Linoleum is used in relief printmaking. Ink is applied to the raised surface of a cut linoleum tile and then transferred to a printing surface using pressure. Battleship linoleum is superior for making linoleum prints. It is a smooth grade of unlacquered linoleum with a color light enough to make designs drawn in pencil easy to see. The linoleum cuts well when cold and even better when warmed with a lamp, iron or sunlight.
Subjects that do not have much detail and have straight lines and large surfaces are most effective in linoleum prints. Printmakers sketch, trace or transfer the design onto the tile using pencil while keeping in mind that the design is reversed when printing. Some printmakers use a mirror to view the design inverted. They then redraw the lines with a permanent marking pen and mark areas to be cut out.
Linoleum cutting blades come in various types including a U-shaped tool, a V-shaped tool, a straight edge and a pointed edge. The U blade is useful for gouging out large areas. The V tool cuts simple lines. The straight edge is for cutting straight down or cutting away areas such as corners. The pointed edge is for pre-cutting lines to create crisper edges and for working with close clearances.
Printmakers use cutting tools to remove sections of linoleum. Printmakers hold the pointed edge upright like a pencil while turning the linoleum to help cut curved lines. Printmakers place the tip of the pointed edge on the point of sharp corners and then press down into one side, then the other. They then use the straight edge to remove the remainder of the corner. Printmakers hold the V gouge with the end resting in the palm and the index finger lying along the top. When scooping out large areas, printmakers push the U gouge toward the pre-cut line already incised with the pointed tool, sometimes leaving narrow ridges to create a texture resembling woodcuts. Printmakers also use the U gouge for sweeping curved lines.
When the linoleum is cut and ready for printmaking, printmakers squeeze printing block ink from a tube onto a piece of glass, then smooth it out with the side of a knife. A soft rubber brayer, which is an instrument used for spreading ink, is run back and forth over the glass until the brayer is well inked. Then printmakers roll the brayer over the surface of the linoleum and work the ink in all directions until it is evenly applied. There are several ways to transfer the ink to surfaces such as paper or cloth. Some printmakers lay the paper on top of the linoleum, smooth from the center and press a smooth board against the linoleum or rub with a wooden spoon. Some printmakers lay blankets on top and run the layers through a press. And some printmakers press the inked linoleum onto cloth surfaces such as T-shirts or tote bags.
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