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Printmaking with Margaret Mallows

Posted on Wed 12 Jun 2019

Have a go at printmaking with Margaret Mallows

Do you have memories of lino printing at school? Blunt tools, curling lino and poor results?

Well, think again. Printmaking can be done at home with minimal equipment; it’s fun, engaging and a great way to make affordable, original art. Despite all your best efforts, no two prints will ever be exactly alike –this adds to the desirability hand-made prints offer. I had never tried printing before, but have always loved the look of limited edition prints – they have a unique quality quite unlike other art. When my family was growing up, I had no time to paint but was able to buy limited edition prints for my home – it’s an affordable way to start one’s own art collection.

Just over two years ago, I began to teach myself print making – both lino and dry point etching. From the first time of trying it, I was hooked. I had to learn more. With a basic instruction book and starter lino set, and watching online videos, I went from complete novice to starting to sell my prints within a few months. People clearly liked my work as sales have been good – my work is now in homes in 16 countries worldwide. And the pinnacle for me as I write – having two prints shortlisted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition 2019, my first ever entry.

You too can have a go, and benefit from the many mistakes I’ve made on my journey.

Basic equipment you will need:

  • A lino printing starter set (available from all good art suppliers) – or if you buy items separately:
  • Lino
  • Cutters
  • Relief printing ink
  • Acetate or glass sheet
  • Ink roller
  • Paper
  • Palette knife
  • Wooden spoon
  • Sticking plasters

LINO: There are several different types available:

  • Traditional lino is easy to cut but prone to having crumbly edges, and warping. Warming it up before cutting (a hair dryer will do) will help.
  • Soft cut lino sheets – these cut with ease but edges can stretch.
  • Japanese vinyl – a little harder to cut but allows for small precise cutting. The inside of this is black which makes it easy to see where you’ve already cut. The soft cut lino and vinyl can both be washed under a tap for easy cleaning.

CUTTERS:

  • To begin with, use the inexpensive handles with interchangeable cutting tools. It’s a cheap and easy way to get a good variety.

RELIEF PRINTING INK:

  • I first used the water based version which came with the starter set, and it’s perfectly good enough for practicing, though unlikely to remain light fast. This cleans up easily with soap and water. Emboldened, I then splashed out and bought a range of tins of a popular oil based, water washable ink, thinking it would not be any different. How wrong I was! They were not as easy to use, took ages to dry (I was still using too much ink at that stage which didn’t help), and formed ‘skins’ in the tins. How I hated those inks. I now use the Schmincke artists quality inks – water based with a lovely matt finish, they remain wet on the inking sheet for a long time, dry quickly when printed, and offer good light fastness. The oil based inks are popular though, so buy a small tube of each to try out first, and see which you like best.

ACETATE OR GLASS SHEET:

  • If you buy a starter set, it will have a small tray for inking. I found this to be too small – rollering ink is easier with a larger surface.

INK ROLLER:

  • A set will come with one, otherwise buy a medium size, hard roller.

PAPER:

  • For practicing, cartridge paper will do, although if you use an oil based ink you may get ‘bleed through’ of oil to the back of the paper. Print making paper is available from about £1 upwards for a large sheet, or in pads.

SUNDRY ITEMS:

Any palette knife for colour mixing; A wooden spoon – you’ll use the back of this to transfer the inked lino to the paper. For larger prints or bigger quantities, a Japanese baren is fairly inexpensive and will produce more consistent results with less effort. Tracing paper; a biro or fine India ink pen; sticking plasters: Trust me, cutters are sharp!

To start, use a piece of lino to practice cutting and get to know the different marks the cutters make. Please be careful with these – always cut away from the body and keep fingers & thumb out of the way. ‘V’ shaped cutters will produce a very fine line, or a wider line if pushed through with a deeper cut. ‘U’ shaped cutters produce softer, shaped cuts. Larger cutters are useful for clearing bigger areas. Have fun just trying the different ones out – you may be surprised at the variety of marks you can make. Use this piece of lino to try your first inking and printing.

Squeeze out some ink onto the plate and use the roller to spread it out until the roller has just a thin film all over. A little goes a long, long way. Roller your practice lino sheet. Traditional lino covers quickly, the plastic or vinyl ‘resist’ more to begin with.

Cover your inked lino with a slightly larger piece of paper, and gently rub over the entire surface with the back of a wooden spoon, using a circular motion. This transfers the ink to the paper. Peel the paper back and you have your print – in reverse to the cut image on the lino. With practice you will know how much ink and pressure produces the best results.

Now you can make a print of your own design. Draw the image you want on paper, and trace it. Then turn the tracing over, onto the lino, and pencil over the lines. This will give you the reverse image on lino. Go over the pencil with an India ink pen or biro. I go over mine twice, allow it to dry, then wash the excess ink away with soapy water. You will still clearly see your lines, but you won’t get bleed through of ink onto the paper.

Next, cut out all the areas you don’t want to be printed – the cut away areas remain as white paper. Ink up the lino and print your design. Congratulations! You’ve made your first print, and practice makes perfect! This simple lino print shows black ink on white paper.

For variety, you could use the same size lino uncut, print the entire sheet with a colour, and when dry print your design over the top to produce a 2 colour print. I did this with the little Allium trio print and produced a fun range of colours.

You may have ink picked up on cut areas of lino – as here with my print And Proud, (see below), which was intentional. If you don’t want these marks on your print, either do more cutting to smooth the areas more, or use cotton buds to clean off the unwanted ink before printing.

Once you’re happy, you can try more prints with just one colour, or try a lino reduction print – just one piece of lino is used to produce a print with multiple colours. To do this you’ll have to make sure the prints register (line up) correctly in exactly the same place each time. Mark a board (thick card, hardboard or thin MDF will do) with the position of the lino sheet, and the position of the paper. You’ll need to put both the lino and the paper in exactly the same position each time. With this method, I had a failure rate of about 10 – 15% despite my best efforts; even a tiny bit out of true will ruin a print, but you may be better at this method than I was. I now use Ternes Burton tabs and pins; these are not expensive and give 100% accuracy for me.

 

Before starting your reduction print, decide how many you want to make; you cannot add more once you start printing. Have a clear idea of how you want your print to look - making a coloured drawing will help. Draw out your design on lino (in reverse of the image you want, remember). Cut away any areas you want to remain white, then print your first colour for the whole edition.

As a general rule, start with the lightest colours and work through to the darkest colours. Some inks are a little more transparent than others, notably red and yellow, so if you want a good ‘clean’ colour of these then print them early on.

When the first colour has been printed, cut away all the lino where you want that colour to remain, then print the next colour. Repeat the process until the print is finished – with multiple colours this can be a lengthy business, but all fascinating to see a print take shape as you go.

My print, Opportunists, below, was printed with 3 colours; I first cut away all the areas I wanted white, and printed the first colour (grey). I then cut the lino again, removing areas I wanted to remain grey on the print. This was repeated with the next colour - blue – and again for the final colour of black.

When you are confident you will want to try a print with more colours; don’t rush the cutting process, as any mistakes at any time could ruin the print, as has happened to me on more than one occasion. Different print making papers will produce different results, so it’s worth buying a range and experimenting to see which you like best.

Shown below are two multi-colour prints – Just Add Custard and Symphony in Stone, which are my two shortlisted prints for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019. Both prints took a long time to make, but I was happy with the results. Just Add Custard is of a patch of rhubarb in my garden, and I was inspired by the early morning sun backlighting the leaves – it produced an almost abstract effect of light, shade and colour. Symphony in Stone shows some of the pillars outside the Natural History Museum in London. I visited last year on a very bright, sunny day, and loved the light throwing the pillars into sharp relief.

Just Add Custard

Symphony in Stone

I now have a table top etching press; it will print a large size, without the expense of a studio press, and takes up little room. I also use Pfeil cutters, which come in a large range of sizes and can be re-sharpened, and have several rollers in different sizes.

You can see more of my work on my website www.artfinder.com/margaret-mallows and on there is a ‘me at work’ section with more work in progress pictures.

Enjoy your printing journey!

See more of Margaret's work in the PaintersOnline gallery by clicking here. Or on the Artfinder website. Margaret also posts work on Instagram @margaret.mallows.

Printmaking with Margaret Mallows

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