What is a Linocut?: Linocuts are very similar to woodcuts. It is a printing method using a sheet of linoleum, in which a subtractive cutting method is used to take away the parts of linoleum where you want to leave the white of the page, and keep the parts you want to be inked! In the result you have a linocut that can reproduce the same image over and over again.
A Short History: While linoleum was first invented in the 1860s, it wasn't used as a medium for printing until the early 1900s in Germany, where it was first used for making patterns on wallpaper! Artists ranging from Pablo Picasso to Henri Matisse have made linocuts, and today it is considered a respected art form. Linocuts are also very popular in teaching children in schools about the rewarding art of printmaking.
Why linocuts?: First off, linoleum does not have a grain like wood does, meaning there is no need to cut in one direction. Also, it is much, MUCH easier to cut than wood, especially when heated. Although linoleum is not quite as durable as wood, you can still make hundreds if not thousands of copies of the same image with a single linocut before it is too degraded to use. Linocuts generally remind me of illustrated children books, which is a style I very much like. One can even make several linocuts to be used together to make a print including color, and in some cases (depending on the ink and paper you use) a linocut print can be colored after wards with your medium of choice.
So lets get started!
Step 1: Materials
1. One sheet of linoleum!
You can get these at your local art stores such as Jerry's Artarama, or even at generic craft stores such as Hobby Lobby. The bigger you go, the more expensive the sheet, but generally they are not too expensive. If this is your first linocut, I suggest getting something around the size of 4" x 5". This way you do not have a giant piece to work on, but you also won't have to work with itty bitty details. For your first linocut, I suggest doing a simple pattern with no positive (left, uncut away) pieces smaller than half a centimeter. I know folks who buy linoleum for flooring when they find good deals, and use this for carving. I have never tried this, but only imagine it is much harder to cut than art store grade linoleum. Stay away from anything pink or white that claims to be good for lino-prints, generally it is a rubber that is much too soft, and you will hack it to pieces within seconds.
2. Linocutting tool with an assortment of blades!
You could buy several different handles with blades and v-cutters permenantly attached for about $7 each. I don't suggest this, as it is very expensive and simply unnecessary. Most art stores and some craft stores will sell a beginers kit that comes with one handle and 5 or 6 different blades for anywhere between $7 and $20. This is what I have, and it works perfectly! I bought mine from Jerry's Artarama for $14. There is a similar product here ( http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/Printmaking-Supplies/Speedball-Block-Printing-Supplies/Speedball-Lino-Cutters-Handles-and-Linozips.htm ) for those of you who would like to buy your tools online or who want to get an idea of what they are looking for.
3. A piece of glass! (At least 8" by 12")
You can get your piece of glass anywhere really. Many glass cutting stores will sell you scraps, as artists often use glass for pallets as well. I would get one that is at least the size of your common printer paper. I simply bought an old picture frame from a thrift store for $3, kept the glass and recycled the frame. You will be using this to roll your ink out onto before applying it to your linocut.
4. A brayer!
A brayer is very similar to a paint roller, but instead of the strange cushy material the roll itself is some kind of rubber. I suggest getting a hard or soft rubber brayer, and these will run from between $6 and $20, depending on the size and quality. I suggest getting a brayer that is at least 3 1/2" wide. Once again, these are found at art stores and in some craft stores. Here's an example. (http://www.jerrysartarama.com/discount-art-supplies/Printmaking-Supplies/Speedball-Block-Printing-Supplies/Speedball-Barens-and-Brayers.htm)
You can also get your ink at an art store or craft store, but make sure it says on the bottle it can be used for print making! Any color you like will do. I found a nice little jar of navy blue speed ball ink for $4. A little bird told me once you can use slightly watered down acrylic, but I have never tried this.
This is the paper you will be using to put your final prints on. If your ink is semi-transparent, you'll want a lighter color of paper. If the ink is solid and white, try some darker colors! I suggest artist's quality light weight paper, though stay away from anything that is very textured, such as heavy duty watercolor paper.
7. A dark magic marker!
8. A pencil!
9. An idea for your print!
For your first print, I suggest a pattern or drawing that does not have a ton of detail and without any shading. Try to keep your thinnest positive points (where linoleum is not carved away) about a half centimeter thick for your first print.
I cannot stress this enough. If it is your first time making a linoleum cut, I highly suggest you have a box of bandaids on hand. You aren't in danger of cutting a finger off while making a linoprint, but no matter how careful I am, I always manage to slice a finger or two. Some antiseptic ointment is a good idea as well!
Step 2: Come Up With a Design!
Step 3: Put Your Design on Your Linoleum Sheet.
Remember this is a print, and ANYTHING YOU PUT ON YOUR LINOCUT WILL BE BACKWARDS WHEN PRINTED.
If you have a symmetrical design, this isn't a problem. I personally don't ever work with letters, numbers, or words, so I just draw my design directly onto my linosheet, flipped from how I want it to be. If you are using letters or numbers, I suggest drawing out your design out, copy it onto tracing paper, and then using a piece of graphite paper to transfer the image onto your linoleum sheet backwards. This way, when it is printed it will be correct.
First, get your image onto your linoleum with pencil. When you like it, trace over it with your black sharpie. I suggest making a border around your image so that you linoleum is flat when you print it and so the image has a nice little border of its own, but this is not necessary.
Step 4: SAFETY!!!!
Rules for using linocutting tools
1. ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOU.
This is a general rule when using any sharp object, but its a good thing to remember
2. KNOW WHERE YOUR FINGERS ARE AT ALL TIMES.
This sounds stupid. How do you lose track of your finger? I promise you, it will happen. When you are carving, your non-carving hand will need to hold the piece of linoleum down to keep it from slipping and moving across your table. Instinctively you will want to hold it at the edge furthest from you, but if you are carving away from yourself, this puts your hand right in the path of your blades. No matter how much control you think you have, I promise you will slip from time to time. If your fingers are in the way, you will cut them. Trust me, your blades are sharp.
3. KEEP ANTISEPTIC AND BAND-AIDS AROUND
With such a sharp blade, you will make a tiny cut that is somewhat deep and will bleed a lot, if you do cut yourself. Apply pressure! Make sure you clean the cut by running it under hot water and applying antiseptic with a cotton swap or Q-tip. Place the band-aid on top of your cut to stop the bleeding and keep your finger from getting infected.
4. CAREFULLY WATCH CHILDREN
Linocutting is a great activity for kids who are mature enough to be around sharp objects. That being said, keep an eye on them!
5. DON'T BE STUPID
In the unlikely event that your cut is fairly deep and will not stop bleeding, don't try and be the tough guy and wait it out. While it has yet to happen to me, I could easily see a foolish carver injuring themselves enough to need stitches. If you can see yellow fatty tissue in the cut, you probably need stitches. If applying pressure isn't slowing the bleeding, you probably need stitches. If your wound cannot be shut, you probably need stitches. With stitches, you cannot wait, you need to get them before the wound starts to heal. A large cut may heal without stitches, but is much more likely to get infected. When in doubt, call your doctor or visit a local ER.
Step 5: Cut Away!
For larger areas, use one of your larger U-blades, the scoup like attachment to your linocutter. For fine detail, use the smallest of your U-blades and/or your straight blade. Some people like to trace all their outlines with their straight blade, first, but personally I don't think it really makes a difference. Be patient, as rushing will leave plenty of mistakes! Be especially careful on tight curves, sharp edges, and narrow cuts. The more you practice at this, the easier it will become!
Step 6: Ink Up Your Linocut!
1. Get that ink on there!
Put about a spoonful (depending on how big your print is) of ink into the center of your glass pane.
2. Start rolling!
Start rolling your ink around. Experiment with your brayer a little bit to make sure it is rolling the paint, not simply pushing it around without turning. If at first you can't get it to turn, keep going, sometimes it takes a few minutes for the ink to smooth out enough for the brayer to start rolling. Try and spread the ink evenly across the pane. If your paint is super sticky and hard to roll out, try squirting a tiny bit of water on it with a squirt bottle.
3. Aim for that smooth, velvety texture!
When rolling, its best to go at a quick pace. If you take too long, your ink will start to dry, which is no bueno! After you have rolled for a bit, you will notice that rolling starts to become noisy, and the texture of the ink will change. Ideally, you want to roll until your ink starts to look velvety.
4. Ink the linocut!
Once you have your desired texture, use your brayer to roll the ink onto your linocut. This may take a few passes and you may have to briefly roll your brayer on your glass pane again to pick up more ink, but don't take too long or the ink will dry!
Step 7: Print!
1. Take your paper, and gently place it over your inked block.
Even if its sort of off, don't try and move it. You can always cut the paper down later to get it nice and evenly centered
2. Tap down in the center
This is just to get the paper to stick and keep it from sliding!
3. Roll it flat/ smooth with hands
You can use a house hold object such as a rolling pin, piece of PVC pipe, or water bottle to roll across the top of the paper, like one would while rolling out cookie dough to make shaped cookies. I personally just gently start rubbing the top of the paper in circles to get a nice even distribution of ink.
4. Peel away!
From one end only, peel your paper off gently.
Its unlikely you'll get a perfect print your first go. Keep trying, as well as experimenting with different methods as to what works best for you. Also, make a few for friends and family!