When the creative spirit strikes, there’s no time to waste! However, when your favorite medium is lino prints, sometimes the process of creating can be painstaking. The frustration is never more true than when working with stiff, stubborn traditional lino.
Luckily there are a few ways to make your work – and play – easier. Softening your lino will reduce cutting time, allow you to be more intricate, and save you some cuts and bruises!
To soften your lino for cutting, the best method is heating the lino, but you can also use linseed oil. A small amount of heat will loosen up the lino and make it softer, but too much heat will cause it to crumble. Softer lino results in smoother, easier cuts.
Don’t go placing your lino in the oven yet! This article will explore five easy methods to soften your traditional lino without damaging it.
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Placing the lino onto a warming plate will effectively soften it. It’s essential to define a warming plate in this case. Don’t place your linoleum directly on a stove, flame, or hot coil!
Use a warming plate like the kind used in the catering business. You can also use a wax melter for a similar effect. You’ll want to provide steady, slow, consistent heat to warm the lino, not melt or burn it. After warming for a few minutes, your lino should be ready to carve!
Not every household has a warming plate like the one described above. If you’re stuck in this predicament, try a hair dryer! Hair dryers work like mini heat guns, but they are much gentler, which is critical when warming linoleum.
Plug the hairdryer in and use low to medium heat to warm up your lino. Try not to hold the dryer in one place for too long. Make long, sweeping motions over all of the corners and edges of the lino. This process may take several minutes, but you’ll know it’s ready when the lino is soft and flexible.
Let’s face it, who wants to sit in the bathroom for 20 minutes with a hairdryer? Maybe you don’t own a hot plate or a hairdryer, but chances are you can use this method! All you need is a little sunshine and a windowsill.
If your house or studio is relatively warm inside, placing your lino in a sunny window will work wonders. Allow the lino to rest in the sun for as long as possible. If the weather is warm, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes for the lino to become soft.
If your windows don’t capture much sun, you can try setting your lino outside on a sunny table or bench. Keep an eye on the lino in the summertime to ensure it doesn’t melt or dry out!
Store in Warm Areas
Keeping a warm lino on hand may be the trick if your creative inspiration strikes at will. Leaving the lino in the sun all the time can dry it out and make the cutting process harder. For this reason, I’d recommend finding another warm, dark place.
If you live in a temperate climate, consider moving the lino to a garage or outdoor storage during warm months and inside during cold months. If you have an attic or large laundry room, these places tend to stay warmer than the rest of the house, making them perfect for linoleum storage.
Storing your lino in warm areas will keep it soft and prolong its lifespan!
Another method for softening lino is to use linseed oil. Lino was initially created from the precipitant residue of paints containing linseed oil. Eventually, people formed the solid substance into floors, wallpaper, and the linocut art we know and love today. So, with a bit of oil, you can renew your linoleum.
Start by adding a drop of linseed oil to the middle of your lino. Rub the oil in with a soft, gentle cloth or old T-shirt. The oil will soak into the material and loosen up the particles. This method works exceptionally well for aging, dried-out lino.
Add linseed oil before one of the warming processes mentioned above, and cutting all kinds of shapes and curves will feel like a dream.
Other Tips and Tricks For Cutting Lino
Great linocut art requires more than just soft lino. While they may not be able to soften your dry, crusty lino sheets, these tips can still make lino cutting much more manageable. But also, you might want to consider if your tools are sharp enough: 5 Ways to Sharpen a Lino Cutting Tool.
Remember the Shelf Life of Lino
Almost all art supplies have an expected shelf life. That is not necessarily to say that they “expire,” but they generally become more complicated to use the longer they sit there. Lino will eventually dry out and become too tough to cut, even if you store it properly.
Most lino will stay in good shape for up to 5 years. Lino is still good if it is slightly bendy and smells somewhat of linseed oil.
Use Sharp Tools
All the softening tricks in the world won’t mean a thing if your tools won’t cut. It’s normal for lino cutting tools to dull from wear and tear over time. Luckily, most lino cutting tools have replaceable blade heads that are affordable. So, if your tools are resisting your linoleum, be sure to replace or sharpen the blades.
Move the Lino While Cutting
This tip mostly comes with practice, but it’s a big help in making smooth, concise cuts. Instead of moving your hand around the curves, move the lino block. This process will be more straightforward if you place the lino on a material like paper so that it won’t stick to your table.
You should always cut away from your body and your fingers for your safety.
Clean Properly Between Prints
If you’re working on a multi-layer art print, clean the ink off properly between prints. You can use water to remove the ink, but be sure not to get the back of the linoleum wet.
Some artists swear by baby oil or vegetable oil to prevent drying out the lino, and they can keep your linocut soft for a little while.
Most importantly, don’t use any kind of dish soap or hand soap to wash off the ink. Soap will quickly strip the lino of its natural oils and dry out the block.
If you want to visualize where you’re cutting, don’t wash the ink off entirely until after you have made your next layer of cuts.
Try a Modern Soft Lino
One beautiful part about living in the modern era is that things are constantly improving. Many artists favor traditional lino for its history and ability to hold precise cuts, but modern easy-cut lino can save you time and effort.
Easy-cut lino can be found in craft stores everywhere and maybe just what you need to start printing your ideas as quickly as possible.
Using one of the six methods I’ve listed here can save you time and money! Even if you think it’s past the shelf life, your linoleum may be perfectly salvageable with a bit of linseed oil and sunshine. Soften up your lino and get ready to unleash some cutting-edge creativity!
- Artists & Illustrators: 10 Top Tips for Linocut Printmaking
- InkyPrints in the Attic: Linocutting: Got All the Gear
- The Spruce Crafts: An Introduction Lino Printing