Printmaking: Reduction Linocut Print

Today I’m sharing the process of creating my first reduction linoleum block print from sketchbook to final print. A reduction print is made using one block (in this case linoleum) that you carve multiple times, printing in between each carving. This is a lovely step by step example. It’s also called a “suicide print”. Once you carve away areas of the block, you can’t get them back, so you only have one chance to get it right! It’s a good idea to make more prints that you think you need because getting the registration lined up is tricky, and you might ruin some in the process. On to the photos!

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This is the sketchbook version. On the right is a bit of a sketch I thought would be too complicated for the project. I wanted something bold and graphic, and nothing with delicate lines for my first try at reduction printing. I wanted to use really bright colors (lime, turquoise or dark blue), as well as black and white for the stripes. I also decided to play with positive and negative space in the leaves.

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This is the first carving in process. Only the spaces marked with “W” for white were carved away. I find it’s super helpful to mark my colors with a Sharpie so that I don’t get distracted and carve away the wrong section.

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This is the first print. It was hard for me to envision how the final print would turn out at this point, but I loved the color. I used a thin handmade Japanese mulberry paper. For the assignment, we were asked to hand burnish the prints. The paper is placed over the block, and then rubbed by hand with a baren (a disc with a flat coil) until the ink transfers to the paper. Using a light Japanese paper makes it easier to hand burnish the prints.

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This is the second carving, inked up in blue. It was a challenge to carve away from the lines, as opposed to carving lines into the solid shapes. I’m hoping with more practice this will come easier.

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These are some of the prints drying after the second inking. Our apartment is on the small side, so just about every surface was taken over with drying prints. It was easier than I thought to register the paper for the second inking because I had marked lines on the top and bottom of the back of the paper to help me place it in the right spot. It was at this stage that I could finally see the magic in this process, and I started getting really excited about what I was making. I couldn’t wait to get started with the third color the next night.

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This is the last carving. Only the black lines were left, so that the leaves would be exposed in the final print. I inked up the block in black first, and did one test to see how it looked. I thought the black was very overpowering, so I mixed in a lot of white to get to a medium grey color. After the grey color was applied to the blue, it still looked black, but not an overpowering contrast. The next time I do one of these prints I will definitely test my colors first to see how they interact when layered.

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And this is the final print! I started with fifteen prints, and ruined three in the process due to printing upside down or bad registration. I narrowed it down to six of my best prints to turn in for class. Overall, I really enjoyed this process. I liked hand burnishing because I could work at home without a press. The mulberry paper is lovely, light and airy, and was fun to work with. I also really liked the planning aspect of the project. It was fun to sketch out the different layers and figure out what to carve away for each printing. I’m definitely looking forward to doing this again!

Comments 14

  1. Em March 2, 2013

    Oh! I want to do some linocuts after reading this.This is so wonderful. I love, love, love your print Lovely. And thanks for the step-by-step. So fun to see!

  2. Jenny Lee March 3, 2013

    This is a wonderful print and I love how you stepped it out. Now I want to get my lino cutter out and do the same! LOVE it! Thanks for stopping by my blog and saying hello!

  3. Anika March 3, 2013

    This turned out so awesome! It has a retro tiki-tropical vibe that I love. Thanks so much for sharing the process. Definitely going to think more about doing a reduction print!

    • Tricia March 3, 2013

      Thanks Anika! You will love doing this! I forgot to take a photo of this part, but I put down a piece of cardboard with a template of my block drawn in the center, and the paper placement around it. This way I would always put my block and paper in the same spot. I’m looking forward to trying another one when my class is over.

  4. dawn March 9, 2013

    Thanks for this tutorial! It has been a LONG time since I’ve done this and had recently thought about trying it again. I love the pattern you made too!:)

  5. Megan March 18, 2013

    I love this! I have done linocuts before but had never heard of carving the same block for different registrations. Your prints came out so fun! I’m really into your bright colors.

    • Tricia March 19, 2013

      Thanks Megan! It was a nice challenge to plan this out. My teacher said that he has had some students plan every step in Photoshop for more complicated prints to make sure they cut everything where they should. Definitely a fun project.

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