I am often asked if lino-cutting involves some sort of brain gymnastics because of the idea that working with the image in reverse seems to imply a need for slightly deviant thinking. The back-to-frontness of relief printing is nothing however (unless you are using text), compared to the terror which strikes beginner printers when they have to think in coloured layers which happens with multi plate prints. Then you suggest to them that these layers all happen on the same piece of lino in a fixed order with no mistakes allowed and I suppose what seemed like a relaxing, even meditative process becomes a test with one false move potentially ruining hours of work. Hence the bleak alternative name of 'Suicide Cut'. Some people react with meticulous planning of each layer to prevent mistakes but I prefer a less rigid approach which does sometimes lead to disaster but keeps the whole process alive and exciting.
I thought I would demonstrate with a little lino cut of a dove using soft-cut vinyl. A reduction cut is exactly as it sounds, you cut away reducing the lino and print the colours in layers usually from light to dark. Obviously by the end of the process you will have very little of the plate remaining and lots of shredded lino on the floor.
You can see in the right hand image how much of the lino has been removed - everything in fact except that which I wanted to print in black.
But to begin at the beginning; I draw directly onto the lino with a biro. The image will be reversed when printed of course but unless you particularly need the image to face one way this need not be a issue.
Then, looking at my drawing, I cut away anything I want to remain white (assuming you are printing onto white paper) Often there is very little to cut at this stage - perhaps a few highlights.
Then I ink up the plate (1) in the lightest colour of the image - here that was a soft purple/pink. The plate is registered to the board so that in each of the subsequent layers the plate and the paper come together in the same place. I cut a lino-plate sized hole in the cardboard which holds it in place and the paper is secured using the clips you can see (which are called Ternes Burton tabs)
To create the next layer (2) I cleaned the ink from the plate - the original biro drawing was still visible on the lino and I cut away any part of the image that I want to keep pink; the breast feathers and the lightest parts of the face.
For my second inking I mix up a greyish lilac. This covers the pink except where the new cuts are. Of course what was cut in the first layer stays white. The process is repeated with layers 3, 4 and 5 with progressively darker colours. If you don't get the paper in exactly the right place you get a blur which can look quite interesting if the subject involves motion, or a double vision which implies drunkenness which is less useful. Any marks from the cut surface which transfer accidentally are called 'noise' and some printmakers revere them as a sign of the artist's hand while others freak out at what they consider 'mess'.
What I always find fascinating is how colours vary hugely when put alongside other shades. This can be manipulated using translucent layers of ink so that the colour from below blends with over-printing and makes a third tone. This is where my lack of planning leads me astray as strange colour combinations are a frequent result. However I am a great fan of the happy accident and nothing is ever really wasted.
The finished print!I'd be really interested to hear from other printers about their techniques or if you do anything different to me when it comes to reduction print cuttings. Happy printing!