These are two pretty distinct forms of art and you don't always see someone moulding them together to make one art form. Well this is what I have tried to do with some of my latest work. In this post I thought I would share how I take one of my photos and turn it into the lino prints that you see herein my shop. It is a process that may surprise you!
Firstly and most importantly you have to start with the right photo. It all depends on what sort of thing I am in the mood to create. This ranges from a landscape to an aviation shot. In this post I am going to look at the carving I created of the City of Lincoln which you can buy a print of here in my shop. The photo is the classic shot of Uphill showing the shops and Lincoln Cathedral and all the glorious cobble stones. It stands out as it has a lot of detail, something I love carving and can spend hours doing quite happily. I take the photo and draw a simplified version of it onto tracing paper in soft graphite. This tracing paper image isn't for tracing, its to create a transfer to get the drawing onto the lino.
Transferring the image is the first hard core work out you get when making a lino print. The paper has to be held in place and I use a wooden spoon to rub the drawing onto the lino drawing. Once this has been done, I then go over the whole drawing again with a waterproof fine liner. Doing this at this stage helps me 'see' which ares are going to be black and which need carving out (and become white). What you end up with is below:
So far so good. I don't do too much detail at this point as I am still planning what goes where. It is designed to simplify what you see in the image. Once this has dried, I give the whole block a wash with Indian Ink. This makes the lino darker and means that I can see the lines that I am carving when I start that part of the work.
Now the fun really begins! The carving starts and I can really get into the detail and texture of the buildings. I use two different brand of tools when carving. My absolute favourites are the Flexcut Micro tools from Flexcut tools in the US. The micro set of 4 tools has gauges down to 1mm in width which is ideal for the level of detail I want to get in the bricks. My other favourite tool is the Pfeil 0.5mm tool for those extra fine details and for the initial line work. For bigger clearing areas I will use a U shaped gouge tool from Pfeil which is 3mm and means I can work flat and eliminate noise, the ridges you often see in white areas on some prints. This is called 'chatter' or 'noise' and is often worked into the piece but in this block I didn't want noise so a lot of time was spent making sure there are no ridges in the final block.
As I go, I also use a permanent marker to mark black areas on the block. This is a really handy trick for showing how printed areas will look when you get to the printing stage. However, as you can see from the image below, this is a long way off yet!
You will also see from the above something else that often catches people out. The whole image is in reverse at this point. It will only be the right way round when it is printed so I often have a version of my image on screen as I carve to refer to and I will have flipped it horizontally so that I have the correct orientation to work from.
The next thing that I do is to make some areas white that might not be white in real life. This is to give contrast and in this piece I wanted to make the cathedral stand out as the centre piece of the image. You can also see below that at the minute I am procrastinating about tackling the cobbles as I know how fiddly they are going to be.
Avoiding them wasn't going to work so again, with my fine liner, I start to carve out where they are going to go and in what direction. They need to be. in different directions but they also need to be in perspective so it's a bit of a challenge. Also, drawing them in makes you realise just how many there are and at this point I confess I started to question the decision to carve them.
You'll see that there are bigger ones at the front and smaller ones at the back creating the perspective I am looking for. Carving the cobbles on this piece took 4 days alone adding to the total of 13 days carving for the entire block. I was pleased with the final result. I spent some time on my Twitch Channel carving the cobbles to help with the tedium. If you want to watch my carve lino blocks live, you can come and watch my Twitch channel here. It's free and you don't have to subscribe or donate (although that all helps support my work and small business if you can) and I have a great community that are wonderfully supportive.
Now it was time for another part of the carving process that I really enjoy, carving the sky. First I carve a series of fine lines, quite close together in the sky area. This might look quite odd but its an ancient Japanese wood carving technique where, once the lines are in, you can carve in clouds to give some movement in the sky. The final image is shown in the photo below:
13 days carving later, it is time to run off a test print. I use some of my test paper for this as most of the time, the test print is not saleable. There may be changes needed to the block or areas I want to change or add to. When I am happy with the test print it is time to get inky with my Japanese or Nepalese hand made editioning paper. This is paper that has been specifically made for the creation of edition prints. The paper is beautiful to work with and whilst it is expensive, it is worth the investment for a one of a kind piece of work.
The first thing I do before inking is to prepare a registration jig to accurately position both the lino block and the paper on top of it. Doing this ensures that the print is in the middle of the paper. With its deliberately frayed edges, you don't want to have to cut your hand made paper so positioning is essential.
I ink the block with Cranfield Safewash archival ink and my trusty brayer and then inspect it to make sure that the coverage is perfect. Uneven inking at this point will show as lines on the final print and can also cause blotching. Once inked, i place the block in its jig and then very carefully place the paper over the top as below. Then it is work out time.
Here, the paper is in position on my job and my trusty Slama Press is ready to start transferring the image to the paper. The Slama Press is a hand held printing press which works in the same what that a traditional barren does. The difference is that the Slama is weighted and has a number of ball bearings inside which rotate over the paper to ensure that the ink pick up is uniform across the print. It also helps to alleviate any blotching making for a much more consistent print. I spend anything up to 45 minutes gently rotating the Slama over the whole print paying particular attention to the edges and highly detailed areas such as the bricks and cobbles. I will occasionally lift the edges to check progress but I won't see the final reveal until I finally lift the paper from the block. This in itself is a delicate operation as the paper is almost transparent as you can see above. The transparency also helps you see what has been lifted and what needs extra work or burnishing with the trusty wooden spoon.
Now it is reveal time.
All being well, the final print looks like the above and I have my first numbered edition. I keep my work to small editions of 25 because of the work involved in creating them. All told it has taken two weeks to get to this point and I have only made one print! It is a labour of love though and I really enjoy the process.
My final job is to photograph the print and list it on the website and then hope that someone falls in love with it enough to order one. This print has sold a couple of prints so it's almost paid for itself already but the journey is sometimes more rewarding than the sales!
This entire process is one that is the same whatever print I am doing, large or small. I can change colours and papers and the world really is your oyster when it comes to print making. Its a process I love and I hope you enjoyed this post sharing the process with you!