Linocut, or linoleum block printing, is a diverse and flexible medium that can range from graphic, single-color designs to subtle and complex interpretations. Beautiful results can be produced with simple, low-tech, and inexpensive tools. For the first ten years of my own printmaking adventure I created all my prints by rubbing the back of the paper with a spoon!
The photo at right displays a few basic 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 here. 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.
An artist might choose to create a single-color print and add additional colors with watercolor paints, as I did with this Audubon’s warbler.
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. The artist must print the entire edition as he or she works, because the printable area of the single block is reduced with each color pass. This is the way I most often work, so let me show you a simple example.
“Rosebud” is a fairly straightforward reduction linocut completed in eight carving/printing steps.