In the Studio: Linoleum

[Linoleum - Eiffel Yellow (2011) yelllow block traced for carving /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]

Linoleum. For most people it's flooring, but for some of us creative types it's the medium we use to create a relief print. For thousands of years artists carved outlines into a wood block, inked it, and printed the "relief" or elevated portions on to a surface of some sort, usually paper. Then in the early years of the 20th century, a group of Expressionist artists in Germany and Constructivists in Russia decided to ditch the wood, try-out plain old floor linoleum as a carving medium, and found the grainless results pleasing.

[Linoleum - Hancock Red (2012) traced and being carved /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]

Linoleum made its first public appearance in 1863, soon after its British inventor Frederick Walton registered a patent for the material in April of that year. Walton mixed oxidized linseed oil with coal dust, resin, and gum, then settled on ground cork as a binder. The resulting liquid goop could be poured out in thin layers across a woven backing, pressed and cooled, and turned into a very durable floor covering. He called his product linoleum, a combination of the Latin word for flax or linseed, "linum" and the Latin word for oil, "oleum."

[Linoleum - burlap backing /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]

Linoleum grew in popularity during the 1920s and 30s. The best known practitioners of lino
print making at the time were artists/students Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews and Lill Tschudi, who attended the Grosvenor School of Modern Art under the direction of Claude Flight. But by 1939, and with the advent of the Second World War, interest waned. Then after the war, artists in the U.S. began to use linoleum rather than wood in the relief print making process in larger numbers. High school art classes around the country introduced their students to linoleum because it was easier to carve and cheaper to purchase. Pablo Picasso even jumped onto the lino bandwagon and produced a series of linocut prints in 1958.

[Linoleum - shaving debris /Image & Artwork: designslinger studio]

Linoluem works great for the prints we're doing. It is easier to carve than wood, but more than that, it provides the clean, crisp, smooth, inking surface we want for our printwork. The burlap backing that holds the lino together is a real pain however. Teensy tiny little hairs of the stuff sneak-out from behind, get ink on them, and leave this very fine trace of color just where you don't want it. And no matter how much trimming you do, there always seem to be stray hairs finding their way on to the ink palette and then onto the brayer, and if you're not careful, on to the lino block. Plucking those fine fibers out of the thin layer of ink is time consuming and "throw the thing against the wall" frustrating. And then there are all the shavings of linoleum left over after you've finished carving the block. What to do? Throw them away? Or maybe keep them in a big box and create an art piece titled - um - Linoleum: Shaved.

See our lino work at: designslinger studio.

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