Day-to-Day, Reference Posts

What is Linoleum Carving?


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What is Linoleum Printmaking, and how do you do it?

A linocut is a form of relief printmaking. It’s kind of like a woodblock print, but easier to cut. A “relief” is a piece of art made by taking away material to form the image. Linoleum can be purchased at most major arts and crafts stores, or ordered online. It comes in sheets, or glued to a wooden block. The easiest way to describe what I do is to compare it to a stamp. Please be aware though, that it actually is so much more than a simple stamp.

First, I create my design and either draw it directly onto the linoleum or transfer it onto the sheet/block. My raptor was carved from a 9×12″ sheet of linoleum glued to a block of wood.

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Then I take a linoleum cutter, and using the different sized blades, I carve out my image. I especially love this medium because of the detail I’m able to create with the lines – but in a different way than just drawing them out (you’ll come to learn that I’m a line work junkie. The more lines, the better!).

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When I’m done carving out EVERYTHING, I use a brayer to roll the block out with ink. At the moment, my favorite inks to work with are Gamblin brand relief inks (their intaglio inks also work well). As a side note, I DO NOT recommend Speedball brayers. They work in a pinch or if you’re just starting out, but I’ve struggled with them either sticking or not picking up all the ink cleanly.

After the block is cleanly and evenly rolled with ink, I place my paper over the bock and use a barren, or barren object to hand rub the paper until the ink has completely transferred. You may have to go back and re-ink certain spots of your block if it’s not coming out completely, or go back and carve more if you’re not satisfied with your image.

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And there you go! That’s how I make my lino cut prints. If you come by and see me at a convention or other show I will have some of my blocks on hand for you to look at up close.
If you’re feel like you’d like to try out this medium, I my material preferences are listed below:
  • Lineoleum: Battleship Grey, unmounted
    • The Golden linoleum works well, and cuts easier than the Battleship Grey, but I personally feel that the grey crumbles less, and can better hold intricate lines.
    • If you’re just starting out, you may want to practice on “EZ” or easy to cut stamp blocks (usually bright blue or pink). These carve easily, but it’s hard to get intricate details or fine lines on them.
    • I prefer unmounted linoleum because I feel it’s easier to work on, and if I really want it on wood later, I can use Elmer’s glue to do so later.
  • Ink: Gamblin oil based relief ink
    • I prefer oil based ink over water based. I personally feel that the pigment is darker, and it stays wet longer so that you don’t have to speed through what you’re doing. It cleans up well with vegetable oil and Dawn dish soap.
    • If you’re just starting out, buy whatever is cost efficient. I despise tubes of Speedball ink, but if it’s just something you want to play with and don’t want to break the bank, it may be a good place to start. They’re only a few bucks, and come both oil and water based.
  • Brayer:
    • Even though I (unfortunately) don’t own one (yet), Takach brand brayers are WONDERFUL. They’re sturdy, roll smoothly, easy to clean, and come in various sizes.
    • If you’re in a pinch or don’t want to spend too much money, you can purchase a Speedball brayer. I KNOW that I said I don’t recommend them, and I don’t, but it’s what I’m currently using because it’s what I can afford at the moment. PLEASE NOTE, if you’re going to purchase a Speedball brayer, buy the one with the “heavy-duty steel frame.” The one with the wire frame catches and won’t roll half the time, and I’ve heard horror stories about the pop-in brayer.
      • Hard rubber: for work with finer lines
      • Soft rubber: I honestly don’t even know
  • Carving Tools:
    • My personal favorite, and probably the best brand on the market are the Pfeil swiss-made relief carving tools with the palm grip. When taken care of, they last for a long time, cut smooth, intricate lines, and come in a variety of sizes between both the U and V blades.
    • I remember when I first tried linocut in my very first printmaking class. I was handed a Speedball Linoleum tool, with the twist off end (that revealed a space for you to hide your interchangeable blades), and I thought it was SO COOL. I know I’m hard on Speedball brand, but I still use this trusty little thing to clear out large portions of carvings. I use my Pfeil for detailing, and my Speedball to chop up the plate. Plus it comes in fun colors. Mine’s red.


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