Thursday, January 21, 2016

Linocut in Progress: All the stuff that comes before

This evening I had a brief text message exchange with a friend who is working on a boat off the coast of Florida. It sounds so romantic, but even from his few short words it was clear that there was a bunch of decidedly UN-romantic drama going on out of the public eye.

Which of course made me think of linos. (Full disclosure: Most things make me think of linos.)

No, really. Because right now I'm in the decidedly un-romantic preliminary stages of a new piece. No carving. No ink. No lovely thick paper. And I realized I haven't shared this portion of my prep in a while, so lucky you! Here it is, from the beginning....

It starts with a walk. (A lot of things start with a walk.) This time of year our small Sands Lake is host to a much wider diversity of waterfowl than it is in the summer. Among our winter visitors are several pairs of buffleheads, which I love for the males' striking black-and-white plumage and their spunky attitudes. I have a fair number of photos and a few sketches of them... but I also remembered a great image my friend Tony took several years ago of a female with a little crab in her bill. Armed with this reference (and Tony's permission to dig through his photos), I fussed around until I came up with a design I liked. I showed you a corner of this preliminary drawing last week as a bit of a tease.

Once I had the drawing sorted out I scanned it to my computer and enlarged it to the 18 x 18 format I'm using for the image. I printed it out in sections on a laser (toner) printer, and pieced it together.

Here's a questionable photo of the trimming and taping together in progress.

And now for the stinky part. Because I printed this out on a laser printer I can transfer the image to the lino using a Chartpak blender marker. This is un-pigmented, straight-up xylene. Nasty stuff. Open windows required (or use it outside), don't inhale too much, and dispose of all the remnants IMMEDIATELY. I don't always use this method, but for an image this complicated it saves me having to draw and re-draw and re-draw. It goes like this:

Tape the toner-printed drawing face down on the lino.

Rub the back of the paper with the blender pen. I also stop from time to time and burnish the whole thing with something like a bone folder. The pen dissolves the toner and transfers it to the lino. Sometimes it works better than others... it depends on how dark the toner is, and sometimes how fresh it is. It's okay, I'm not going for perfect here.

Very bad photo of the finished transfer. It was better than it appears here... not perfect, but good enough for the re-draw. The nice thing is that the image is now reversed without me having to think about it. And the marker-soaked paper went directly to the outside trash.

And this is what I've been doing today. Going back over the image with Sharpie pen... refining some shapes. The toner transfer would probably hold up for at least the first color pass without doing the Sharpie bit, but I don't want to take the risk of losing it when I clean up.

After I get the drawing done I'll scrub the whole block down with mineral oil and probably a little green cleaner to avoid having the Sharpie lines transferring to my prints. It's going to be fun (I hope!)... you know me and complicated water... can't get enough of it. And four birds... that's a new one. I'm anxious to get the first ink layer down on paper, but ARGH! I have to do a boatload of framing the next couple of days, so it will likely be next week before I can get it underway.


  1. Looks like a fun image. I was thinking of starting a duck print today.
    I used to use the xylene markers in the past, but have since changed to ironing the laser toner instead. I get about the same amount to transfer, without all the smell. Medium heat and keep moving.

  2. Oh, what a great idea, Justin! I hadn't thought of that. Will give it a try next time.

    Once upon a time I used to keep an iron and a damp hand towel close by when working to keep the lino soft easy to carve. Better tools and better climate control in my space and fresher lino has made that unnecessary now.

    Of course we also used to use our irons to reheat pizza when I was in college. They are handy devices no matter what.

  3. I need to try that transfer method! will save so much time not having to redraw things :D (invest in a respirator ;) don't want you passing out and they are cheap)

  4. You can also use something like "Wintergreen" linament instead of xylene.

  5. Yeah its nasty, the smell is awfull and I use Acetone to do the transfer from my laser print to the lino. I live in a small apartment, you can imagine the smell. And it's winter here (like -15° C in the day!) Of course I open the window, but not for long ! 4 birds and trouble water, good "ingredients" for a superb print...