A basic introduction to some of the main bits and pieces you'll need to start dabbling in print making.
I know it's a little obvious to include a pencil into the equation but as this is my bread and butter tool I could hardly leave it out. I prefer softer pencils for sketching - 2B up to 6B and a harder, firmer one for transferring my final design directly onto the lino. Some printmakers prefer to draw over carbon paper which then transfers through onto the lino. A soft putty rubber comes in very handy for removing unwanted pencil lines without a resulting sheen.
Print makers linoleum comes in two main forms denoted by colour - grey or amber (brown). I find that grey is a little more hard wearing, amber is little more flexible but capable of fewer impressions before it breaks down. I use both but find myself drawn to the amber for ease of use. For some it comes down to the visibility when cutting through a lighter or darker material. Other surfaces can be found for use also - these are known as Soft Cut and Easy Carve. Worth trying to find your favourite. Lino can dry out and become a bit 'crumbly' over time so store carefully. Or use quickly.
Next up is the lino cutting tool. There are two main types: a single all-in-one cutting tool (such as Swiss brand Pfeil) or a handle with interchangeable blade sets (nibs). I like to use a combination of the two depending upon whether I'm woking on a particularly detailed section or removing larger areas of material. It's a case of practicing and whatever feels comfortable and controllable. A range of different blade sizes are available. For taking out the larger pieces I have a wider, shallow bladed, U-shaped tool and for the detail work I swap this for a much finer V shaped one. The handle is generally wooden and mushroom headed to allow a comfortable, firm and controllable push into the material.
The roller is used to apply an even ink coating directly onto the finished cut lino. The key to this process is to ink very carefully and lightly so that the detailed areas do not fill in. Again, there is a choice. A firmer hard rubber gives a nice 'spread-free' coating whereas a softer rubber will squeeze down a little into the cuts which can be quite good for making sure that the finer, detailed areas print well. Practice is the only way. You'll have guessed that this is a common theme to successful print making!
Print paper for me is around 300gsm weight. Wood free, acid free, matt surface. There are specific papers which are recommended but a successful transfer can be made on many types though something more rigid is preferable.
The press itself is very simple and although finessed a bit has remained relatively unaltered since low run printing was first developed in the middle-ages. The handle is gently rotated like a corkscrew to bring the paper and lino block together to make a print. I use a small Tofko press. Over time you get the feel for how much pressure to apply. This varies with size and design complexity. You might be reassured to know that I sometimes get this very wrong on my first attempt!
For the addition of colour I use water based paint as this is non-opaque and allows the bold lines of the lino print to remain intact. Again, a wider brush for the background wash and a selection of finer bristles for adding detail and highlights.
The good news is that print making doesn't have to be expensive. Starter kits can be bought for as little as £20 to have a go. As you progress you can buy up better quality and invest in more equipment. Seek advice from your local arts and crafts materials supplier. Most importantly - be happy to make mistakes, learn as you go and enjoy the ride!
RICHARD JARVIS WILDLIFE ARTIST AND PRINT MAKER
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