Tracing its history back to the first known wood block printing techniques used in China 2000 years ago, the lino print is a superb way of producing stark, high contrast images. The results are every bit as effective as those produced by their wooden ancestors, but the work behind the modern technique is greatly reduced. Lino can be cut with a knife but retains its hard edges and its shape, whereas wood blocks require carving and cutting with chisels and finishing off with planes and sandpaper. The flat finish is an essential characteristic for creating the exact pattern the artist wants, even if they choose to create texture manually.
It is possible to have lino prints of two or more colours, but this will require more than one print application and the paint will usually have to be allowed to dry between each stage. It will also require pinpoint precision of the various lino blocks both at the cutting stage and at the printing stage, as the various colours will have to interact with each other properly.
With care and attention, there is no reason why a lino print cannot be almost as intricate and detailed as a drawing or engraving, but the medium really lends itself to bold and punchy images. It’s great for posters and lettering as well as cartoon-like images, but the limits of what can be done with lino printing are determined by artistry and, to some extent, courage. After all, you only really get one chance to get it right (which will make you even more thankful you don’t need to carve out wood blocks!).
The main pieces of non-consumable equipment you need for lino printing are a set of various cutters and a roller (known as a brayer). On top of that you’ll need your paints and inks, plus of course the lino itself, available from art supplies stores in various sizes, thicknesses and hardnesses; it can also come pre-mounted on wood. You’ll also need pencils and rubbers for sketching. You can buy kits and starter packs containing everything you need.
Now it’s time to get creative. Sketch your image on the lino sheet, taking care not to damage the all-important smooth finish. The next stage is carving out the image – or, in actual fact, carving out everything but the image. Use the special U-shaped cutters for this task, the larger ones for the rough cuts and the finer ones for the detail. The finish of the cut-out surface is not important as this will not be seen on the print. Spread some ink on a sheet of glass or a tile and roll it out with the brayer until the roller surface is completely covered, then roll the paint onto your lino sheet back and forth a few times to cover it. Finally, press the lino onto the paper or whatever surface you’re printing onto, take a deep breath and lift it off. Magic!
Lino printing is a fun and exciting way to make repeated patterns or one-off works of art, and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Just remember to do your image back to front.