I was lucky enough to learn lino printing at school, guided by a superb teacher called Alison Wright. We had the use of a massive wheel-turned press on which we could produce large prints using many different colours.
When I left school and that wonderful printing press I assumed my lino printing days were over. How else could I produce prints without the proper equipment? Several years ago a friend told me it was possible to create small, simple prints by using the back of a spoon to press the lino down on to the paper. I was dubious. I couldn’t see how a spoon could possibly achieve the same results. And so I have been keeping my eye out for alternative equipment, such as this old tie press.
This only works if the lino and paper are positioned right in the centre of the press where the greatest pressure can be achieved. The size of the print is therefore restricted.
So, over the Christmas holidays I did indeed try the back of a spoon approach; and although the prints resemble the kind of thing you might achieve with a potato rather than by running a piece of lino through a press, I have to admit that I’m quite pleased with the results.
I wanted this design for a New Year card to appear reasonably rustic, with a little of the feel of a wood-block print. For that reason I deliberately left some sections of the cut-out background quite high, so they would catch some of the ink. At other times I might want to make sure that the background is cut deep enough to prevent any stray lines appearing on the finished print.
Here’s how you can produce a simple single-colour print at home.
You will need:
- A piece of lino
- 2 lino cutters – 1 “v” shaped, 1 “u” shaped
- Lino printing ink
- A roller
- Tracing paper
- Card or paper to print onto
1. Begin by drawing your design. Simple images work well as monochrome prints and will produce a bold result.
2. Trace over your design using tracing paper and pencil, then transfer it on to your piece of lino. Once your image is on the lino, draw over it with a biro. This just makes the design more permanent while you’re cutting, as pencil can smudge or get rubbed off.
3. Now consider which bits of your design you want to be printed and which will be white space. It’s important to think this through properly to avoid mistakes when you’re cutting.
4. Using your cutters, start cutting out the areas you want to be white. Do this by firmly gripping the wooden handle and pushing the blade into the lino, then moving it forward in a confident manner. Always keep your non-cutting hand behind the blade and use it to keep your piece of lino steady and secure. Use the “u” cutter to remove large areas and the “v” cutter to achieve the more detailed parts of your design, or to make small cuts in the lino to give the effect of shading or texture.
5. When the design has been cut, squeeze a little lino ink onto a flat, smooth board and roll over it with the roller to get an even spread of ink.
6. Now roll your roller over your piece of lino, firmly and in different directions to get good, even coverage.
7. Get your paper / card ready. Position your lino over it before confidently placing it onto the paper, making sure not to wobble or nudge the lino as it goes down.
8. Apply as much pressure to the back of the lino as you can by rubbing all over with the back of a spoon, then pull the lino up carefully, again making sure not to nudge it as you do so.
9. You should now have a beautifully printed image and can repeat the printing process to produce further copies.
Simple designs printed in black ink can look really effective, but you can easily add some colour if you wish. Try printing on to coloured paper or card, or add paint to your design once the ink has dried.
The benefit of a single-colour print is that your lino block remains in tact and can be used again and again. Printing in more than colour means cutting out more and more lino until only those sections of the design that are printed in the darkest colour remain.
I found that printing without a press requires more ink than I would previously have used, simply because I was not able to apply the same pressure with the back of a spoon as with a heavy press. The resulting prints are therefore quite “blobby” and are not as crisp as those produced with a press.
But until I manage to acquire the next piece of equipment on my list to try (an old bookbinding press, which I hope might make a good home alternative to a wheel-spun press) I will persevere with my spoon!