The art of linocut printmaking by a nutshell. Showing a linoleum block carved with carving tools resting on top. Art by Booba Prints

The Art Of Linocut Printmaking In A Nutshell

Linocut printmaking has been my favorite way to be creative and express myself for about 2.5 years now. As an illustrator and an animator who’s been in the biz for over a decade, I saw linocut printmaking as a form of escape, and a way to express myself in a more limited way and in a screen free way. 

So What Is Actually Linocut Printmaking And How I Create My Prints?

Linocut printmaking is an artistic technique that combines carving, ink, and manual printing to create your art. Whether you're a beginner or just curious about this art form, I’ll go over the main steps of how I create my art prints.

Linocut printmaking, which is a part of the block printing family, is a relief printing method that dates back to mid 1800's. It involves carving an image or design into a sheet of linoleum, applying ink to the carved surface, and transferring the design onto paper or fabric through pressure.

Showing hand holding a carving tool. Tools require for linocut printmaking. Hand holding a carving gouge while a box of other carving tools is rested on a lavender white checkered rug.

Tools You'll Need

Linocut printmaking can be quite involved regarding the materials and tools you’ll need. Here are some basic material you'll need:

    • Linoleum Block: A smooth, linoleum block that will serve as your canvas for carving.
    • Carving Tools: Linocut carving tools, also known as gouges, come in various shapes and sizes.
    • Ink: Choose linocut printing ink, which is oil-based and designed for the process. There is water based ink available for this process, but my experience favors the former. 
    • Brayer: A roller used to evenly distribute ink onto the linoleum block.
    • Paper or Fabric: High-quality paper or fabric for your prints.
    • Baren or Wooden Spoon: These are used to apply pressure and transfer the inked design onto the paper. You can also use a printing press, and while it can make things easier and faster, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using just a wooden spoon.

If you are absolutely new this medium, I would suggest getting a small linocut kit. They are not very pricy and this will let you dip your toes in the water and experiment in order to decide if Linocut printmaking is something you'd like to explore further. I started with a Speedball Linocut kit such as this one.

Hand holding an assortment of tools required to linocut printmaking. Among the tools are a roller, a wooden spoon and a mixing knife. Held against a white a lavender checkered rug.

Step 1: Design And Transfer

Begin by sketching your design either digitally, on paper or right on the linoleum block (if you feel confident 😉) . Keep in mind that your design will be reversed when printed, so you want to flip your sketch. Use carbon paper to transfer the sketch to a Linoleum surface, or a tracing paper for a rubber block.

Step 2: Carving

The favorite! This step is my favorite step in the process. With your design in place, use the carving tools to remove the linoleum material around the areas you want to remain white (or whatever color your paper is). This is a delicate process that requires patience and precision, it’s almost meditative which is why I like it so much.

A picture showing carving of a linoleum block. A floral design partially carved, Pfeil tools resting on the linoleum block. A bowl of carving leftovers resting on the block. A process linocut printmaking by Booba Prints.

Step 3: Inking And Printing

Squeeze a small amount of linocut ink onto a flat surface. Before rolling the ink I like to work it a bit with a mixing knife so the ink is not as stiff. After the ink feels softer and looser, roll the brayer until it's evenly coated. Then, roll the ink onto the carved linoleum block. Ensure that the ink covers the raised area.
Place your paper onto the inked blocked, and use a baren or wooden spoon to apply even pressure over the entire surface. Carefully lift the block to reveal your print.

A hand holding a small linocut print. A purple lavender ink printed on a natural Lokta paper demonstrating the inking and printing process of linocut printmaking. Art by Booba Prints.

Step 4: Drying And Cleanup

Allow your prints to dry, which can take a few hours to a few days depending on the ink and paper used. Clean your linoleum block and tools thoroughly with mineral spirits or water or soap and water, depending on the type of ink you used (for metallic ink we'll require different cleaning methods, which we'll go over next time). A good rule of thumb is you want to get your tools to look as brand new as possible.

My conclusion

I would say that the word “rewarding” comes to mind when I think about linocut printmaking. It is not a fast process, and there are several stages involved in order to create 1 print, lots of planning, lots of time invested, it’s messy and there is a cleanup waiting for you at the end, but boy, is it worth it!

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1 comment

Great post – always enjoy a sneak into artists’ process. It’s humbling, reassuring and great for getting new tips!

Question – do you pre-soak your paper or add anything else to your ink to improve with the transfer? Your prints always look so smooth & clean after you use your barren/spoon to go over the print! I have a hard time achieving such a solid/full transfer of ink!

Do you find there are blocks/carving mediums that work better than others?

Tikina Brownoff

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