Sherrie York Linocuts
 Sherrie York reduction print process
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©2014 Sherrie York


relief printmaking toolsMaking a Reduction Linocut: The Basics

There are many techniques an artist can use to make relief prints. An artist might use one method exclusively or combine processes in their work.

A printmaker may choose to print their images using a press or burnishing by hand. All of my prints are produced by hand rubbing using a baren (or a spoon!) The photo at right displays a few of my tools: (From left to right) a brayer for applying ink to the block, a carved block, a baren for hand rubbing the prints, and assorted carving tools.

There are a variety of ways to create multi-color prints. Three common methods are described below. If you would like to know more about the process, I often write about the step-by-step creation of new work on my blog, Brush and Baren.

You can also see a video about my work on the Artist Statement page.

Many artists print only a single color, such as black, and add color with watercolor paints.

Multiple blocks:
It is also common for an artist to carve an individual block for each color pass on a print. It's a process that requires a lot of carving and a lot of blocks to later store, but the advantage is that the artist doesn't need to print the entire edition all at once. Since each block is separate it is also possible to experiment with color variations of the same image.

In a reduction print the artist develops all colors from the same block. For each color pass the artist removes more material from the block. Each color in printed on top of the previous. The artist must print the entire edition as he or she works, because the printable area of the single block is reduced with each pass. This is the way I most often work, so let me show you a simple example.

reduction process step 1In this three-color image of a sunflower I would like the background to be white, the color of the paper. The first step, then, is to carve away all the areas that will remain white. When the carving is complete I print the first color, in this case, yellow.

I print more copies of the yellow than I hope to have in my final edition. This allows for the inevitable mistakes, since I will not be able to print any additional images once I start carving for the next color pass.

reduction process step 2While all of the printed sheets are drying, I clean off the block and I carve away all the areas that I want to remain yellow. When the carving is complete and the prints are dry enough, I print the second color, green, on all the prints.

reduction process step 3Once more I clean off the block, carve away all the areas that will remain green, and print the final color, black.

Once all the prints are dry I sort them, discarding any individual prints that have significant errors of registration or color. As a final step I sign and number the edition.



carving the block Carving the block.
inking the block Inking the block with a brayer.
revealing the print Checking the transfer of ink by rubbing with the baren. (White disk below my hand to the right.)
inspecting the print Inspecting the print at the current stage. Time to clean up and head back to the carving table for the next step!