Fixing carving mistakes in linocut printmaking. Showing a carved linocut block and how to fixe it, gluing a small part of linoleum to fix a carving mistake. Art by Booba Prints

Linocut f#*k-ups! Fixing Carving Mistakes In Linocut Printmaking!

Carving a linoleum block is such a fun and relaxing art (at least for me!). It has such a repetitive and meditative nature, with repeating the same motion again and again. Yet, the most stressful part of carving the linoleum block is making a mistake, because usually it means there is no going back. Whatever part you carved out can’t go back to the block. Sometimes the tools slip or you make a mistake, and you end up carving more than you want to. 

Before getting frustrated about the mistake (we’ve all been there), there might be a few things we can do to fix it. 

How to avoid carving mistakes?

  1. My first piece of advice is - take your time! Carving slowly can take longer, but it’s worth not having to ruin your block by going too fast. Linocut printmaking requires a steady hand and patience. Rushing can lead to errors. Take your time and work deliberately.

  2. Another tip is to have a reference of your design. You can either sketch the parts of the linoleum block that you want to remove, or if you work digitally like me, you can print a reference or have your phone handy to look at. This one sounds a bit obvious, but sometimes it can be confusing what parts are to be taken out and what to leave in. 
Showing a mistake on a linoleum block. Finger pointing to a nicked area on the block, carved by mistake by slipping of the gouge. This blog post is talking about how to fix these mistakes before starting over. Art by Booba Prints

How to fix it?

If you happen to make a mistake, first of all, assess the damage. Before you dive into corrective measures, take a moment to assess the extent of the mistake. Consider the following:

  • Size of the Mistake: Is it a minor flaw or a major one? Small mistakes may be easier to fix than significant ones.
  • Location: Is the error in a crucial part of the design, or can it be incorporated or hidden within the artwork?


1. Incorporate the mistake into the design

If the mistake is minor and doesn't significantly affect your intended design, consider embracing it as part of your artwork. You can adapt your image to include the error creatively. Many famous artists have incorporated imperfections into their work to add character and uniqueness.

2. Adjust the design

If we're lucky, the mistake is not too big. Maybe the sharp gouge slipped and nicked the linoleum block where it shouldn’t have. In that case, the first thing to try is to adjust the design. If the mistake did not bleed into the other design elements on the block, try to extend the design. If that's the case, just keep carving. Easy peasy! 

Fixing a mistake on a linoleum block. If the mistake is not too big the first solution is to adjust the design, try to draw around the mistake and go with it.

3. Filling and patching

Other types of mistakes I’ve experienced were in an area that was already carved out, so there was no leeway to adjust the design. These are the more heartbreaking mistakes, but don’t give up just yet! In that case, a good option is to dig through your bowl of linoleum leftovers and pick a small piece of linoleum that was not too big or thick.

Digging through my bowl of linoleum leftovers. You can use a small thin piece to glue over the mistake and try to patch and fill it. Use wood glue to press the piece firmly onto the mistake area and let it completely dry.
Add wood glue to the area with the mistake by using a thin brush, and press the linoleum piece firmly on top of it. Let the glue dry completely before you keep working (good time for a snack or a break). When coming back, trim it and carve the leftovers away. 
The last step is to sand the area using a small piece of sandpaper. Sand it until the block is smooth with an even texture, and voilà, it's all fixed.

Placing a small and thin piece of linoleum on the mistake area, use wood glue to firmly press it on the mistake area, let it completely dry before you keep working. Sand the area down until the block is smooth and even. Art by Booba Prints

Other ways of patching and filling

I personally haven’t tried these options, but here are other options for you to try in case of a small to moderate carving mistakes. You can patch or fill the error with materials like:

  • Linocut Putty: Special linocut putty is available for this purpose. Simply apply it to the mistake, let it dry, and then re-carve as needed.
  • Epoxy Putty: Epoxy putty can be used to fill larger gaps or mistakes. Mix the putty, apply it, and allow it to harden before re-carving.
    Don’t forget to ensure that the patched area is level with the rest of the block to avoid uneven printing.

4. Re-carving

If the mistake is too significant or the patching method doesn't work for your particular situation, if all is lost for this block, consider re-carving this block and starting from the beginning.

You can also re-carve just a portion of the block and replace it by cutting out the mistake and swapping it with a new carved piece of the same size and shape. Here are the steps of doing so:

  • Use a Fresh Block: If you have an extra piece of linoleum or an unused section of your block, you can carve the corrected design there.
  • Trace the Original Design: Place your original design over the fresh block and trace the portion that needs correction. Transfer it carefully to ensure accuracy.
  • Carve the Corrected Design: With the traced design as your guide, re-carve the corrected image on the new block.

Learning from mistakes

Re-carving a block from scratch has certainly happened to me once or twice, and yes, it’s frustrating, but on a positive note, I can honestly say that I’ve always learned something from the first block. I wanted to share this fixing process because we all make mistakes, in art or life, and it's alright!

Every mistake in linocut printmaking is an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist. Continue to practice your carving skills regularly to improve your precision and technique. 

Remember that even the most accomplished printmakers have made mistakes in their work. It's part of the creative process and a chance to develop your skills and resilience as an artist.

In the end, linocut printmaking is about exploration and expression, and mistakes are just detours on the path to artistic growth. Embrace them, learn from them, and let them guide you toward even more remarkable creations, and most importantly, have fun.

Happy Carving!

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