White-Line Linoleum Print

Introduction: White-Line Linoleum Print

About: I am an art historian working in the wild and wondrous world of museums. When not curating exhibits or researching collections, I enjoy making and sharing my own work.

Love color relief prints, but don't like all the carving involved? Luckily for you, there's an alternative approach called white-line printing!

Invented in Provincetown, Massachusetts a century ago, the white-line print, or Provincetown print, is a hand-painted relief printing technique that eliminates the need for carving separate blocks or multiple reduction prints. The resulting prints are a synthesis of monotyping and relief printing, and are distinguished by their white, halo-like outline. Today we'll take a look at how to make one of these prints.

The example used here depicts the Church of San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.

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Step 1: Materials

Here's what you need to get started. You can find these tools at your local artist's supply store or online:

  • Linoleum cutter and blades Artist's linoleum
  • slow-drying ink or paint
  • Paper
  • tape

Helpful hints:

  • Speedball produces a nice linoleum cutter kit that includes a handle and several interchangeable blades. The blades vary in size and produce different types of cuts, from fine, delicate cuts ideal for detail, to broader, shovel-like ones better suited to carving out larger areas of material.
  • Artist's linoleum is available in a variety of grades, from very soft, eraser-like textures to firmer surfaces. If you're just starting out, use the softer grade. If you'd like to create more detailed images, use a firmer texture.
  • You can use either slow-drying printing ink or paint for this project. For today's example I used water-soluble oil paint, but another ink I like to use is Akua monotype ink. Either way, you want something that dries slowly enough so that you're not rushing to print your piece. A whole spectrum of colors is available nowadays, but if you want to be economical I recommend getting just the three primary colors (red, yellow, blue), black, and white, and mixing different colors yourself. I'd also suggest getting water-soluble ink, as this is easier to clean.
  • Paper: You can use all kinds of paper for printing, but you'll want something strong enough to handle the pressure of your hand rubbing over it.

Step 2: Optional Materials

Tracing paper and transfer paper aren't necessary, but can be helpful when getting your designs onto the linoleum block.

Step 3: Carve Your Outline

  • Figure out many many different colors you want to have in your print. For our example, we're using four: light blue for the sky, a yellow/tan for the church, brown for the shadows on the church, and a black/brown for the shadow underneath the building.
  • Once you have drawn out your design, transfer it on to the linoleum block. This is where tracing and transfer papers come in handy. Make sure you include the outline for EACH different color section, as shown in the example above.
  • Using your linoleum cutter, carve out the outline for each color section on your block. You're basically tracing your design, but instead of using a pen or pencil, your using a linoleum cutter.
  • When carving, apply mild to moderate pressure to move the blade forward and through the linoleum. Be sure to carve away from your body at all times. Linoleum blades are very sharp, and you don't want to accidentally cut yourself.

Step 4: Secure Your Block

Once you've carved out your design, you'll want to secure both your block and paper to ensure they won't move around during the printing process. To minimize mess, I tape down my block to a piece of Plexiglas.

Once you've secured the block, lay down your paper on top of the block and center it. Once you're happy with the placement, tape down the left corner. This will create a flipbook-like effect that will allow you to flip your paper back and forth between printings while maintaining registration.

Step 5: Print Your First Color

Once you have secured your block and paper, paint in your first color section. Since none of the colors will be overlapping, you can go in any order your wish, whether it's darkest colors to light, lightest to dark, or something in-between.

Once you've finished painting on your first color, lay the paper on top and rub by hand to transfer the ink. Then lift of the paper and lay it back down next to the block. The tape hinge you created will keep the paper from moving around during the multiple printings. Unlike the other color relief printing methods, it's easier to create each white-line print all at once, rather than printing an entire edition one color at a time, since you've already taped down your paper.

Step 6: Repeat Step Five for All Remaining Colors

Repeat the same process for your remaining colors until you have printed all of them. This part takes time, so be patient.

Step 7: Finish Your Print

Make any necessary touch-ups using your paint or ink with a small brush.

And there you have it! You've made a Provincetown print. The magic of this approach is that, since you're creating each complete print one at a time, you can vary the colors with each print, as I've done here, creating completely different works.

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