By Sue Caulfield

As promised in Chapter 5 (intaglio printing), I now turn my attention to a discussion of relief printing, often considered the opposite of intaglio.  With intaglio printing, one etches the image into the printing plate and then prints with ink filling the etched recesses of the plate.

With relief printing, instead of etching the image you want to print, you carve away what you do not want to print.  With intaglio, the recessed areas are where you put the ink. With relief printing, the recessed areas are ink free.

Relief printing techniques include woodcut, metalcut, wood engraving, relief etching, linocut and some types of collagraph.  The technique I discuss here is linocut.  Linocut is a variant of woodcut.  Instead of wood, you use a sheet of linoleum (usually mounted on wood or another substrate).  You carve the design into the linoleum with a variety of chisels.  This first image shows a set of such tools. IMG_1131


I like this set of tools because the red and black parts combine to become a baren or burnisher, needed later in the process. The blades are quite different, as you use different blades to make different cuts.  For example, if clearing a large area of linoleum, one can use a wider blade, but when creating small detail, a very narrow blade is necessary.

I take the piece of linoleum and can either freehand a design or place a design onto the linoleum.  Sometimes I place the design by using tracing paper.  With the example shown here, I drew the design with ink, as I wanted a very clear image of what I wanted to create.

As with intaglio, relief printing will create a mirror image of what is carved.  For my example, I had to draw the images the mirror image of what I want to print.  This next photo shows the beginning carving of this linoleum (the piece of linoleum is 4″ by 6″).


Note the initial pile of shavings from the carving.  This pile will grow substantially before I have a plate ready for printing.

The next image shows the carved linoleum, close up.IMG_1118
Note how I carved the linoleum along the lines of the design.  This is much easier than trying to carve straight lines around curved images.  Also, the more one keeps the carving in line with the design, the less likely of slipping and carving a line where one is not wanted.

After a great deal of carving, I get to a point where I believe the plate is ready for printing.  This next photo shows a much bigger pile of shavings.IMG_1132

Now I want to roll ink onto the plate and test the print on a piece of paper.  To do so, I put together the red and black parts of the tool kit, which results in a baren/burnisher on the bottom of the tool.

Then I need to prepare the ink.

I place the ink onto a clean surface (here a plastic tray).  I then use a brayer to roll the ink (wake it up) and coat the brayer.  The brayer is the red handled object with the black roller on the end.  Always store a brayer on its resting pad, never on the roller, so that the roller keeps a smooth, even surface.IMG_1126


Then I use the brayer to roll ink onto the raised surfaces of the plate.  I prefer to use a smaller brayer and roll different sections of the plate.  This gives me a bit more control over the application of the ink.  Using back ink, the desired image now clearly appears, as seen in the next photo.



Next, I place the paper on top of the inked plate and use the baren/burnisher to rub the ink onto the paper.




Once the burnishing is complete, I lift the paper for the reveal.  In this case, the resulting print looks like:

You can see that this is a mirror image of what was carved onto the plate.  You can also see that more than the desired image was still high enough to receive ink and print on the paper.  I often do a test print and then carve away any additional linoleum that I do not want in the final print.  However, in this case, I like some of the additional lines, as they parallel parts of the design, and I might keep them rather than carve them away.

It is normal for the first print to be lighter than desired.  Once you ink the plate several times, you are more likely to get a more finished product.

A very nice thing about linocuts is their accessibility.  I have some blocks that are less than 2 inches in size, which means I can play with a small, simple design.  This is a technique that most people can work with easily.  However, it is still important to be cautious.  I have sliced open more than one finger when the very sharp chisel slips in the middle of a cut.  With caution, however, this is an accessible technique, one that can lead to immediate results.