Linoleum block printing, like the old woodcut method from which it grew, offers an easy means of producing strong bold designs either in fine prints or on greeting cards, letterheads, and monograms. Little skill is needed to cut the blocks, and the printing can be done on paper, cloth, cardboard, wood, or any material which will absorb ink. Colored prints are also possible as the worker's skill improves.
The medium for carving is battleship linoleum, a substance which yields easily to the sharp edges of a knife or gouge. For best results, it should be mounted on a wooden block. This may be done by the individual, or prepared blocks may be purchased; in these the face of the linoleum has already been painted white, thus saving the worker another preparatory step. The cutting may be done entirely with a knife but the best results are obtained with the use of three or four gouges such as wood carvers use. The tools are inexpensive and may be obtained at any art or hardware store. Four basic tools will be found sufficient for all types of work. They are: the large V-shaped tool for general work, the small V-shaped tool for outline work, the U-shaped tool used for cutting wide lines and the big spatula gouge for removing large areas (fig. 170). All tools must be sharpened to a very fine edge at a slight angle extending back into the hollow part of the blade. This gives the tool a beveled edge, essential to making clean cuts in the linoleum. A dull gouge or knife will make a rough, unsatisfactory cut.
b. The design for the worker's first effort should be simple with large solid areas and strong lines. A silhouette picture is ideal or a simple form such as a monogram, bird, or tree. Trace this on a sheet of thin tissue or tracing paper as shown (fig. 171). When the initial tracing is finished turn it over and trace the design again, on the other side of the same sheet. This reverse drawing is necessary because a linoleum block prints in reverse. It is particularly important if there are letters in the design. The next step is to glue the linoleum to a wooden block and paint the surface with a coat of Chinese white, obtainable at any art store (fig. 172). This is of course unnecessary if a prepared block has been used. The block is then set aside until the white is thoroughly dry. The design is then transferred to the whitened surface by placing a piece of carbon paper between the block and the design and going over the latter with a hard pencil (fig. 173). Any indistinct lines should be strengthened since strong guides are needed when carving.
Now comes the actual cutting. First, line up the job in your mind. The object is to remove everything except the lines and areas which you wish to print. These are left in relief. Start incising with a knife. Hold the blade so that it cuts at an angle away from the relief portion of the design. This will make a fine outline-cut around all the parts that are to be left. Having done this, reverse the slant of the knife and complete the cut into a V-shaped groove around the design, carefully removing the sliver of linoleum that results from this cut so that all edges are sharp. Now it is a simple matter to clear away with the gouge the parts that are not to be printed (fig. 174). These "dead" areas must be well cleared, or they will pick up ink and print where it is not desired. When the carver becomes more experienced it will be found quicker and more interesting to cut the entire block without using the first knife-incised guide line. Freer and more spontaneous work can be produced in this way, but it should not be tried until the workman is proficient.
The next step is printing from the block. The most satisfactory" results are achieved by using a small press, such as a letter press, although hand printing is also practical. Other supplies needed are ordinary printer's ink (of either the oil or water soluble kind) and some fairly absorbent paper. The ink can be purchased in large cans or small tubes from any printer or art supply house. The primary colors, red, yellow and blue should be bought in addition to black and white. Any other color or shade can be made by mixing these primaries on a sheet of glass. To obtain the desired hue, see the chart (fig. 175). All colors in the first column may be obtained by mixing colors in the second column with those in the third. To obtain darker or lighter shades of color, add black or white.
b. The ink is now rolled out on the glass with a rubber covered roller until it is evenly and well distributed. The roller is then run over the linoleum block, first in one direction, then the other (fig. 176). Care should be taken not to apply the ink too heavily or the print will be smudgy. The paper is laid on the linoleum block and both are placed in the press. If none is available, the paper is laid on the inked block and rubbed with the back of a tablespoon.
Pressure must be uniform to cause the ink to adhere evenly to the paper.
As the craftsman becomes more proficient, prints may be made in several colors. To do this, separate blocks must be cut for each of the color areas desired. In carving these, use the same master drawing and make sure that the portions left in relief for each of the colors are cut with precision and come together accurately on the paper with no overlapping. In printing you will need guides to hold the blocks and paper in exactly the same position on the press. Print one color, allow plenty of time for the ink to dry, then run your second block through the press in the same way. Continue until all colors have been printed.
Linoleum blocks may be used for many purposes, one of the most interesting being the production of printed fabrics. For this purpose special inks have been developed which do not Stiffen the cloth and are reasonably washable and colorfast.
DON'T let the ink dry on the roller. Wipe it off as soon as you have finished using it. It should be washed periodically with turpentine, benzine or gasoline.
DON'T lay the roller down when not in use. Stand it on its side or hang it on a hook leaving the roller free on all sides.
DON'T leave the covers off the paints. They will dry up and lose their consistency.
DON'T use gouges and knives when the points are dull. They should be honed frequently.