Linocut is a form of ‘relief’ printmaking where shapes and lines are cut away from the material, and ink is applied to the remaining flat areas to create the finished image.
Created using linoleum – the same stuff that covers kitchen floors – it became popular with artists in the twentieth century, with pioneers including Edward Bawden, Cyril Power, Pablo Picasso and Paul Nash. It emerged as an alternative to traditional woodcut printing, largely because it is easier to cut than wood and has no grain.
Using specialist tools, the artist carves out an image in the lino and discards the pieces that have been cut away. Ink is then applied with a roller to the remaining raised areas, and the image is created on paper either by hand, by applying pressure (in its most rudimentary form the back of a spoon), or by feeding the paper and lino through a printing press. The paper is carefully peeled away to reveal the image.
There are different methods of linocutting – the ‘reduction’ method creates an image from the same sheet of lino, with shapes progressively cut away between each colour; alternatively an artist may use separate lino blocks for each colour, or a combination of the two.
While in theory it may be as simple as a potato print, in practice creating a linocut is a painstaking process that can achieve a huge range of effects. The more colours and shapes that are printed, the more complex the process.
Lines may be immaculately graphic and sharp, and designs multilayered – see the architectural works of Paul Catherall for an example of masterful linocutting precision – or deliberately naïve in style to create a diversity of artworks. A skilled printmaker will be able to achieve wide variations in texture and tone. Gail Brodholt and Paul Cleden’s retro palette and curves, Colin Moore’s vibrant landscapes and Jane Bristowe’s fluid linear designs show the scale and span of the medium.