoiled.


Rolling out ink and inking up the test block

When the Lino block is nicely inked up, place it on a clean piece of rough paper, and lay a piece of thin printing paper on top…you can print onto almost any surface, but to start with thin paper like cheap computer printing paper is ideal. Be very careful not to nudge the paper, or the print will be blurred. Use your hands to press the paper firmly onto the block, and then burnish to transfer the design completely. You can either do this with another print roller, or in fact with the rounded part of a wooden spoon, which I know seems very ‘un-technical’, but actually works very well!


Burnishing the paper to transfer image-using the rounded ‘bowl’ of a wooden spoon in circular motions


Burnish using circular movements, beginning with the edges of the block, which you will be able to feel really well through thin paper, and then covering the whole print area. To be absolutely sure, I often finish with rolling over in both directions with a clean roller, to ensure complete transfer of the image. When you’ve covered the whole area, steady the back of the print paper with one hand and use the other carefully to peel back the paper revealing your print. Leave somewhere to dry completely before trimming and mounting if necessary.

Water Based Print Inks:

I chose to use the Gerstaecker water based inks as they are ideal to get you started. They have several key advantages; they are very quick drying which makes handling prints easy, and because they are water based they are extremely easy to clean up-simply wipe away as much left over ink as you can with newspaper or paper towel, and then rinse away with warm water and a little washing up liquid. Dry all tools and equipment ready for use again, and carefully pat print blocks dry with paper towel and leave on a warm radiator to finish.

*These printing inks are also intermixable, which means you can mix the colours together to get exactly the shade you are looking for.

*The Gerstaecker inks are not designed for advanced multi-colour over printing, for which you would move on to a product like Caligo.

Print rollers:

Print rollers should have sturdy frames and handles and a good rubber roller surface. This surface is quite delicate, so make sure you always handle and store it carefully away from anything sharp or coarse textured-you want to keep the rubber perfectly smooth and unmarked, so that it will pick up the print ink evenly-if you look after your roller it will give you many year’s of service!

Papers etc…

It’s definitely a good idea to start with cheap thin computer printing paper or similar, but you can then have fun with printing onto lots of different surfaces! You can print onto coloured papers, brown wrapping paper, tissue papers, thin card. watercolour paper and so on-unless you have access to a printing press, I would suggest avoiding heavily textured papers as they tend to ‘distort” the print, and can fail to pick up the whole image, therefore give quite disappointing results.

I also like to print on white cotton or silk, which can then be embellished by hand stitching or painting-see hand coloured examples later in the blog.



Range of papers to print onto

*It’s a good idea  to get plenty of paper cut roughly to size and ready to go, before you start inking up your print plate…water based inks particularly dry quickly so you need to be all organised and ready to work quickly.

Many artist-printmakers like to print onto papers with torn edges, which are very traditional and look good with the printed image…


Tearing along a ruler to give traditional soft edge finish to prints

To do this, just use a steel ruler to tear against…the edge will be wobbly and rough, but that is part of the charm!

Making a one colour Lino Print Block:

To do this chose a fairly simple design and draw it out onto a small piece of Lino-by the way you can cut the Lino down to any size you like, with a sharp craft knife and steel ruler working on a self-healing cutting mat.

If you intend to use lettering or any other design elements which matter which way around they are-reverse the image before drawing onto your block, either by hand using tracing paper or by scanning a sketch and reversing on a computer.

Rough the design out in pencil on your block, and then decide which areas you want to print and which you want to stay the colour of the paper you are printing on. Aim for a nice balance between printed and non-printed areas, as too much of either won’t work well.

*The main principle of Lino printing is that raised surfaces print, and cut away areas don’t.


Transfer simple design onto Lino with pencil and go over with a permanent marker.

It is really helpful at this stage to colour in all the areas you want to print with a permanent black marker, which makes it much easier to see what you are doing…when you’re happy with your design and you’ve sorted out your print and non-print areas, make a cup of tea while your block warms up on a radiator!


Block showing print areas coloured in black, and beginning of cutting away process

Here you can see, I’ve coloured in most of my print areas, and begun to carve away my non-print ones. Remembering always to cut away from you, begin cutting away all the non-print areas-these will stay the colour of whatever paper you use.

*Try to relax and take your time with this-it’s quite a slow process and much better if not rushed! Some people like to outline key areas with a narrow ‘v’ shaped tool; this helps as you have a line to cut up to. Pick the right tool for the area you are working on, keep your Lino warm with a hairdryer, and try not to press too hard as this will make the process much more tiring and you will end up with cramp in your hands.


Cutting away large areas with a broad ‘u’ shaped cutting tool

*Don’t think you need to cut away all non printing areas completely-leaving some raised fragments of Lino will add texture to your design. Try to keep your cutting marks lively and expressive as this will make for a much more attractive print.
**If in doubt cut less not more, and take a proof print to see how you are doing-you can always wash up your block and cut away some more.

When you are happy with your block, brush away any fragments of Lino and make sure the surface of the block is clean.

Have a good clean up as Lino shards can mess up your prints if they get into the ink. Get organised with a range of pre- cut papers to print onto, and make ready your equipment.


Finished block, with broad areas and detail cut away

Ink up your block and play with prints on a range of different print papers…always print a good number of sheets as you can leave some as they are and use others to embellish later. With experience you will get the amount of ink exactly right, and making a good number of prints really helps with this process-you’ll soon get the ‘feel’ for what works.


Inking up in white, shows the block really clearly


Prints on a wide range of textures and colours of paper

When you’ve got the hang of the basics, it’s very easy to start experimenting with mixing your own colours and printing onto a range of surfaces…above you can see a range of ink colours and also prints onto mottled, tissue and textured surfaces-you can even print onto plastic!


Small blocks inspired by tree shapes, including one printed on a brown luggage label.

In the prints above, I was experimenting with very simple block designs, inspired by the trees I can see from my studio windows. These small blocks look great printed as cards or even tags, like the one on the top left above, which is printed onto a brown paper label. The key really is to keep a freedom in your marks which makes for a lively printed result.


Small block prints mounted up in my sketchbook alongside the Lino blocks.

In the picture above, you can see I’ve mounted up a range of small prints alongside their print blocks, in my sketchbook. I particularly like the softer, more subtle colours you make when mixing the inks to create new colours-here it’s just blue mixed with small amounts of black or white to create tints and shades.


Making a block from one of my surface pattern designs

Reduction Prints:

I decided to do a reduction print next, to give you an idea of how you can print with more than one colour to create a more complex design.

Getting your head around reduction printing is a little more tricky, but well worth the effort! As this is very much a beginner’s guide, we’re going to look at a two colour print, onto a range of papers.

In this case, I’ve drawn out a section from one of my surface pattern designs onto a piece of Lino, about 15cm x 21cm.

The next thing to do is to work out which areas you would like to stay the colour of your paper, and you need to cut these away first.


Fragment from surface pattern design transferred onto Lino ready to cut

The picture below shows the Lino after all the areas to be left white have been cut away. The Lino is on a backing paper with two pieces of card taped in place; one vertical left and one horizontal, making a frame to sit the Lino block in. This allows the print block to be placed in the same place exactly for each print, which is very important when you want to build up more than one colour.

You’ll notice I have also marked the position of the corner of the first piece of paper,  in permanent pen, so that each subsequent print can be lined up in the same place to make them identical….this is called the ‘register’ mark.


Block after the first cutting-all areas cut away that will stay white or the colour of the paper


Inking up Reduction Print block in first colour-grey

When you have cut away all the areas to be left white or the colour of the paper, print with the lightest colour you want to print-in this case I’m going to print a mid grey, made by mixing black and white printing ink.

Make sure you print enough sheets to allow for some ‘not so good’ prints, and also so that you have some to play with and augment.

Next wash up all your equipment starting with the Lino block which can be drying and warming on a radiator, ready for the next cut.

Next you need to cut away more of your block; this time to protect all the areas you want to stay in your first colour, grey in this case.


Block after the second lot of cutting, and inked up in the second and last colour, black

Above you can see my block ready to print with the second colour which will be black. You can clearly see the L shaped card framework which ensures the block is always in the same place, and the paper register mark.

To print the second colour, ink up the block as usual, and place carefully into the L-shaped frame. Take each grey print in turn and place face down to line up carefully with the register mark, to ensure an accurate print. Repeat inking and positioning to complete all prints, and leave to dry.


Completed two colour print


Black print only on range of surfaces, and hand coloured.


Paper hand coloured with acrylic paints, as ground for black print

I prepared a special ground to print my second colour only onto; giving a black outline on a multi-coloured background-to do this I used undiluted acrylic paint in red, yellow and white; working with loose brush strokes to blend the colour.

When completely dry, I overprinted with black ink, in exactly the same way as before, and then experimented with some hand colouring, using some more acrylics.


Working into black print with additional acrylics, applied with fine brush.


Hand colouring a print on silk, using gouache paint

In the example above, I printed in black onto a small piece of silk. when completely dry, I placed the print onto a couple of sheets of kitchen roll and taped it down lightly with masking tape-fabric tends to be very slippery and move around annoyingly if you don’t do this….oh and the kitchen paper is there to absorb any excess paint or dye if you are using it.

Then I played with hand colouring the print in shades of blue and lilac gouache paint. This gave a very precise finish and the matt gouache gives a rather interesting contrast to the sheen of the silk-this is obviously no good for anything you may want to wash, as you can’t ‘fix’ it permanently….but gouache is very lightfast and durable for decorative purposes.


Print onto heavy duty white drawing paper, hand coloured with St Petersburg, White Nights water colours

The print above is on a heavy duty drawing paper, and is totally hand coloured using St Petersburg, White Nights watercolours which are artist quality and deliver particularly intense colour. These are excellent for hand-colouring prints as they combine precision with absolute colour flexibility, and a vibrant finish.

My Equipment List:

  • Gerstaecker Lino Printing Starter Kit; including A5 Lino blocks, Abig cutting tools, and black water based block printing ink.          code: 34159
  • 10cm Ink Roller   code: 29974
  • Plastic Cutting Board for Lino   code: 34046
  • Gerstaecker Water Based Block Printing Colour-White    code: 34201102
  • Gerstaecker Water Based Block Printing Colour- Ultramarine    code: 34201410

For hand colouring, I also used:

  • Selection of Golden Heavy Body Acrylics-any colour choice, but limit palette to 2 or 3 colours for best results.
  • Selection of System 3 Acrylics-see above
  • System 3 Brushes e.g. Set of 3 code: 77637
  • St. Petersburg White Nights Watercolour Box Set – 12 pans    code: 29575
  • Selection of Gouache paints-colour choice as above-I Like Lefranc Linel Artists’ Gouache.

All available from great

Stuff to get together before you start:
  • Paper towels or kitchen roll, plus newspaper for cleaning up.
  • A flat ceramic tile or piece of glass for rolling out your ink, or a flat plastic tray.
  • Washing up liquid
  • Wooden spoon
  • Old cloth for wiping surfaces.
  • Craft Knife for cutting Lino to size, plus steel ruler and cutting board.
  • Hairdryer for warming Lino as you work

Top Tips!

  • Sorry to repeat, but ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOURSELF!
  • Keep the Lino really warm as you work
  • Rig up a temporary ‘washing line’ if you don’t have a drying rack or loads of space to dry prints-hang each print with clothes pegs.
  • I wear ‘CSI’ gloves when inking up, as I can slip them off quickly to handle the print, and therefore avoid getting ink on my work.
  • For printmaking of any sort, be super organised, and try to keep your work space clean and free from Lino debris!

Artists to look at:

  • Linocut emerged as an Art medium in the early 1900’s- Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse helped to establish Lino block prints as an Art form.
  • Contemporary artists using Linocut include; Mark Cazalet, Angela Newberry and Mark Hearld.


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