Agate linocut (three-block linocut)

The aim of this project was to create a print from three separate lino blocks. For the subject matter I chose an agate. I wanted to do something a bit more abstract for this one; my tutor encouraged me to do more abstract pieces after reviewing those in the monoprints assignment.Not sure i really got there though!

Here’s the best final print:

Agate Linocut Print

Planning and cutting

I looked at many beautiful images of agates, as well as a couple in my own little collection of  stones collected when I was little. I made just a couple of sketches/plans and settled on the blue one – planning for two blue layers and a final black one. (In retrospect this actually looks more like a good candidate for a reduction print).

1. I traced the image onto Block1 and cut away the areas that were to stay white.

2. I inked the block and pressed it onto paper (lining up the paper correctly so that registration would be right) then immediately pressed the (blank) Block2 onto the paper to transfer the image over. The result wasn’t great – a bit blurry – but it gave me enough to go on and a bit more tracing added detail.

3. I cut Block 2, cutting away all the white areas as before, plus all the areas to stay light blue.

At this stage, I made a mistake – the tool slipped and sliced straight through an area that was supposed to be left blue. I tried a technique I’d read about somewhere and just used a scalpel to cut out the offending piece, then cut out a matching replacement piece and stuck it on with pva glue… (wasn’t sure if this would really work but it was fine with a bit of extra pressure during printing).

4. I repeated the stage from step 2, this time transferring the image onto Block3.

5. I cut Block 3, this time cutting away everything except the black bits.


6. Now… printing and registration. Hmmm. I had read  this great article ( on the fabulous Brush and Baren site about a linocut jig, and used this as inspiration to cobble something temporary together at home from an old kids’ blackboard, various scraps of stiff cardboard and some glue. It worked! (Kind of…… will definitely need to get a better one made up). But during printing I had to make a few adjustments as I discovered the positioning of image on the 2nd block was just a little off. Cue much tearing of hair but eventually got a couple of reasonable prints.

The blocks printed separately


After this project I am even more in awe of printmakers like Robert Gillmore who create incredibly intricate, subtle, beautiful prints using the multi-block technique. I found the registration tricky, as always, and the final print was a bit flatter than I’d hoped. For further improvement  I could tidy some of the layers up and perhaps some more detail in the form of more white rings.

In retrospect I also should have chosen a design that used a mix of colours – using two blues is a bit safe and doesn’t explore some of the advantages of this method, which is the ability to use completely independant colours.


Bass rock linocut

Single colour linocut

Here the task was to create an print using a single lino cut block, in a single colour. For this I chose an image of a local landmark – the bass rock in the Firth of Forth. Here’s the finished print:

Bass rock linocut

Development and cutting the block

1. I started with a rough sketch from a photo of the rock using white pencil on black paper to help to plan the print:

Rough sketch of the rock

2. The Bass Rock is famous for its gannet colony – I found some online photos of gannets and sketched and traced a selection, adjusting them to the right size for the print. (I got permission to use the  photos – they include images by Tim Parkinson @

3. I traced all the elements of the picture, cut them out and arranged them against  black paper to create the composition…

arranging the elements

4. …then traced over the whole thing:

5. Then transferred the traced image to the lino block using carbon paper. I sketched the waves and sky contours straight onto the lino.

6.  Here’s the final lino block:

Cut lino block


Printing at home with the water-based inks, I again had to find the balance between not enough ink (patchy results) and too much (ink flowing onto the cut areas). However this time I had much more success by using a wooden spoon instead of my Japanese baren! The spoon let me apply more  pressure so that I didn’t have to apply so much ink to get a good print. At the same time I actually found that the “patchy” result you get when you don’t have enough ink/pressure was perfect for adding texture to the image of the rock. So I deliberately applied more pressure to the sea and sky, and less to the rock’s vertical sides – hopefully you can see what I mean here:



I enjoyed this one, and think I may create a longer edition of this print as I’m quite pleased with how it’s come out. The bit I’m least pleased with is the lighthouse – it’s just not as defined as I wanted it to be, but it’s not bad.

Linocut – markmaking

The first project in assignment 2 was to create a range of marks using different tools. Here’s one of the resulting prints (with added row/col markers):

Mark making


Here are my lino cutting tools sitting on my little hooked cutting board:

  • On the left is a 1mm v tool,
  • Then the separate blades numbered on the right numbered 1 – 5, with 1-4 being V and U shapes, and 5 being the scalpel. I think the 1mm tool and the no. 1 blade are probably much the same but they do give slightly different marks, the 1mm tool being shallower.
  • I also used a craft knife (not pictured), and also tried pressing a couple of things pressed into the lino.

And I also had this thing – an old “Powerline Model 72 Hobbyist Kit” that belonged to my dad, which included some lino cutting blades. I thought I would give it a go, but once I got it all hooked together and switched it on, I was genuinely afraid it would fly apart and take someone’s eye out.

Scary tool

I got as far as very gingerly making two marks (wearing Alex’s sunglasses for protection), whereupon it spat rust all over the block while making a horrendous noise, before I gave up and chucked it in the bin!


I actually did this back in the summer, on a very hot day, sitting outside. The temperature helped to warm the lino, which always helps the cutting process hugely (otherwise Iwould use a hairdryer or low oven to heat it up).

Mark making

First row

  • A1 – Blade 3
  • A2 – Blade 2
  • A3 – Blade 1
  • A4 – 1mm v tool

Second row

  • B1 – All the V and U blades, at the top pressed vertically down into the lino, and below, pressed down then gouged to form the u or v shapes.
  • B2 – All the V and U blades, rocked.
  • B3 – Scalpel tool used to cut and lift various shapes.
  • B4 – Blade 4

Third row

  • C1 – Cross hatched shapes using 3 blades.
  • C2 – Blades 1 and 3
  • C3 – Organic/floral shapes using blade 1
  • C4 – Leaf shapes – Blade 1 to cut shapes, Blade 3 to clear white space.

Fourth row

  • D1 – Use of craft knife to carve and lift geometric shapes, plus a round shape made by pressing a washer into the lino with pliers.
  • D2 – 3D shape with an attempt at gradient using blade 2
  • D3 – Pattern suggesting organic shapes/wood using blade 2
  • D4 – Small marks of varying depths using 1mm v tool (suggesting grass with water perhaps?), with blade 2 used above.

Fifth row

  • E1 – Use of 1mm v tool in various ways include shallow stabbing, meandering and hatched marks.
  • E2 – Use of blade 2 in one direction to give texture. Again may suggest wood. Similar to E4 but deliberately removed more lino to give effect of “black on white”.
  • E3 – Geometric pattern using Blade 1, with white areas lifted using  the scalpel tool.
  • E4 – Same approach as E2, but with more black left behind to give “white on black”.

Sixth row

  • F1 – Various marks made with blade 3, including rocking.
  • F2, F3, F4 – Various marks attempting textures using 1mm v tool.


This was my first attempt for a while at using water-based inks to print a lino block. At first and without thinking, I followed the habits I’d learned during the monoprinting assignment and used medium to thin the inks…this was daft because the inks are designed especially for block printing in the first place. The result was that some of the inks rand into the cut lines here and there. Lesson learned!

Celtic linocut print update

Goodness it was months and months ago that I first mentioned my celtic knot lino block – I never got round to posting the resultant print, but here we are:

Celtic lino cut

I commented last time that I think I’d actually worked this block a bit too much before taking my first print…at first look I’m not ever sure it looks like a lino print! You can see some of the nice rougher edges in close up, but I wish I’d left it a bit rougher:

I’m not sure what to do next with this though… the plain black and white is not enough I feel, so I may try to add a textured background, or try using 2 or 3 colours instead of just the black… any suggestions welcome!

p.s. I learnt how to draw and construct celtic knots and keys years and years ago using George Bain’s “Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction“… difficult and very time consuming but I found it absorbing at the time. For this project I put together the two knots and key from my earlier drawings.

At the studio this week

I’ve been working on another lino block over the last few weeks, and on Wednesday night after work I finally got down to Edinburgh Printmakers Studio to try a few prints.

Here’s the block, alongside a pencil rubbing I did at home to show up any stray rough bits of lino. The designs are all ancient celtic knots and key patterns, all drawn using techniques from George Bain’s “Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction

Celtic key and knot lino block

Celtic key and knot lino block

I wanted to try an image in black & white rather than the multi colour reduction prints I’ve been practicing with, and the prints came out great on Wednesday (I’ll post pics soon when I bring them home). I’m now wondering whether to just print an edition in plain black and white or to try a solid background under the design, or try a bit of masking to get a two colour design? Or do a bit of reduction? Not sure yet. Dither dither.

Actually the prints came out a little too well, in that I was a little annoyed to find I’d tidied up the lino a bit too much – it was too crisp!  Luckily a few stray pieces of lino, along with some nice uneven cutting, were enough to show that it was a hand-made lino cut instead of something done on a pc but it’s obvious I went too far…. Another lesson learnt – I could easily have taken an earlier test print at home to detect this before I spent time tidying the block.

Pretty chuffed though all the same!

Oh, and as an extra bonus, the lovely Leena Nammari who is a technician at the Studio lent me these two fantastic books:

My 3-year old is off to sleep so I’m away to read them with a cup of tea and a bic.

What I did last Summer..

Thought I’d post a little bit about my earliest adventures in lino, starting last with my third ever lino project I tried, using my little starter kit from the V&A, at home, before  took the course at Edinburgh Printmakers.

I used two old sketches of ancient celtic designs from the Book of Kells (I think, will need to go and check that), and combined them into one design.

Here I was experimenting with reduction printing, meaning that the design is built up in stages, with the lino block being cut into (reduced) a little more for each print.

celtic dogs linocut reduction print

celtic dogs lino cut

1: This pic shows a test print mid way through the first cutting stage – after this I also cut away the rounded shape around the dogs. The result after the first print (not pictured) was a background and doggy outline in white, with the rounded shape and dogs filled in palest blue.

2:Next, I cut away the rounded shape, inked the block with a mid blue, then printed on top of the first prints. The rounded shape is left in the pale blue, and everything else is now mid blue. The white outlines meant that any registration errors weren’t too noticeable.

3: This image was printed at the same time as no 2, but onto a new piece of paper – the result is simply the dog shapes without the rounded background.

4. Working on the print from no. 3 – I cut away the inside shapes from the dogs, leaving a thin border shape to be inked and printed in darker blue- not so keen on this version.

By the end of the exercise I’d lost many prints along the way to poor regristration, patchy ink (was using thickish watercolour paper which didn’t really work very well at all) and other mishaps. The worst thing though was noticing a fundamental schoolgirl flaw in my knotwork design (can you spot it?) which rendered the whole thing throwaway in any case – how frustrating!

But I had learned a lot about the reduction process, and was actually reasonably pleased with some of the results in any case. I might revisit that design again some time…