Notes on Linoleum Block printing.....by Sam Kerson
Some notes on one of the simplest forms of printing, after the potatoes..

Who has made linocut prints, The Grosvenor school in London, the German Expressionists and the Mexican Popular Graphics movements are a few examples. It seems like Linoleum was first used about 1920, invented after the first world war.

Linoleum is a floor covering made from Linseed oil and a substance, like cork or wood fibers. The kind we use, sometimes called battleship linoleum, is backed with burlap and is grey in color. Sometimes this can be purchased in rolls. However I find mounting the linoleum tedious and prefer to buy the mounted
versions..

Mounted linoleum blocks, sometimes called press high, are mounted on composition board, usually one inch high. I prefer the 9x11 inch blocks, but also usually order half a dozen 6x8 which I find useful in the composition of a series.

I prefer the tan colored to the grey as it is easier to see my drawing. I draw with a pencil and an eraser.

Try the Speedball handles and tips there are 6 or 7 gouges, V or round of different sizes, they are disposable and I usually buy more than two each. The tips must be sharp or the linoleum will tear and you won’t get the distinctive sharp edge. Also it is useful if you are going to use these speedball tools to have three or four handles so you don’t have to change the tips all the time.

Ink, I use the relief printing ink from Graphic chemical or Daniel Smith. One can use water-based ink, but my experience with it is that it is never water resistant and is not permanent.

Paper, as you like. There are all those interesting Japanese papers which don’t require a press and I use them frequently. With a press we use Rives BFK or Somerset satin 250 gram. I also like to proof on newspaper, or on brown paper, kraft paper, and I also like cloth..

How to proceed..
You must understand that the part you cut out will not have ink on it, the part that is cut out will appear white. This is a relief print the ink will be on the upper surface not in the grooves.

I first draw on the block. Usually I go to the trouble of reversing the image, writing the letters backwards ..using a mirror to look at my original sketch and drawing it again on the block, or even transferring the image from a piece of paper by rubbing on the back. I draw the image till I like it, sometimes using two blocks to advance the drawing, starting over till I get it. The drawing is essential to the outcome..

I hold the block on my lap, and I start to cut with the smallest v gouge, cutting the lines first..

A couple of tips here…the linoleum can be quite soft, it should cut very smoothly and easily. If the Linoleum resists, you can soften it by warming it. Just set the block in the sun, or work in the sun. Also, keep the block moving in your lap..pick it up and approach the line from another side. Turn the block as you work, keep turning it..Work from all sides at once.

Make proof prints to see what you are doing...

I find that an edge line helps to hold the composition together and it helps in the printing too..So let me suggest in these first prints that you mark a distinct edge all the way around the outside of your block and respect this line..

The linoleum is sensitive and I like to work on it passionately, quickly and forcefully, making decisions as I go and improvising new vocabulary and new rythyms..because of this state of mind I try not to act to quickly after proofing…the black and white is very dramatic and the proof print can be startling...I look at the block for a while, even over night. For this reason I like to work on more than one image at a time, so I don’t put to much pressure on the design, composition or cutting of one block..

I do abandon blocks if I think they cannot be finished, but also I let them rest for a couple of days before putting in the finishing touches.

Printing requires a glass plate to prepare the ink, a glass plate to spread and roll out the ink, a brayer to distribute an even coat of ink on the block, I like the soft brayer, and a way to press the paper to the image.

I never have pulled more than thirty images from a single block so I don’t know how many might be printed but at thirty there is no apparent damage to the block and the thirtieth print looks as good as the first..

After printing clean the block well so there is no ink on the upper surfaces and store the block standing on a shelf, you will be able to print it again at any time.

Seems to me that is the full report the whole kettle of fish.. if there is anything else I can tell you, let me know..

From Oaxaca, Sam and Katah
Back to Sam's homepage
View the series: View the series:
Imperial Armies in the Garden
The Struggle for Civil Rights in America