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Learn to Draw > Linoleum cuts

Lucie ter Braake, Haydn. Simple linocut for a concert program (reproduced in actual size)The simplest method of relief printing is the linoleum cut. This requires a special linoleum, which can be bought in any art shop, where tools for cutting it can also be found. The simplest tools cost very little. The linoleum chosen should be as light as possible in color.

It is covered with a coat of opaque black paint before starting work. The design is first drawn onto a good tracing paper in black ink with pen or brush. The top side of the drawing is rubbed over with white chalk and the outlines traced onto the linoleum from the back, rendering the design in reverse.

Everything which is to be white in the print is now first chalked over with white hatching on the black linoleum block and then cut out, so that the light color of the linoleum stands in contrast to the black surface, as it will in the print. A rubber brayer with a handle is rolled in the printing ink so that it is covered lightly but evenly allover, and then rolled over the block, causing everything standing out in relief to be covered with a thin layer of ink.



The paper, which should be thin and preferably Japanese, is laid over the block and rubbed with the hand or with a burnisher, very gently at first and then more firmly. The back of a teaspoon makes a good burnisher. When the paper is removed the print can be compared with the drawing and further work can be done on the block, if necessary. Of course, this can consist only of cutting away more; there is no chance of putting anything back.

Some dexterity is needed, and, most of all, cleanliness; otherwise it will be painfully clear why printing is sometimes called the black art. The only way to spread ink properly on the brayer is first to spread it thinly with a brush onto a glass or plastic plate and then to roll it out until it is thin and even. A stack of newspapers and a pile of old rags should be at hand, and turpentine or spirits for cleaning the roller, block, and glass plate before the ink dries.

Woodcut, Gentian. One of a series of illustrations of protected plants (1/3 actual size)The woodcut is worked on in exactly the same way as a linoleum cut, but it requires more skill and much more practice; special wood and better tools - if possible sculptors' chisels - will also be needed. Lime wood is best for the block, which must be planed quite smooth. Watery paint cannot be used on it or the wood fibers stand up and make the surface rough. The chisel and gouge must always be used in the direction of the grain or the wood will splinter and tear.

This danger is obviated by using crosscut timber of hardwood like pear, maple, or even box. Generally, because of the size of the tree, this can be obtained only in very small single pieces; larger sizes are built up of several smaller pieces glued together. Woods cut down the grain generally show the graining and should be in one piece, but cross-cuts do not show graining and, of course, must be glued tight without leaving any gap.

Cross-cut blocks after being glued together are sawed into slices about an inch thick and polished mirror smooth with sandpaper, using several pieces, each one finer than the last. The slightest scratch on the surface makes a line across the design. The edges of the block should be cut into, to prevent the danger of splitting. Every art shop sells ready-prepared cross-cut blocks.

On an end grain or cross-cut block special engraving tools have to be used; the result is a wood engraving as distinct from a woodcut. A wood engraving is suited to finer drawing than a linoleum cut or a woodcut. A practiced wood engraver does not trace, but draws directly onto the wood. The drawing has to be done in reverse, of course, and perhaps the way to start is with a selfportrait, which can be drawn directly onto the block from the mirror, and which will come out the right way around on the print.

Next: Etching

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