What I love about linocut printing is that it is both intuitive and planned at the same time.

What I mean is that when you have a blank linoleum in front of you, it’s challenging to start carving and adjusting without any idea of what you want to do. It’s important to plan first before carving. Once you have a plan, it will be easier to adjust as you go.

But how do you do that? Well, here’s how I do it.

Planning your design

Assuming you already have a chosen topic or theme for the artwork you want to create, consider the following questions when planning the design:

  • Do I want a single-color print or a multi-color linoprint?
  • Will it be a limited edition?
  • Should I use multi-block printing or reduction printing?
  • What type of paper should I use?
There are many questions that need answers. However, as a beginner, I recommend opting for an open edition single-color print. It relieves you of a lot of stress.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can move on to the next step.

Practice Time!

Look at this photo and ponder on these questions:

  • What do you see?
  • How does this photo make you feel?
  • What do you like or dislike about it?

For me, this photo looks serene. It makes me feel calm, and everything around me seems to move so slowly. There are three things that I like about this photo, which I consider its main assets:

  • The sunset
  • the windows and
  • the Empire State building.

Let me expand on my observation. There are three elements in this photo that captured my attention. Firstly, the Empire State Building directs my eyes towards it, making it the primary focal point. Secondly, the sunset enhances the overall beauty of the scenery. Lastly, the silhouette of the windows adds depth and makes the colors pop, contributing to the visual impact

With this in mind, I’ve thought of two artworks that I want to create:

  1. A bookmark – I aim to design a bookmark featuring a line art representation of the Empire State Building against a bright colored background. This will showcase the beauty of the building’s structure, with the vibrant background symbolizing the sunset.
  2. A postcard – I envision a postcard that accurately captures the essence of the photo. I plan to use a multi-color reduction print technique. I’ll start off with a rainbow roll for the sunset and then different shades of grey for the Empire State building and the window.

If you’re having a hard time imagining the design you want, I recommend using an app to help visualize your artwork. Here’s an example I generated using the app I use.

Creating your design

Now that you have a vision, let’s proceed to creating it. There are several ways to do this:

  • Print the photo and transfer it directly to the lino.
  • Print the photo, trace it, and then transfer it to the lino.
  • Draw or sketch the photo, trace it, and then transfer it to the lino.

The choice is yours. As for me, this is how I did it:

  • I need to trace the photo, and since I don’t want to print it, I just stuck the tracing paper to the monitor and began tracing the outlines. Be careful when doing this; trace as lightly as possible. You do not want to scratch your monitor.
  • Once done, you can remove it, add more details, and darken the lines

Preparing your Lino

Now that you have your design, let’s prepare the linoleum.

We need to do 2 things:

  • Sanding
  • Staining

Sanding your Lino

Why sand your lino? It’s optional. Personally, I do it for two reasons:

  • To make the surface really smooth.
  • To remove excess oil, allowing the ink to stick more to the lino.

If you choose to do this, I suggest that you buy a fine grain sand paper. I also suggest to use a hand sander. It protects your nails and makes sanding easier.

Staining your Lino

Why stain your lino? Again, it’s optional. I choose to stain the lino for visualization purposes; it helps me better envision the end result of my artwork.

You can experiment with various materials to stain your lino. I’ve tried waterproof permanent inks, acrylic inks, and acrylic paint. Some artists use gouache. Feel free to use any material you’re comfortable with, but I strongly recommend doing a test print. In my experience, some stains can reactivate when ink is applied to the lino, transferring itself to the paper during printing.

In the example above, the black permanent ink on the ‘HELLO’ was transferred to the paper, as was the white ink on the right side. However, the acrylics were not transferred.

Transferring your design

Alright, now that we have the design, and the lino is prepared, we are ready to transfer the design to the lino! Woo-hoo!

There are three ways that I know of on how to do this:

  • Using Carbon Paper – This is the most common and the one I use the most.
    All you have to do is:
    • Grab a sheet of carbon paper.
    • Put it between the tracing paper and the lino.
    • Using a pencil or embossing tool, trace your drawing.
    • Check if everything is transferred and leave it to dry.
  • Using the Back Paper of a Sticker – This is my favorite method, although I don’t use it often. All you have to do is:
    • Grab a sticker back paper.
    • Print the design on the shiny side of the sticker back paper.
    • Transfer the design to the lino immediately.
    • Leave it to dry.

  • Using Waterproof Wood Glue – I rarely use this because it’s very tedious and sometimes frustrating. If you want to try it, all you have to do is:
    • Put waterproof wood glue on the lino.
    • Stick the design to the lino, print side down.
    • Wait for it to dry.
    • Once dry, spray some water on the paper.
    • Carefully scrub off the paper until the design is visible.
    • Leave it to dry.

That’s it!

And with that, we’ve completed the Design and Preparation Stage!

Next up is the Carving Stage, and I’ll be sharing that in my upcoming post! If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to receive email notifications.

I hope you found today’s insights valuable and that you’ll give some of the tips a try. If you do, please share your experiences in the comments. I love reading your feedback and learning about your creative journey.

Thank you for supporting me on my art journey

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Your generosity will go towards purchasing materials, funding training for improving my skills, maintaining the website, and more. It fuels my passion and enables me to continue sharing creativity with the world. Thank you for being a vital part of this artistic adventure!

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One response to “A Linocut Beginner’s Guide: Design and Preparation”

  1. It would be useful to mention that transferring an image to the Lino will result in the image being reversed when printed. Especially useful for betinners

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