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When it all goes pear-shaped

Lino printing is a process. It starts with an idea, then a drawing, then refinements, then inverting the drawing, then tracing the drawing onto lino and then the cutting bit. It takes time and sometimes it, well, goes pear-shaped.

Lino can be a tad unforgiving (although helpful hint: if you are having trouble cutting your lino then heat it gently by either placing it on a heater or popping a hot-water-bottle onto it for a few minutes) and sometimes either a slip can happen and the wrong piece is cut or pieces can fall off the lino (yes, that can happen). When it does you have a few repair options open to you. Immediately glueing down the cut piece is one or, as I have done in the past, cutting out a larger piece of the lino and then cutting another, new piece to replace it. Sort of like a jigsaw.

Another repair option is just to make changes to the linoprint. For example, in one of my latest works I had three godwits flying but despite this looking a good composition when I drew it, it looked rubbish when I printed it. So, I just cut the lino to remove the third godwit. Now, the way that I cut it means that I can add it back in if I feel I have made a dreadful mistake. It is a good idea to be as least destructive as possible.

Godwits flying
Linoprint: godwits flying

Printmaking can be a tough business. I have an incredible number of pieces of paper with mis-prints on them, I’m pleased to say I only have a small number of unfinished linos (ones that have been permanently filed in the too-hard basket), and I currently have all my fingers and no scars. All that aside, I still find it highly rewarding and recommend it for anyone to try.

Some strategies I use to reduce the risk of things being shaped like a pear:

  • Never throw anything away. I don't mean become a hopeless hoarder but sometimes we may think we have 'ruined' something but over the course of time a solution comes to us. My most popular Lino was of a male quail - I hated it when I first did it and it sat on my desk for ages, it was only after a few months that I worked out exactly what I needed to do to correct it. It sold out quickly and I still have enquiries for copies (sorry, none available!).

  • Test, test, test. On my cutting desk I have a stack of paper for recycling that I use to 'rub' (a lot like people do brass rubbings) over any new part of my image. Using a graphite pencil I can get easy feedback on how something is going to look. (Side-note: rubbing like this does give you the reverse of what a printed image will look like).

  • Don't look too close. Looking at a finished image, in it's entirety is best done from a distance. I generally tape a draft image onto a wall and look at it from afar. Alternatively, snap a photo with it on your phone and look at that image - the change in perspective helps identify what are the issues with the image.

Let's face it though - if it was easy everyone would be doing it, and where's the fun in that!


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