The Art of Letterpress: Linocut Illustrations

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Creating linoleum cut illustrations for my handmade book required multiple steps, and I am excited to take you through the process this week.

Step 1: I measured out my drawings on plain white paper sized from my linoleum blocks that were already cut out and mounted on MDF (medium density fiber board) at type-high (how high the metal type is, so the illustrations are at the same height as the type when printing. I can't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure type-high is 9.2 picas)

Step 2: I drew out the illustrations in pencil on plain white paper, making sure that any words that were in my drawings were written correctly right to left, because there is a transferring process that will come later.

Step 3: I photocopied my drawings, because the toner in the photocopy ink aids in the transfer of the images.

Step 4: I took the photocopies and cut them out to fit on the linoleum, and turned them face down on the linoleum, and carefully taped them down on the very top of the paper, so I could easily peel them off after the transfer.

Step 5: While holding the paper down flat, I used a paintbrush to liberally apply a citrus paint stripper to the paper. The paint stripper reacts to the toner in the ink of the photocopy and transfers the image, kind of like a temporary tattoo.

Step 6: I used a squeegee to remove the excess then I left it alone for a few minutes, then carefully peeled off the paper to reveal the transferred image. If there were words in my drawing that I drew out right to left, this process transferred the words backwards onto the linoleum so when they were cut out for printing, they would appear correctly left to right on the finished print.

Step 7: I used a set of Speedball carving tools I picked up at the art store for not that much money, and used various sizes of blades to cut out my illustrations.

The linoleum is pretty tough to work with when at room temperature, so I used a hair dryer to warm the blocks up, or a hand warming pouch, which made the linoleum cut like butter. Even though that made it easier to work with, it would cool quickly and had to be re-heated for cutting, and I cut myself many times. My illustrations are very detailed and it was a tedious process, but well worth it in the end.

Next week I'll be talking about getting set up in the press bed and the process of printing.

Have a beautiful week!


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