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A few pictures of the process of making my latest print: 'Winter Visitors' A Linocut with Screenprint, 38 x 50 cm.
​Preparation and composition; using lots of bits of various tracings from enlarged/reduced/flipped/distorted/collaged images of the birds (Redwings and Fieldfares) and apples. A full day’s work just to get the composition and sizing right.
Meanwhile 300gsm Somerset (beautiful versatile paper) is laid out in the studio drying rack for at least 48 hours to stabilise size changes due to temperature and humidity combinations. The plan is for around 20 in the edition, so 25 or so sheets are prepared to allow for proofing and losses.
​Prepared Marmoleum block (see previous posts on this) is cut to size and the final key drawing reversed and transferred with carbon paper. Then ‘drawing with the gouges’ i.e. carving, of the planned first tonal/colour layer.
​A tight fitting surrounding ‘forme’ - which holds the block precisely in place - is made and fixed to the press bed. The three Ternes Burton pins are fixed to the forme (I like to use two ‘lay edges’ of the paper and the 3rd pin also helps prevent any sideways twist). Each sheet of paper is positioned and TB tabs attached.
​Reduction lino prints require faith in the first choice of tone and colour! Transparent inks (Caligo Safewash) are used to retain the luminosity of the paper and allow controlled ‘spot’ inking of blends etc. which are consistent through the whole edition pile.
​Masks, made with strong cartridge paper, are carefully cut. These both prevent unwanted background carving marks and, in this case also allow two printings from the one carving stage: all sheets printed once in grey for the birds; the prints left overnight to dry to just tacky; and then printed again with spot blends for the apples.
​And so the normal reduction process continues, using more masks and spot inking: Four tone/colours (eight printings in all) using some basic tonal separations of some of the original sources but worked out ‘by eye’ and by drawing with a soft pencil, then directly with the gouge i.e. not traced.
​The layers are printed almost ‘wet on wet’. By the time the next colour stage is carved the reduced ink is dry enough to print on. There is some ‘set off’ on the masks of the previous colour, but this does not affect the colour or sharpness of the previous layers.
And so the lino stage of this dual media print is complete; somewhat weak as an image, but that is deliberate as the planned screen print layers should bring it together.
​The screen stencils are traced and hand painted in my normal way (again see previous posts on this) and around six more transparent reduction layers are overprinted on the birds and apples.
​The original intention was to use conventional screen print stop tabs to do this but the position of the TB pins and tabs meant there was no danger to the screen mesh (and there was probably too much variation in my cutting to size of the paper anyway) I decided to use them to register the screen stencils. They are super accurate!
​A final three stage reduction stencil is then made to suggest blue snow shadows using a sponge to give a soft edge …. And the print is complete!
Contact me here if you are interested in purchasing one of these prints. Thank you!
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One of the many things I love about printmaking is the challenge and adaptions involved in making and following a plan. I have spoken before about the delicate balance that must be struck in creative printmaking between dull ‘mechanical’ reproduction of an image and the uncontrolled ‘happy accident’. With the way I tend to work - with layers and reductions, and all sheets of paper in the planned edition being worked on at once; there is usually no going back once the process has begun. So nearly all my prints need to have some sort of a plan. However, most printmakers will agree that the end result is not always quite what was expected.
Some prints do pretty much as they are asked to do and help me to a result which I’m either pleased with or not. Probably because my initial plan for this latest one was a little vague, it resisted success right to the end! So I thought I’d just put some detail to the stages of making it.
The idea came from my ongoing interest in a mix of images and symbols from mythology and folk/ancient religion: Hares (and especially their eyes) and witches; the so called Greenman or ‘Jack in the Green’; the changing seasons and significant times such as the Celtic Samhain autumn festival; ‘sacred’ trees such as oak and rowan etc.
I couldn’t recall seeing the sprouting face image of the Greenman being applied to an animal, but the spiritual brown hare seemed a good choice to try it with. And having previously made a connection in another print between the coming of spring green in the woods and a witch; and as it was the end of October and the woods full of colour ….things began to come together.
Although in the initial stages I nearly always use computer graphics to enlarge, copy, distort and compose basic shapes, there is no substitute for drawing and eventually I had a key outline worked out.
The initial plan was really quite straightforward: I would cut a ‘key’ lino block design which would print in one dark colour (not just black - it can be so deadening) and ‘colour it in’ using simple screen-print stencils. Indeed I was thinking at first of an almost ‘stained glass window’ quality.
Even with a proposed simple image like this (at least in terms of texture and line, if not content) I prefer to use a fairly sketchy tracing; then allow the process of carbon paper transfer, plus use of a soft pencil and then the actual ‘drawing’ with the gouges to dictate the final line and shapes. This, rather than mechanically traced and carved dead line, gives some life to the image.
At this stage – although clearly the image was a bit strange and not really quite what I usually do (we all must move on!) I thought it was going to be straightforward. So having completed the carving - and during the time it took to do so, acclimatised the paper (temperature  and humidity can seriously affect register) I took four proofs in a dark brown/black; in register to one corner, using standard stop tabs rather than TB pins; because the main layers of this print were to be screen printed.
​I then used one of these proofs to trace and paint out, with Lascaux screen filler, the first few screen stencils. These were overprinted on top of the lino proofs, as well as on to the 25 + sheets of my usual 300 gsm Somerset paper.
​It was then I realised that the original plan was not going to work! The very strong lino image, if printed like this on top of the final screened colours was going to kill any colour and subtlety in the print. Not only that, but I was also beginning to enjoy the subtle autumn colour effects of the blends and transparencies achievable with screen inks.
So by now I was a bit lost. What to do? The pile of expensive paper was already printed with several screen printed layers. I had spent a long time finalising the composition and even longer carefully carving the lino block, the register of which image only just fitted the the colours already printed on all of the paper.
My wife is a painter (and a brilliant and successful one at that). We share our big studio and of course often consult each other. She often says “this one’s fighting me” about her paintings. So she was sympathetic to my battle and brought a painter’s eye to the job. “Just emphasise the hare” she said. “leave the bits on either side they’re OK as they are”
​She was right of course. So I first of all attacked the lino block and thinned all the printing lines down as far as even the Marmoleum lino could take. I had to then accept that they would not necessarily match exactly with the screened colour. Didn’t matter! I went to town on the remaining screen colours; using very thin filler, and free brush marks plus blended inks to create autumnal richness and light.
​After that it was a fairly simple job – by making the overprinting of the lino block on top of the colour into a three stage reduction process - to turn what had been a big lumpen lino image into something more like the lighter over-drawing and tracing I had begun with.
​The final dark details and the gold ink outer circle were printed in one pass ….and the battle was won! 
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Perhaps it’s the shortening days, but well – here I am after several months away from writing blog posts. I will try harder!

I have written before about my preference for using Marmoleum commercial flooring lino for my linocuts. It is a little thinner but much firmer than anything else available; crisper and more durable, but still carves like butter when warm. It does require some preparation before use, but like many similar tasks in printmaking, I have to say I quite enjoy the process of turning a sheet of flooring into a lovely firm prepared printing block.
I like a light coloured lino (white would be good, but they don’t make it); the surface of which I can stain (usually red). This is in order to be able to both draw on the surface with pen and pencil and then be able to clearly see the cut marks I make in positive -  i.e. how they will print.

Two years ago I bought, via my local carpet shop, a 2m wide roll of the then palest cream colour Marmoleum I could find. I chopped it into large pieces and stored it flat. I have now used nearly all of this and the remaining pieces seem to have begun to harden; which of course will happen if stored where the linseed oil used to make it can dry out.
An initial search showed that in the meantime, Forbo the international company that manufactures Marmoleum, had not surprisingly, updated their range. Forbo and their suppliers are very good at providing samples, so after a little research I ended up with four pieces of the palest colours I could find. They were: Real ‘Edelweiss’; Concrete ‘Moon’; Walton ‘Titanium’; Fresco ‘Moonstone’.
​All Marmoleum comes with a semi shiny and very slightly textured surface. So as normal I then lightly sanded the surface with a fine grit paper until the satin gloss and slight texture had visibly gone. 
I had cut the generously sized samples into four small blocks (small enough to also enable me to test another little ‘mini press’ I’ve been asked to look at – watch this space!)
​I mounted these on to 3mm hardboard/Masonite with carpet spray glue.
​This leaves a lovely matt surface, which, when stained with a thin coat of acrylic ink, is perfect to draw on both with pen and pencil and to transfer images to with carbon paper etc.
So I proceeded to do just that - and then set to work with the gouges. This was of course the crucial test to decide which one of the four gave me the best tonal contrast with the surface and its guidelines. The small scale work required by these little images also helped to illustrate the fine detail that is possible with crisp lino and a clear idea of how the cut lines and textures will print.


There was actually very little to chose between them. All were paler and therefore preferable to the grey of ordinary ‘artists’ lino; which, as I have written previously is perfectly good if you do not want the trouble of preparing and mounting your own blocks.
The two best both have a slight ‘ripple’ colour to them; whereas the ‘Titanium’ is plain. This makes no difference at all when carving. All have a slightly darker under-layer, which is useful as a guide to your depth of carving.

So the verdict?
  1. ‘Real’ range ‘Edelweiss’ Code: 3257
  2. ‘Concrete’ range ‘Moon’ Code: 370135
  3. ‘Walton’ range ‘Titanium’ Code: 336935
  4. ‘Fresco’ range ‘Moonstone’ Code: 3883

P.S.
I am still in the process of making a small edition from these four little blocks, which will appear in due course!
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