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Making of a design - faux bois print

I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than listening to BBC Radio 6 Music, enjoying the sunshine through the open window, and creating prints. This morning, I finally finished carving a woodgrain linocut design that I've been meaning to do for a few weeks. This design, along with the fox and owl prints serve as a loosely-connected series based on the theme of winter. It's fitting that I'm finishing the last image of this series on the first properly spring-like day of the year. I've written before about my inspiration for this faux bois print, so I thought I would focus instead on the actual process of creating a linocut design such as this one.

When I first started getting back into linocut printing, I had a read through this helpful Instructables page - How to Make Linocuts. I'm not sure if I was subconsciously influenced to make an owl print because of this, or if it was inevitable from my love of owls. In any case, I wasn't intentionally copying the owl idea!

Unlike my fox and owl prints, I didn't bother sketching this design out on paper beforehand, I drew directly on to the A4-sized lino block. For an organic pattern like this one, I often find that my first sketch is the best, and it tends to lose something if I have to try to recreate it.

For other designs, the process of transferring the sketch to the lino block is quite tedious. Of course, it has to be reversed, so I scan the sketch and flip it in Photoshop. I print out the reversed image, use a soft pencil to shade over the area of the design on the back of the paper, and then trace the drawing with a sharper pencil. This process seems fairly rudimentary, like something from school art class, but I haven't actually come up with a better solution (that doesn't involve buying carbon paper). The graphite transfers on to the lino block, and then I go over the lines again with a harder pencil.

The Instructables post makes linocutting seems like quite a hazardous process. It certainly was for me back in high school, when I had a particularly memorable linocutting accident, but I think the danger can easily be avoided. No blood has been shed yet since I took up linocutting again, and I think the key to this is keeping your other hand well away from the trajectory of the cutting tool, in case it slips. It also helps to avoid slips by softening the lino block with the heat of a hairdryer, but I find that this often isn't necessary as the block is usually quite soft to start with. This particular design took me around two hours to cut out.

Lino block close up

For a printing medium, I use Daler & Rowney System 3 block printing medium, mixed with the acrylic paint colours of choice. I find it's cheaper and easier to buy the medium rather than individual block printing inks. I've never enjoyed using oil paint, they're way too much work to clean up. I usually do a few practice prints on normal printer paper, and then print on my current paper of choice, Fabriano Tiziano pastel papers. They're acid-free, have a lovely texture, and a variety of gorgeous colours. Because I don't have a proper press, the prints will never be as crisp as they could be, but I like the effect. I think the imprecise nature of the linocut printing process really lends itself to natural subject, and this faux bois design in particular.

The printing process

Faux bois greeting cards

I found that this particular print looks best with a heavy amount of paint. The metallic paints are slightly dulled when mixed with the printing medium, so the copper paint I used looks more flat than the metallic pens I used on the moon and cherry blossom prints. I'm still pleased with the unusual colour palette of the 'burgundy' deep red-purple paper and copper print. One of the things that appealed to me about creating a faux bois print was it's versatility, so I think I'll probably be revisiting this design at some point and experimenting with different colour combinations.

After I finished my prints, Alexej and I headed out to enjoy the spring weather. Here's a few photos of our beautiful local park on Telegraph Hill, Southeast London.

Telegraph Hill, Lower Park

Pond and willow tree


I spotted quite a few flowering camellia trees, so keep an eye out for my next spring-themed print!

Camellia photo by Junichiro Aoyama from Kyoto, Japan (Camellia sasanqua)
Camellia photo by Junichiro Aoyama from Kyoto, Japan (Camellia sasanqua)

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