Lessons in linoleum

There are a couple ways you can print your own hand-drawn images on your letterpress. The more expensive way is by having photopolymer plates made from your image. I've tried that before and it works really, really well and is very efficient. But I wanted to give linoleum carving a go this time: it lessens the modern plastic intrusion into the printing process and adds to that imperfect, rough handmade goodness. The mounted linoleum blocks are pretty inexpensive and the carving tools (the best are made by Speedball), are as well. Letterpress printing does require mounted linoleum blocks to make the relief type-high. So here's how I went about it:
Since my drawing skills are pretty poor, I practiced drawing the image I wanted to print. I also figured that, since I haven't had much practice with carving anything, the simpler the design, the better. More like a silhouette. Once I had the image, I drew out a final draft in pencil (it does have to be in pencil for the image to transfer to the linoleum). It can be done on tracing paper, but I found regular weight copy paper works just fine.

Then I flipped the image over on top of the linoleum block (so that it was facing the linoleum surface) and traced over the image I drew on the other side, making sure to put a good amount of pressure on the pencil so the graphite on the linoleum side transferred over, kind of like that annoying carbon paper.

Then it's time to carve! It wasn't easy to find the right surface to work from with this, but I eventually settled on the lap desk I had tucked away, which was actually quite perfect. Even the cup holder came in handy for catching all the linoleum shavings! When I got to the carving part, it was almost like re-learning to color in a coloring book: you have to work hard to stay in the lines. So I started with the finer carving heads on my lino cutter to outline the image, then gradually moved up to wider and wider cutters as I carved farther away from it. I managed to cut my finger only twice.

In my next post, I will show you the results of printing with my first linocut. I definitely broke a sweat putting together my first printing project with Captain.


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