lino block reduction printmaking

page under construction/translation Janvier 2012


 Print making techniques are vehicles which the artist may select and combine according to the circumstances of working opportunity. The lightest of touches and the most discriminating of choices enable the easy transfer of an event carried within to an impression left behind.

Printmakers are often scavengers, hobbyists, inventors collaging together patchworks of process and materials originating in other desires.

An English manufacturer, Frederick Walton, patented linoleum as a flooring material in 1863. Linseed oil exposed to the air in a succession of thin films can be ground, mixed with pulverised wood or cork, applied to a sacking foundation and rolled smooth.The 1950s abounded in lino, in condition from smooth, dense and luxurious to shiny brittle and cracked. It is this changing nature, this responsiveness that makes it a good material for a technique emphasising spontaneity.

Though, according to Alisa Bunbury, Gauguin used the technique in 1899 it most probably percolated out from poster makers into the art stream in the 1930s exploding out with Picasso in 1959.

Reduction block is just what it says, the block of lino which forms the substrate is reduced in working area each time it is cut into for a colour.

The implications are significant - I take my piece of lino, make a cut, ink it and know that I have to decide how many the edition will be from the start - there can be absolutely no doubt about the integrity of the edition size by this method because the block is destroyed in the process.

In 1982 looking for a cheap non-institutional way to make prints I received an eloquent description of the method but no demonstration.

There was something about the twisting somersault my mind made to grasp the process that made me sense it would be the way for me to break into printmaking.

Working without any preliminary sketches but simply an interest in what would emerge my first decision would be what size or shape the block should be - this was essentially an emotional decision to do with the gestalt of my working day.

In the beginning I didnt like to work bigger than the radius of my arm since for registration I would push two drawing pins through from the back of the block - locate the top edge of the paper on them by pushing each corner onto a pin whilst the paper was held off the inked block by one corner in my mouth.

Later I made larger than me prints by suspending one end of the paper on a sort of block and tackle. I found it is the varied dance out of which the print emerges that helps keep the ideas fluid.

A print is a trace of an action, or the cumulative effect of superimposed actions - my images were generated by a sequence of carvings, cuttings, gougings and scratchings.

My lino came in stimulatingly unmanageable rolls from Forbo-Nairn in Kirkcaldy. The greater the thickness of the lino then the more variation you can get in the width of the line as you cut, or surf, with the V shaped cutter. I found that I mainly used that and the broad cutter of the five or six I had.

The lino changed its quality according to temperature - the line smooth and sinuous if warm or jagged and hairy if cold. I found marking of the surface, (even wire wool can register) took me back with fatal delight to my brown school desk and semi-conscious compass point channelings.

I liked the sudden death tension of the limited number of cuts to resolve an adventure begun maybe with one or two dots. Also the complexity of the figure/ground relationships in that at each cut one was either defining an island to be printed in the next colour or a keyhole through which a motif in the previous colour would remain.

The cutting process is interrupted intuitively to lay the next colour, thus the image is built by layers of colour masks, or veils.

Wanting at the time to be mobile and able to work from a suitcase, I decided not to use a press; this introduced another channel for mark making since the action of impressing was by drawing and rubbing on the back of the paper as it lay on the inked block - I found it simplest to work on the floor or a very low table. I used a variety of implements including rollers, traditional barrens, the smooth wooden backs of handles, a gold leaf boner and so on - hands, nails, feet.

I am a messy worker and I wanted speed so I chose at the start to use water based inks at first ready made in little tins and later, when I was selling, mixing bought pigment with a gum Arabic binder.

At that time you could get the binder from T.N.Lawrence, it came in great tubs of luscious amber goo. How wet one worked determined the blending between layers and hence the visible colour. Five or six colours at most could go down before the paper cried out or gave up.

Sekishu Shi, Wenju Tak, Gampi, Asian papers would float in by post to Hebden Bridge, the Yorkshire mill town where the Holdsworth Gallery sold my first linoprints in 1982.

I kept my editions down to under ten, quite often just two or three - for my adventure was to get onto the next image.

I did nothing else for nine years so absorbed was I by the interplay between a basically simple technique and the subtleties it was capable of carrying.

Now many years later I am enjoying a return to this method and give occasional classes to those with a serious interest.