Linoleum cut

12 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Linoleum cut by Karl Martz

Linoleum cut (linocut, linogravure, gravure sur linoléum, Dutch: linoleum snede, linosnede) is one of the main illustration techniques that belongs to the relief printmaking family. It is a variant of a woodcut, using linoleum instead of wood.

Technique description
The technique is rather similar to the technique of making a woodcut. Firstly, the linoleum is being glued to a base of wood, plywood or cardboard, to give it more solidity. To get a smooth surface, one can scrape the linoleum.
Afterwards, the drawing which is made beforehand on a piece of paper with charcoal of soft pencil is transferred onto the linoleum (which is first treated with household ammonia) with a press. Instead of using a press, it is also possible to transfer the drawing to the linoleum by firmly rubbing with for example the edge of a spoon. When the drawing is not clearly visible, one can use Indian ink to highlight the uncarved parts which will be printed. Because one places the paper containing the drawing face-down on the linoleum, a mirror image of the drawing is transferred onto the linoleum.
The next step is to engrave the linoleum. The tools mostly used for the engraving are u- and v-shaped gouges, chisels, and sharp knives. While engraving, one can apply talcum powder to the linoleum so that the engraved pattern becomes more clearly visible.
After the engraving has taken place, one uses rollers – called brayers – to distribute the ink to the linoleum. Finally, the engraved linoleum is pressed onto paper with a press or by hand. The paper used has to be thin, to be able to absorb the ink. Moistening the paper improves the absorbing.
The engraved areas are below the linoleum surface and therefore not amenable to the ink, resulting in white areas on the final linocut. The other areas, still on surface level, will be visible as ink.

Description of the instruments, machines and chemicals used for linoleum cut
Linoleum, base of cardboard/plywood/wood, relief press or plaatpress, u- or v-shaped gouge, chisel, sharp knife, brayer, ink, paper, charcoal/soft pencil, Indian ink, talcum powder, household ammonia.

The inventor of linoleum itself is the Scotsman Frederick Walton, who invented this material in 1860. At the end of the 19th century, linoleum was used for illustrations and the linocuts came into existence. It is however not possible to point out one single person as the inventor of the linoleum cut.

History of the use of linoleum cut
At the end of the 19th century, the linocut became popular as an illustration technique in books. This is because linoleum has certain advantages over wood. Linoleum is cheaper, and furthermore faster and easier to treat with a gouge, chisel or knife. However, linoleum is less solid than wood and has the tendency to crumble off at the side of the engraved linings.  For this reason, it is not quite suitable for illustrations consisting of fine engraving.
Linocuts were therefore mostly used for large illustrations without too much detailed engraving. Krüger mentions that the linocut especially was popular for producing tone prints in multi colour book printing. Linoleum cuts were also used for large decoration initials, edges, posters, emblems and bookplates.
Well-known artists using the linocut are among others Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Also the German expressionist art group Die Brücke is known for using this technique.

Related techniques
The linoleum cut is related to the woodcut technique.

Krüger, O. Die Illustrationsverfahren : eine vergleichende Behandlung der verschiedenen Reproduktionsarten, ihrer Vorteile, Nachteile und Kosten. Leizpig: Brockhaus: 1929.
Van der Linden, F. De grafische technieken. De Bilt, 1979.

Watson, E.W. & Kent, N. The relief print : woodcut, wood engraving & linoleum cut. New York : Watson-Guptil Publications, 1945.

Ykelenstam, H. Het snijden in hout en linoleum. Alkmaar: Arti, 1945.
By: Eva Veenendaal





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