Illustration of the successive printing of colours in Dianema Catfish - Dianema Iongibarbis (click to see a larger image)

Linocut printing

Artists use various kinds of printing. I use Linocut which is a kind of relief printing. In this process the non-image areas are cut away to leave the image surface in relief. This surface is then inked and impressed on to the paper.

Chris printing

Reduction printing

This is a form of multi-colour printing where the same lino block is used for each colour. The block is cut or etched further for each successive impression, building up the colours to the finished print. One advantage of the reduction process is that it simplifies the task of registering the different colours. It also effectively destroys the block, so that the prints from each run are unique and unrepeatable. Almost all my linoprints are produced from a single block of lino. On very rare occasions I use a second lino in my work, the ‘Siamese Fighting Fish’ is an example, where a lot of the waterweed in the background was printed by means of a second block.

Artists' lino

My lino is made from a mixture of powdered cork with boiled linseed oil, coated onto a hessian backing. The product has a smooth upper surface, good for taking-up inks. It is slightly flexible, easy to cut, and will withstand repeated printings.

Cutting the lino

I have a set of 6 cutting tools, looking like very small chisels, having either a ‘U’ or ‘V’ shaped cutting points, some large, others not. These cut continuous grooves into the lino and one can create delicate or coarse effects. Take care! These tools can be dangerous, so never cut towards your hand. A way of creating delicate lines is to coat the surface of the lino with water repellent beeswax, scratch into this and ‘etch’ with caustic soda.

Caustic soda etching

Many of the fine watercolour-like half tones in the background of my prints are produced by this technique. About 1 level teaspoon of this chemical is dissolved in 100mls water (this substance is very corrosive and can be dangerous). Wallpaper paste is then mixed in to about the consistency of custard. The mixture is applied to the lino surface by a variety of means, to produce different effects e.g. painted on, spooned on or applied with a small teat pipette. The lino is then left in a safe place for 1-3 hours or more, depending on the depth of ‘bite’ required. It is then scoured under a running tap, and given a wipe with a weak acid. The caustic soda reaction is essentially the soap making (a saponification) reaction. The linseed oil that comprises much of the lino is a triglyceride fat which the caustic splits into a soap plus glycerol. The reaction is catalysed by the caustic hydroxyl group, so it is most important that this be neutralised with a little acid.

Drying of the prints

I generally work on 5-8 prints in parallel, printing at weekly intervals. The linseed oil-based inks I use, strictly speaking, don’t dry, in the way that water-based ones do, but rather harden. Linseed oil is a triglyceride fat, with what are termed unsaturated chemical bonds. In the presence of oxygen these can chemically bind together, producing increasingly large molecular aggregates (termed polymerisation) that eventually solidify. Once an edition is completed I generally leave them for 3-4 weeks to well and truly harden before storage.

Printing and rolling up

A glob of ink of the desired colour on a smooth surface such as glass or melamine is spread out in a line of about 12" and rolled out thinly and evenly with a hand-held 12" silicon rubber roller. This is then transferred to the lino using minimal pressure,until the colour is evenly coated. The lino is then placed face-downwards onto the previous image. This is then slid into the press, where, upon pulling a lever a heavy, horizontal plate squeezes with a pressure of 10 lbs. per square inch, or more. The lino is removed, re-inked etc. and the print hung-up for drying.

Transparent and opaque inks

If I want a colour to mix with the underlying pigment, I mix a little extender (a transparent linseed-oil gel) to the ink (e.g. my ‘greens’ are often produced by printing blue on top of yellow or vice-versa). To do the opposite, I add a little opaque white to my ink. The mauve on print ‘F’ in this case illustrates this.

Production of a print

The images above show the successive stages of production of a typical print (a Dianema Catfish - Dianema Iongibarbis native to Peru a fish which builds a bubble nest in which the eggs and fry reside). Normally, the whole lino is inked up but in the case of print ‘F’ I took a very small roller and just coated the fish’s body.

Numbering the prints

All my prints are original, and cannot be repeated once the lino has been cut and etched. Every print is signed, and numbered in the form print number/number of prints of the image (e.g. 4/26 is the number four of a print run of twenty-six).