Tag Archives: Lizard peninsular

Lino Printing Revisited

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m far too easily distracted. Just one small spark and I’m off diving down another rabbit hole. That said, and this might be the seasonal surfeit of whisky and Drambuie talking, I’ve come to a decision: in 2023 I’m going to concentrate my artistic efforts on Lino printing. 

I had an enjoyable dabble a few years back and even got as far as investing in a fabulous Gunning Etching Press No. 1 in readiness for the flood of prints I’d be making… but I never truly applied myself and just carried on painting instead. I’ve been good at talking myself out of giving it a proper go ever since. 

One reason I love painting in watercolour and gouache is because it’s pretty much instant, sort of. Get inspired, slop some paint about, job done. Next. I like that.

In contrast Lino printing takes meticulous planning, a sharp mind able to untangle mirrored designs across multiple colour layers and oodles of time. That’s a level of mental gymnastics and determination I’m not sure I possess as over the years both my patience and ability to focus have diminished. 

The sharpest tool in the Lino printing box…

And something else has been blocking me. I’ve been dreading sharpening my nice shiny set of Pfeil cutters. What can I say? They’re pretty expensive and I’m ham-fisted, what could possibly go wrong? I know, I know, I’ve just got to buckle up and learn. My tools will become blunt and I will have to sharpen them. Still going to make me sweat though…

All the gear, no idea

So, I’ve got everything I need, cutters, sharpening stones, a strop, Lino, paper, ink and a press. The choice of subject for my first ‘serious’ go at printing might come as a surprise. Ideally I should choose something simple, take baby steps first. A straightforward design in a single colour would fit the bill. That’s what I should do…

…which is why I’ve decided to try my hand at a multi-layer reduction print. A reduction print is one where the design is transferred to a single block of Lino which is then cut away in successive stages. Each stage becomes a separate colour layer on the finished print. Not simple at all then.

Not only that, I want to try using soft colours which graduate one into the other. Again, not the best place for a beginner to start. But I’m going to do it anyway. If I’m going to get stuck in then I prefer to do something really challenging and learn from my mistakes.

A familiar subject

For my first subject I’ve chosen one of my older paintings of the Old Lifeboat Station at Lizard Point, Cornwall. Now I’ve no intention of trying to slavishly recreate this painting as a print, but I do like the composition and misty atmosphere. Initially I’m thinking of no more than 4 layers which increase in tone from light to dark. However, that might be too ambitious and once I start to cut the Lino and get ink on paper I might change my mind…

An acrylic painting of the old lifeboat station at Lizard Point, Cornwall
An acrylic painting of the old lifeboat station at Lizard Point, Cornwall

You’ll see from these progress photos that I’ve already started planning my first cuts. These will become areas of bare white paper on the final print, highlights; the sparkles on the sea. One thing I’ll need to get to grips with learn early on is how the oil-based Caligo Safewash inks mix with each other, their reducer which thins them and the drying gel which speed up the drying process. 

Lino printing isn’t going to be an easy journey but it will be interesting to see what progress I’ll have made by this time next year.

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Going all gouache

Over the years I’ve used, and dabbled with, all manner of media. Ive tried watercolours, gouache, oils, alkyds, water soluble oils, acrylics, acrylic ‘ink’, traditional inks, silk paints, coloured pencils, charcoal, Conte crayons, graphite sticks and pencils, and pastels. And probably a few others. My art drawers are crammed full of ‘interesting’ tubes of stuff, all are slowly fading away in the darkness, some sit alone and unloved. 

What’s your medium?

If you’d asked me a few months ago “which is your medium”, I’d have said oils without hesitation.  Today I’m not so sure, because I’m beginning to think it might be actually be gouache. Maybe…

I’ve used gouache on and off for over 20 years, but not in a sustained way. A handful of small monochrome illustrations when I worked as an illustrator and more recently for occasional plein air holiday sketches. I think over time I’ve absorbed a negative notion that gouache paintings are held in low regard as a painting medium. I’ve seen them criticized because they can produce ‘chalky’ work which is over-stylised and too graphic. Not a serious medium for serious artists then…

It was only while confined to our holiday cottage on a drizzly day in June (remember drizzle…?) that I started a ‘proper’ painting in gouache. I’d deliberately left my oils at home, so it was Hobson’s choice – pure watercolour or gouache.

The painting

And here is that painting: Towards Lloyd’s Signal Station from Pen Olver’.  It’s on 450gsm Hahnemühle 50cm by 20cm NOT watercolour paper. Looking back, I was surprised how much brighter and more colourful my gouache paintings seem compared to my plein air oils. 

I roughed in a tonal underpainting using Turner acrylic gouache. Despite its name I don’t see it as a real gouache. It’s basically opaque acrylic paint suspended in a matt binder. For me it doesn’t ‘feel’ like the real deal. However, being acrylic I could paint over it without lifting any colours. 

Now I’ve gained a little more experience I’m not sure I’ll use the acrylic gouache again. I’ll probably make my underpainting direct in Winsor & Newton Designer’s gouache. They have a lovely creamy feel, are well saturated with pigment and dry to a velvety matt finish. 

However, brushstrokes must be confidently placed and then left well alone. Prodding and poking at a newly laid wash overlying a previously layer can lead to unexpected results. Sometimes this gives rise to ‘happy accidents’, but most often it results in a mucky mess. It’s this need for confident handling which determines the characteristic look of many gouache paintings – think old railway posters. 

The more I work with them, I’ve found I can make blends up to a point, but laying a thin glaze over previous layers is asking for trouble.


I am still finding my way. With my latest painting, ‘Ancient Landscape’, I feel I’m pushing against the limits of layering. Some areas sport about 10.

Gouache painting: 'Ancient Landscape'. Chun Quoit, Cornwall, West Penwith, near St Just.
Ancient Landscape

On balance I think I need to try and achieve my goal in as few layers as possible, which means cultivating and maintaining spontaneity and confidence in my brush work. More practice then!