Linoleum Block Printing: How is an image made and transferred?

Linoleum and woodblock printing are forms of Relief printmaking, which mean that the image is printed from a raised surface.  This is very different from other forms of printmaking such as Intaglio (etching, engraving, drypoint), Serigraphs and Lithographs.

plain linoleum
Plain piece of linoleum made specifically for relief printing

Relief printmaking is the oldest form of printmaking, whether it be making a rubbing from a gravestone (also known as frottage), or from a cut block of wood. Linoleum is a material that became popular for relief prints in the 20th century. Linoleum was invented in the mid to later 1800s as a product for floor covering.   Now, there is linoleum specifically made for the purpose of relief printing and is free from the flaws that commercial linoleum had.   I have mainly used linoleum but I am starting to develop a liking for wood.

So what exactly does it mean to print an image from a raised surface.  Above you can see a plain piece of linoleum, nothing has been drawn or cut out yet. Below you see a piece of linoleum that has been cut.  What has been removed is the part of the block that will not pick up ink that is being rolled on top. Assuming that the paper the block is being printed on is white, that is the color that those cut away parts will be in the final print.

cat tails cut block
A piece of linoleum that has been carved. The parts that have been carved away will not pick up any ink

Below you can see the block after ink has been rolled on top using a tool called a Brayer.  Relief ink is thick but also creamy, sort of like the consistency of butter that has been left out of the refrigerator for a bit. The ink is rolled out on a glass slab and then rolled onto the linoleum block. It is very easy now to see what has been carved away. Lulu, my cat, was supervising this particular application of ink but appears to have fallen asleep.

cat tails inked block
A piece of carved linoleum with ink applied

And here is what the print looks like after the ink has been transferred onto paper. I use a printing press but it is possible to transfer the ink to paper but hand rubbing with a tool called a Baren, or even a large spoon.  I prefer a press because it prints the image evenly.

Cat Tails
Finished artwork after it was printed

The writing on the margin of the print is the title (center), my signature (right) and information about the print on the left.  In this case, this print is an “open” edition, meaning that it can be printed a number of times until the block disintegrates. Generally,  if a piece of linoleum is stored correctly, the image can be printed approximately 50 times  Some artist like to number their prints.  I do not unless it is truly limited due to the method of making the artwork (this is called a reduction block and I will talk about this in the future).   Relief prints are all original works of art because the block is inked up and printed each time the image is transferred. It is almost impossible to make them exactly alike although with enough practice inking and printing you can get pretty close. Still, each one is an original. I mark my open edition prints like this:   1/Imp    That means it is one unique impression.   The idea of numbering prints at all came to be in the 20th century. Rembrandt, Durer and other artists did not number their prints.  You can see more of my bock prints by clicking here.

6 thoughts on “Linoleum Block Printing: How is an image made and transferred?

  1. Hi Diane, You clearly explain this popular form of making prints. It has countless applications for young and old artists to create imagery that ranges from the simple and primative to the complex and sophisticated. It is a great starting point for the beginning printmaker, and especially flexible for the seasoned artist. I have used it and taught it at many levels, and find that it serves as strong confidence builder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Sheldon. That means a great deal to me coming from you with your experience teaching and making prints. XO

    Like

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