Introduction: How ANYONE Can Make a Linocut
If you’ve always wanted to make your own custom-stamped cards, patches or invitations, but feel like you’re out of luck since you aren’t a master illustrator, this instructable is for you! No drawing skills? No tracing ability? No problem! If you can carve a pumpkin, you can make a linocut. I’ll show you a handy shortcut to making your own linocut and you’ll be block-printing away in no time.
This instructable includes a photocopy transfer technique to apply an image to your linoleum block, an introduction to carving linoleum, ideas for embellishing your block print with color, and tips on printing on to fabric and scrap paper.
A set of carving tools with different tips ($6-$10 for a starter set)
A linoleum block ($1.29 for a 2"x3" piece & up)
Block-printing ink ($3.79 for a small tube of water-soluble, a couple extra dollars for oil)
A brayer (I got a 4” hard rubber one for $7)
A barren (optional; $6-$20)
A plate of glass for ink, or a flat-bottomed glass dish (around the house)
Use of a printer or copy machine & standard paper
Cards, scrap paper, or fabric to print on
Step 1: First Thing's First- What Are You Making?
Before you buy any materials, you need to decide what your end result will be. I tend to be a spontaneous art-maker, but this is one thing that benefits from planning ahead of time.
Do you want to make your own wedding invitations? How about some postcards or patches for your band? You’ll need to know the size of your final product so you can select the right size linoleum block for your project.
I usually make art cards with card blanks (a heavy cardstock with a shallow pre-bend) in a 5”x7” size so that they are easy to frame, so I use linoleum blocks that are 5”x7” for that purpose. I find it is easiest to use paper that is the same size as your block when you’re printing.
You can print on most smooth surfaces that will hold ink. Paper is ideal, fabrics with a mild texture work best. You can use either water-soluble inks or oil-based ink for paper; it’s best to use oil-based ink for fabric or wood.
Step 2: Find an Image
Draw one, ask a friend to draw one, find some free clip art on the internet, or use one of your own photographs (these are two linocuts I made using my photographs with this image transfer method: http://artproject2010.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/day-103-telegraph-cables-a-linocut/ and http://artproject2010.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/day-107-21st-st-a-linocut/ ).
The key here is contrast. You either carve out the linoleum so the ink won’t touch it or you leave it there to be inked, so you want to start with a black and white image. In this example, I did a quick tracing of my hand, then drew a heart in the palm area and wrote the word “handmade” in cursive.
*Tip*- Words can be tricky. Try not to make them too small or use a complicated font. Remember that very thin lines may fill with ink and disappear in printing.
Step 3: Make a Copy or Print It Out
The shortcut I mentioned earlier is this- instead of drawing or tracing on to the linoleum block (which is hard for my brain because it requires mentally flipping the image and working in reverse), we're going to be transferring a photocopy straight on to the linoleum with a little bit of clear paint. This is why no drawing skills are required for this method. :)
Make a black and white copy of your drawing, or print out your image or photograph in black and white. Alter the contrast in your image editing software or darken the contrast on the copier/printer if necessary. Shrink your image to fit your linoleum block, as I did here with my printer’s enlarge/reduce feature.
Step 4: Transfer Your Photocopy to the Linoleum
Apply thin layers of matte medium to both the linoleum and the image side of the copy with a brush. Place the photocopy face down on to the linoleum so that both wet surfaces are touching. Rub the back of the paper firmly for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to transfer the copy toner. I prefer to use a plastic scissor handle for this because it is hard but smooth and will not rip the paper.
Allow the medium to dry for about 5-10 minutes, or until the back of the paper is no longer cool or moist to the touch. If there's any doubt, just wait a little longer. Peel off the paper. (If you see the toner peeling away with the paper, it is still too wet. Rub back down and let dry longer.) Rub off the remaining paper with your fingertips. If some of the paper is stubborn, dampen it with a little bit of water and rub it off.
I am using standard copier paper in a laser printer and Golden brand acrylic matte medium for this method.
Step 5: Carve Out Your Image
Start with the thinnest carving tip and begin with the outlines of your image. Position the tool so that it rests in your palm and your index and middle fingers are gripping the top to help you guide it with control. Place it at a shallow angle and push slowly. Do the curved cuts by turning the linoleum block with your other hand. Take your time! It’s “slow and steady wins the race” when it comes to the carving stage.
SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT- you will be using a sharp edged tool with force. Use the same care you would with a knife. Be sure to always position the hand holding the linoleum block in a way that it will not be in the “line of fire” if (and when) your carving tool slips off so that you do not cut yourself.
I do my most detailed parts first because I tend to tense up while carving. You may find that your hand/arm/wrist/neck gets sore while you're working, so take little breaks or come back later. The more tired you are, the better chance you have of messing up your linocut or cutting yourself, so be cautious.
After the outline is done, switch to your V-tip. Use the thin outline to guide your tool tip and carve out more of your negative space. Change tips as necessary to get your image done; then carve out the background.
You can use the background space for extra detail, to accentuate the look of the carving with raised directional lines, or to create a border. Use the most shallow U-tip to clear away large areas in the background.
-Slow down and bring the angle of your tool tip up as you come to a raised part of your carving to reduce chance of slippage.
-Use the flat knife blade tip (if your kit came with one) to make edges sharper by slicing down along the edge, then slicing in at a 90 degree angle sideways to remove unnecessary linoleum with precision.
-I find that the tan-colored Speedball linoleum is a little “grippier” (it has a more sandy texture than the gray linoleum) and helps with detail and control.
-Remember, you can always carve away more, but you can’t put back what you’ve carved out. You can stop at any time to do a test print and judge what else needs to be carved.
NOTE: If your image includes words, they will appear reversed as you carve. When you print them, they will be legible, just as the photocopy you began with was.
Step 6: Ink & Test Your Linocut
Unless you have a totally thrashed craft table like mine, you’ll want to use some junk mail or newspaper to protect your working surface. You can tape down your linoleum block if you wish. You can also use a straight edge and a pen to extend the lines of the block to help yourself place your printing paper. (These two steps are especially useful if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing at once.)
Place a dab of ink on your glass. If using glass from a picture frame, place a towel or some shelf liner underneath it to keep it from slipping. If you are using water-soluble ink, you may want to invest a few bucks in retarder, which slows the drying time. This ink dries VERY quickly.
Roll the ink with your brayer until you have a thin, uniform layer of ink on the brayer. The ink has tack (stickyness) and will form little peaks on the glass when it’s thick. Once there is very little texture, you’re ready to roll the ink on to your linocut.
Roll the brayer back and forth in different directions to make sure you cover all parts of your linoleum block. I give it a quick glance from the side to look for the “shine” of the ink so I can see if I missed any spots. Re-roll ink on to the brayer and re-roll the block if needed.
Place your paper or fabric on the inked linoleum block and rub the back of the paper/fabric with your barren (or hands or rolling pin or book or whatever will provide uniform pressure without kinking or ripping the printing surface) firmly for 15-30 seconds.
Peel the paper/fabric back and inspect your results.
-If thin carved-out lines filled with ink, try carving them out a little more or applying a thinner layer of ink to the brayer next time.
-If ink shows up in the background or in other areas you don’t want it, carve those high points out.
-If ink is splotchy, use retarder or a little more ink on the next application.
Step 7: Get Printing & Embellish With Color!
Adding color is a great way to jazz up your prints. You can print in tons of ink colors and mix them to make new colors, you can print on colored papers and even patterned or drawn-on ones. You can “color in” areas of the lino with oil pastels, acrylic paint, colored pencil or even decoupage colored tissue paper bits over it. If coloring, allow print to fully dry first. If using water-soluble ink, spray with fixative (or aerosol hairspray) first to help keep the ink from running.
If you are printing on to fabric, oil-based ink is recommended with a dry time of 4 days minimum. Oil-based paint requires clean up with mineral spirits. I have tried using fabric paint which is meant for silkscreening, but it is very smooth and doesn’t roll well onto the brayer. It still works, but is kind of mottled-looking and requires heat-setting with an iron for a few minutes on each side.
If you're making fabric patches, just sew on or pin on your fabric, and you're done! Another idea for fabric is to use fabric prints as part of an art quilt. If you're making cards, I recommend cardblanks.com for cards, envelopes and clear sleeves or boxes. If you're making invitations, try a multi-paper approach. Print your linocut on metallic or patterned paper, then stick or sew that on to another layer of colored paper on a cardblank. There's so much you can do with linocuts. I hope this instructable has helped you get the courage to get going and make craft magic of your own!
For more examples of linocuts and cards, check out my blog: http://ArtProject2010.info and click on "linocut" in the tag cloud. I'm currently working on a project to make one new piece of art every day for a year, and I'm half way through. If you've enjoyed this instructable, please swing by the blog and say hello. :) Happy making!