Benny Alba demonstrates Linoleum Block Printing
Linoleum is an easily cut, inexpensive material where simple tools and a sense of adventure can bring good relief prints. Relief printing means removing material so that the remaining raised inked surface comes in contact with paper. The ink is transferred to the paper using pressure. Designs are made by what remains, or what is not cut away from the surface. There are few limits regarding designs-making linocuts as simple or detailed as the artist chooses.
Most remember linoleum from early art classes, and underestimate its fine art possibilities. Current brands of linoleum contain a gritty inner material that rapidly dulls tools, but battleship linoleum, while looking the same, is superior material. It cuts well when cold and like butter when warmed. A close lamp, iron or sunlight is enough heat to make a difference.
I start by penciling a design on the lino, remembering that it will be reversed in the printing process. Some use a mirror to see the design inverted. Once I have a design, I redraw the lines with a permanent, blue ink Sharpie pen, marking across any unwanted lines to avoid errors. I also label areas to be cut out.
There are four cutting blades. They are "u," "v," a straight edge, and a pointed edge, all in various sizes. To start, I precut the lines using the pointed edge, holding the tool upright like a pencil, turning the lino to facilitate cutting curving lines. The precutting makes for crisp edges and is good for close clearances. Placing the tip on a corner's point, I press the tool down first in one side then the other. I then use the straight edged tool to remove the rest of the triangle, starting at a 90-degree angle, intersecting the first cut. My other hand, safely behind the first, is holding the lino down, with a thumb over the table's edge.
The "v" gouge cuts a simple line. I use this tool by holding it with the end nestled in my palm, index finger laid along the top. This keeps fingers from hard pushing, yet gives directional control as if pointing. The "u" gouge I use to scoop out large areas, cutting towards the already incised safety line from my original cutting with the pointed tool. It is also used for sweeping, curved lines. I leave narrow ridges for an interesting texture that resembles woodcuts. In one project some uncut areas are not inked, embossing the paper in the raised area.
Blank newsprint is good for trial runs. I lay out water-based ink with a paint scraper, a damp sponge to clean fingertips, and a container of rinse water. When the rolled ink sounds "snickety" dry I use a soft rubber brayer, working the ink in all directions until evenly applied. I lay the paper on top, smoothing it down from the center, add blankets and run it through the press. Rubbing with a wooden spoon or disc barens can hand press a professional print. The final result is editioned on white Rives BFK paper, limited to the number 15.
Cutting error? Don't throw away the chip. Immediately glue the piece back in with Elmer's wood glue. Slide a scrap of paper with glue on it under the chip (if it's still attached) for small clearances. Press down for a few minutes until it holds, then work elsewhere until completely dry. Careful rinsing during printing cleanup will leave all intact.
Big areas are difficult to ink for a solid color. Lightly sanding gives texture ("tooth") so that there's a touch more ink to be picked up by the paper. Don't worry about a few surface variations in the lino... these don't show.