Introduction: Multicolor Linocut Printmaking Feat. Magikarp

About: Exploring the world through innovative design, come along for the ride!!

Let's push the limits of linocut printmaking with some Pokémon inspired prints!!

Relief printmaking involves taking a block of wood, linoleum, or rubber, and carving away everything that is not what you want to print. The block can then be inked and paper can be pressed on it to create a print, much the same way a stamp works.

This tutorial will not explain the basics of the technique (since there are many great Instructables on how to get started), but I hope to elaborate on the knowledge by suggesting some cool techniques you may or may not have seen before, to elevate your printmaking to the next level!

This time, we'll tackle producing an Ukiyo-e inspired image of Magikarp swimming gracefully, but the ideas in this Instructables could be taken and used in a variety of printmaking projects.

So let's go!

Step 1: Supplies

For this project, I'll be using several unmounted 6x8 linoleum plates. Some people like to use only one plate that gradually gets carved down after each color, such as in the reduction method. But I like using several plates, one for each color, since it gives me the option to print more prints in the future if I wish because the block is not destroyed in the process

In addition, I will assume you have a set of basic carving tools. If you're looking for an upgrade, try out the printmaking set from Flexcut! This is NOT sponsored LOL but I really do just like this set for its affordability and how they can be sharpened over and over again

Ink! I prefer oil based inks like the Caligo Safe wash series because of their superior texture on the paper and because they take longer to dry, allowing me to work slowly at my own pace. So I will use this for the final print

However, also get some water based ink for this project, it will also be needed in one key intermediate step

A brayer or roller to roll the ink will be essential too

As for paper, this is up to you, but in this demo I will be using "Kitakata Paper" which is thin but strong and translucent. I personally love the aged parchment sort of color it has

All of these just mentioned supplies can be bought at Blick art stores

Lastly, I also suggest lots of scrap paper for tests

Oh! And how could I forget, go to the dollar store and get a non slip mat for cupboards. Trust me on this one

Step 2: Design and Planning

I like to start by planning out what I will be doing before I carve, since once you carve it out, you can't put it back.

There are many good ways to add texture and depth to a piece, but for this print, I won't focus on those techniques. Instead I'll be going for a simple style of black lines separating the space into blocks which I will then just fill with a color

I wanted to make this print with subtle callbacks to the Ukiyo-e style of woodblock printmaking from Edo period Japan. This will be incorporated in the layout and coloring style

I started by sketching out some Magikarp, using plenty of google image results as reference for the shape and features. I settled on a composition including two swimming in a circular pattern, evoking Yin Yang, framed by a black line on the outside. This print would fit on a 6 inch by 8 inch sheet of paper

I also added a caption of 「ポケットモンスター・コイキング」(poketto monsutaa = Pokemon; koikingu = Magikarp) to the right corner to play into the Ukiyo-e aesthetic

Important!!! You should take care to flip your image left to right before transferring it to the block if you want it to look exactly how it was drawn. This is optional for images but if you have text, you absolutely must do this for it to appear readable when printed

Step 3: Finalize Design

I finalized the design by drawing a sketch to-scale and then outlining all the lines in permanent pen. I scanned it up so I could flip it on my computer and then print it out to use later

This step is optional, but I sometimes like to digitally add color to the image in GIMP (or photoshop, etc) to preview what the design will look like. Then I can experiment with the color choices with lots of flexibility before I commit to making the print

Step 4: Carve Key Block

My favorite step of the process is carving the blocks - it's just therapeutic! Put on a podcast or your favorite music and just enjoy the moment

To transfer the design onto the block, there are many methods, but I like just sliding carbon paper underneath the final design (which I taped in place) and tracing over the lines to place the design on the block

I tend to carve starting with a V tool, then clear out bigger spaces with the U gouges

Take it slow and remember it's easy to carve a little more, but impossible to put something back once you've carved it away

For the tightest corners, especially the letters/characters, I tend to prefer to use an exacto knife to get the finest of details that not even my narrowest gouge can get

This black lines key block will be what determines what the rest of the blocks will look like

Step 5: TIP #1: Non Slip Mat

This tip seems to be common online, but I'll bring it up again: try carving with a non slip rubber mat under the block! I got a roll from the dollar store and it has been WELL worth the buck

It provides enough friction that the block stays squarely in place when carving. Never cut something that is sliding around underneath you

The mat allows me to not need to hold the block across from the blade, which is a very dangerous position

Always carve in a way so that the line of action of the blade does not cross any part of your vulnerable soft fleshy body (ew?? But it's true.)

This sounds like one of those product testimonials but hear me out- ever since I got the mat, I have not cut myself with the tool.

Give it a whirl!

Step 6: TIP #2: Alignment Jig

When it comes time to print, we must print each color individually, somehow keeping the paper aligned the same way each and every time to have our color areas land in just the right places.

This system is the one I always use, and it's easy to set up. It may not look that cute, but it's effective

I begin with a metal framing square which I found in the shed. I align it so it looks like an L since I'm left handed, but you might find it easier to place it like a backward L if you're right handed.

I'll tape it to a piece of cardboard, chipboard, or similar. Then when I need to print, the lino block should fit nicely in the corner of the L, and I can tape the corners so it won't move.

To ensure each piece of paper is placed in the same location every time I print a layer, I make a mark halfway down one edge of the paper, and make a little mark on the jig as well. I also put a strip of tape on the jig, which tells me how to align the edge of the paper

To be aligned, the edge of the paper (in orange in the 2nd picture) should meet the edge of the strip of tape, and the tick mark on the paper should line up with the tick mark on the jig (in blue)

As long as I do my best to place the paper in this position every time, the print should be roughly in the same place each time

Step 7: Trial Print

Before moving to the color blocks, let's check that our key block is good. I'll take a test print by rolling ink on to the block, then placing the sheet of paper on top carefully

Rub with any round object you have, like a spoon. I use the handle of the carving tools because it turned out to be the perfect shape! I use moderate pressure and small circular motions all around for a couple minutes

You can pull up a corner to look at how the print is doing and continue pressing

If your test print is splotchy or not very solid, you may need to rub for longer, or use more ink on the block. It might take a couple trials to dial in the perfect print

Step 8: TIP #3: Transferring the Key Block to Make Color Blocks

Here's a great tip I learned somewhere online for making perfect color blocks

  1. Set the key block into your jig and ink it up fairly heavily with water based ink
  2. Attach a thick piece of cardstock with tape on one edge to the jig so it can swing open and closed like a door
  3. Press the print onto the cardstock, then carefully lift it up to "open the door"
  4. Take out the key block and place a clean linoleum block right in the jig
  5. Lower the still wet imprinted cardstock ("close the door") onto the clean block and press all around to transfer the still wet ink onto the block

You can now remove the block, which will be imprinted with the key block lines. Just like that, the pattern is perfectly transferred! Repeat this for as many color blocks as you need

The reason for using water based ink is that when I am done carving, I can easily wash off the temporary marks

Step 9: Carve Color Blocks

You can now carve the color blocks, leaving the raised up chunks where you want to print a color

If you have two or more colors which appear in small quantities far apart on the image, it is worthwhile to combine them onto one block. This lets you be less wasteful with the lino

Advice: When you have a solid section of color to carve out, carve slightly (like 1/2 of your key block line width) outside the shape. The reason for this is because when you go to print, it's inevitable that your alignment will be slightly off. So if your color section has this "buffer" on the edges, you can be slightly off and the section will still appear fully colored with little to no gaps. This is because the color section can slide around under the black layer to some small tolerance

Step 10: TIP #4: Masking

Some people like the stray marks caused by ridges on the carved parts of the block, also called chattering. But for this style, I need clean printing with none of the extra bits which will distract from the image. This can be accomplished with the masking technique (I actually don't know if this has a name, but I just stumbled upon this technique)

To do this, attach a piece of cardstock large enough to cover the block onto the jig using a tape hinge. This piece can open and close like a door, like earlier

Print the block onto the cardstock, then fully remove the cardstock

Using an exacto knife, cut out little windows where you want to print. Everything that is masked off will not print

Reattach this cardstock to the jig with the tape hinge, aligning it so the windows line up to where you want to print

Now, we can finally print

Step 11: Final Printing

We can now print! The procedure is fairly standard, as follows:

  1. Ink the plate with ink of choice
  2. "close the door" of the mask to cover the extraneous areas
  3. Align the paper to the registration marks on the jig. I also like to add two piece of painters tape to the paper edge so it is temporarily affixed to the jig and cannot suddenly move when I am printing
  4. Confirm that alignment is good, lay down the paper, and press
  5. Peel up the paper, and set aside to dry

Repeat for each print of your edition, and then repeat for each color. For oil inks, it's best to wait at least a day between each color for it to slightly dry, but you could do two colors in one day if they're far apart and wont touch each other. If the colors in question are thick, will touch each other, or even layer on top of each other, you absolutely must wait the day or two though

I tend to go from lightest color to darkest, but ultimately the order is likely unimportant. The only thing is that the black key block must be last, as to go on top of all the color sections, providing the final outline

Step 12: BONUS: Gradients

Let's talk about a technique I love to possibly overuse: Gradients!

Accomplishing a smooth transition from one color to another is a great way to add flair to your piece

To lay out a gradient, put ink of one color to one end of your palette, and ink of another color to the other end. Roll them out, and then here's the key step:

To get the fusion in the middle, move the roller left to right slightly each time you pick up the roller and continue rolling out for a while until this left to right motion begins to encourage mixing in the center

The amount to which you move left and right determines how long your "transition zone" will be, or the strip in which separates the regions where the color is fully solid

For this print, I want a fairly wide gradient, going from red or blue to transparent (yes! Look up transparent extender ink, it's amazing for this role)

Step 13: Results and Reflections

And with that, we have a lovely Magikarp! I also made a Charizard to add to the Pokemon flair. If you haven't yet tried multi block printing, give it a try! It's a lot of fun

It really is a thing of practice, so I encourage you to try a few times to see how much your skills grow. My philosophy is that even if you did not like a particular outcome, find something you learned, and I guarantee you learned something, and then it was all worth it.

That's all from me, and be sure to post questions and comments if you have them!


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