Linocut Ideas for Beginners
Have you ever made a linocut print? Linocut ideas can be hard to come by if you’re not sure where to start. Visitors to my booth at art festivals say they recall making a linoleum block print in grade school – or printing from rubber erasers, potato stamps, apples or carrots. But what is the grown-up version of a linocut?
The fun thing is this: no matter how old the person is when discussing grade school printmaking – they remember what their first print was. A gecko, a spider, a dog, etc. And they tell the story with a smile.
Printmaking can be a simple process. With a few supplies and a bit of instruction, you can make multiple prints at your kitchen table. This post will help you find ideas for still life subjects to carve from a sheet of linoleum.
Gather Your Linocut Ideas
If you’re looking for ideas to make a linocut print, I have an approach to share that’ll result in a whole series – especially if you like still life.
The sliced apples and rose linocut print above was the result of a scoop through the kitchen to collect items with bright colors. You can do this too.
For the print above, I gathered a dinner napkin with stripes, a green apple, a dessert plate, a wine glass and a bud vase.
I snipped a rose from the yard, sliced the apple, poured water into the wine glass, and arranged the objects on the napkin by a sunny window.
The photos I took of the arrangement were snapped with my cell phone camera, with the flash turned off, from a variety of angles very close to a window for good light.
Still Life Linocut Ideas
What you don’t see in my composition in the linocut at the top of this post is the clutter [dinner dishes] all around the still life arrangement. Peripheral messes won’t matter in your still life arrangements either, if you use artful cropping.
How to Set Up a Still Life Photoshoot for Linocut Ideas
Look for a little sunshine coming through a window. Arrange one or two still life objects on a patterned cloth napkin (or use gift wrap paper as a still life background), and snap photos with your phone.
If you don’t have a patterned napkin, you can slide gift wrap paper under your still life objects for added pattern and interest.
Consider arrangements of normal items from around the house as Still Life props:
- A plate, napkin and cutlery makes an interesting geometry for a linocut.
- A scattering of lipsticks, nail polish and a compact with a brush blush.
- A cup of tea next to a book with a set of eye glasses on the book casting shadows.
- A tape dispenser, a pair of scissors, a container of glue and a trio of sharpened pencils.
- A bottle of ink and a quill pen next to an envelope, stamps and paper.
It doesn’t take a lot of items to create a compelling layout in a sunny spot for a great linocut. Move your phone’s viewfinder around to see views of the arrangements from the top, sides and at the horizon line.
Looking Through Photos for Linocut Ideas
In the photo above, I’ve searched for the word Flower in the Photos app on my Apple computer. All the images snapped with my cell phone are stored in the Photos app, so I can search for subjects, colors or people.
In a search for the word flower, the results of a still life photoshoot come up. The red roses against a window were photographed from different angles in the sun, with a variety of items added to the scene.
By looking at the resulting pictures as thumbnails, you can see the compositions without all the details. Focusing on the shapes will help you discern which layout will make a more compelling linocut.
Linocut Reference Photo Design Tips
Arrange your still life objects, and pull out your phone or a camera. Start photographing arrangements from a variety of angles and distances.
Squint often to reduce the details into shapes, and look for compositions in your grouping that suggest:
- Diagonal lines
- Circular clusters
Use the viewfinder of your camera to survey compositions, or preview your arrangement with an Artist’s Viewcatcher.
Play with shadows.
Take lots of photos.
Move objects out of the frame, and rearrange the remaining things in the viewfinder. Take more photos.
Zoom in on just one or two of the items in your arrangement, and snap photos of parts of that item with artful cropping.
Put something back into your shot, and remove something else. Take aerial views, ground-up views, horizontal views and diagonal views with your camera.
Experiment with Linocut Idea Images
Once you’ve selected image candidates to make into a linocut, consider using editing software to translate the photos to black and white.
Looking at your reference photos in monochrome will help you visualize them as single color, black and white linocuts.
You can also crop the photos to get more interesting compositions, or overlay parts in a composite of multiple photos. (Example: Put a window in the background behind your still life that didn’t have a window in the shot, etc.)
From one arrangement of items pulled from your house, you might end up with 25 linocut ideas, as well as sketching and painting fodder if you enjoy other media too.
Sorting Your Linocut Ideas
The photos snapped for the linocut at the top of this post have been used over and over, in other media. Take a look at this watercolor, and this pen and ink study, and this monotype, for example. One photo session with your phone could result in a goldmine of linocut and painting ideas.
If the objects collected for your linocut still life arrangement are significant to you in some way, or they follow a theme, they’ll be even more fun to carve or paint.
Take for example an all white item grouping (eggs in a white bowl). Perhaps an arrangement of themed items, like binoculars, a folded map and sunglasses.
Or gardening clippers, and a seed packet with a glass of lemonade or a piece of fruit.
You could assemble all the same objects – like spools of thread – artfully arranged in a stack.
How about a selection of daisy flower heads on a sheet of paper, in the sun, so the petals cast shadows?
Or a variety of leaves arranged in a heart pattern, etc.
Example video: have a look at this clever linocut of cameras by printmaker Hannah Forward.
Whatever you decide, have so much fun with it!
Gather Your Linocut Supplies
To begin a linocut, gather your reference materials; a drawing, a photo or a still life – or a clear view of a landscape or interior scene from life. Cut a sheet of linoleum to the size you need, get a permanent marker, some fine grit sandpaper and your carving tools.
It’s also helpful to have some non-skid shelf liner to rest the linoleum on. Perhaps you can even acquire a bench hook, so your hands are never bracing the block, and getting in the path of the blade while you’re carving.
Prepare Your Linoleum Block
Before starting, use some fine-grit sandpaper wrapped over a block, and lightly sand the uppermost surface of the linoleum block. Sanding removes any bumps or blemishes, as well as the sealer used by the manufacturer keep the material from drying out.
If you’re on Facebook, take a look at this post by Dick Blick on the variety of linoleum they carry, and some of the characteristics of each type.
Sketch your drawing with a permanent marker, or transfer it with acrylic varnish from a print-out from your computer. (Do you know how to do that? If not, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain.)
Drawing the Design for Your Linocut
Using permanent marker, draw your linocut design on the sheet of linoleum, while keeping black and white design elements in mind.
You’ll be carving everything from the linoleum material EXCEPT your drawing, so use your marker to draw the dark parts of your reference image.
Leave the brightest, white parts alone, without any drawn lines on the linoleum. You’ll carve those away, which will result in white paper showing through on your print.
Look at your reference photo in advance, and ponder which parts should be drawn (printable), and which parts should be left out (carved away to show the white of your paper), etc. Sometimes, it’s helpful to increase the contrast in your reference photo with photo imaging software, and print it in black and white.
If you’re adding any words to your print, be sure to lay the lettering out backwards because the text (and your entire image) will print in reverse.
If you’ve never made a linocut print before, choose a relatively simple design so you can get the feel for both cutting and printing. And give yourself permission to mess up; everything new takes a little practice.
Rolling Out Ink for a Linocut
Rolling ink on the block (above). And speaking of rolling ink, there is a great video tutorial on McClain’s website for inking a block in a blended gradient with printmaking inks.
I love their tip of using tape as a guide to keep the roller aligned with the block. If you have any tips to share about inking, or block registration, please leave them in the comments at the bottom of this post!
Printmaking Inks that will Re-Wet
If you plan to add other media to your print after it dries – especially wet media like watercolors or acrylics, be sure to select an ink that dries permanently.
Many water-based inks in art supply stores re-wet when you attempt to paint them, which leads to a big mess of muddy colors and lost details in the print.
Do your research to find inks you can paint on, and be sure you’re printing on a paper heavy enough to handle additional wet media without buckling, warping, or bleeding through.
Are you Going to Make a Linocut?
I hope you decide to dive into this wonderful printmaking method, and your adventures are fruitful and fun.
For a little more inspiration, here is a link to a Pinterest board I’ve curated – all devoted to linocut and woodcut – for your linocut idea harvesting.
If you have any questions about the particulars of linocut process, leave a note in the comments. You might find other readers of this blog will reply and help too. We all get better at art together. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
P.S. Here is a cool article about Wayne Thiebaud’s self-curated exhibit at SFMOMA
P.P.S. If you’d like each new post over here to magically arrive in your inbox, you can sign up for a subscription (free) here.
Here is the first video (below) in a playlist of linocut relief print videos to help you get started with this versatile, fun form of printmaking!
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing aroundMary Oliver
As though with your arms open.