Why Is Linocut Criticized So Often

You must be wondering what kitchen flooring material has to do with art. However, if you have heard of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the link between linoleum and art shall become clear.

Linocut, also known as lino print, lino printing, linoleum cut, or simply lino, is a variation of woodcut, another relief printmaking technique. In this process, you use linoleum cutouts to make prints. 

Linocut is criticized so often because of its perceived simplicity and lack of challenge compared to other printmaking techniques like woodcutting or metal cutting. Linoleum is also less durable than most other printmaking materials, so many artists prefer longer-lasting media. 

While linocut has a bad rap, watching artists bringing large-scale vibrant works of art to life may alter such perceptions, so Why Is Linocut Criticized So Often?

Other Criticisms of Linocut

On its own merits, linocut is a relief printmaking technique that is arguably as challenging as the more traditional woodcutOpens in a new tab. or metal cut methods.

LinocutOpens in a new tab. requires a great deal of organization and planning, particularly when you embark on a reduction lino print process such as the one employed by Picasso. 

Harvard Art MuseumsOpens in a new tab.

Even a more straightforward one-color print requires intense concentration to avoid carving out an area of lino you did not intend toOpens in a new tab.. Linocut, as a printmaking method, is not kind to mistakes. 

In addition, it still takes a design-oriented mentality and some experience in sculpting and relief Opens in a new tab.to achieve the print you want to make.

Linoleum Has a Short Shelf-Life

Linocut print is also criticized for linoleum’s fragility and its tendency to degrade if stored carelessly and allowed to cure before use. Linoleum doesn’t last as long as wood and metal, thanks to the ingredients inside the linoleum. 

Linoleum is a cement-like mixture of linseed oil, wood pulp and resins, limestone, and mineral pigments that cure on a piece of jute or hessian backing. 

Its components’ organic nature and conglomerate-like composition give linoleum an expiry date. The lino block will harden and become brittle as the linseed oil evaporates. Fresh lino should be flexible and soft at room temperature.

Hard, older linoleum is challenging to carve, and you risk slipping or losing your grip and injuring yourself.

To extend the shelf-life of your lino plates, store them in air-tight, sealed containers. You can also separate individual lino sheets with baking or parchment paper. 

Linoleum Breaks After A Few Uses

Linocut is also criticized because a lino plate is not as durable as wood or metal. As pressure is applied to the linoleum sheet to transfer the paint to the canvas or paper, the material degrades. This degradation occurs faster in lino than in wood or metal over the same period of use.

One way to make your lino plates more durable is to attach them to wood blocks before storing them appropriately.

Linoleum May Contain VOCs and Degrades Quickly

Unlike intaglio printing, for example, linocut is a generally sustainable and environmentally-friendly form of relief printmaking. However, that means that your linocuts won’t stand the test of time as well as media like metal. 

Still, you must pay attention to the materials used in lino printing kits as they may not be biodegradable. They may even contain plastics or other synthetic materials that are not compostable.

You may be able to obtain linoleum offcuts from your local DIY store.

Keep in mind that The manufacturer may have treated this type of lino with various chemicals to make it suitable for applications other than printmaking. To avoid inhaling the volatile organic compounds released from such lino, ensure you wear a mask and work in a well-ventilated space.

Linoleum Often Produces More Chatter

Linocut is also criticized for the chatter contained in resultant prints. Chatter, also known as noise, refers to the raised sections of linoleum left after carving. Some ink may coat the chatter and transfer onto the paper or canvas, producing a more textured, rougher-looking print.

You can remove unwanted noise from your lino plate by skimming off the raised areas using a chisel. You can also use a piece of very finely-grained sandpaper to gently sand down the ridges.

How To Make A Linocut Print

Once you have carved your lino plate, it is time to apply the ink to its surface before transferring the painted image onto paper or canvas. This part of the process is where quite a few things go wrong, especially for novice printmakers.

Clean Your Lino Plate

After gouging the lino plate, the first thing you need to do is to brush it and ensure a dust-free surface. During this stage, you may also need to smooth out the chatter-ridges. A clean lino plate will ensure well-saturated colors and neater prints.

Choose Your Linocut Ink

The type of ink or paint you choose influences your prints’ quality. You can choose between water- and oil-based lino print inks. 

Although water-based inks dry faster, they wash off your lino plate much more quickly than oil-based lino paints. However, you must remember to work fast during the ink transfer or risk the paper sticking to the lino plate and tearing.

Charge Your Roller

Charging your roller or brayer is an art in and of itself. There can be too much ink or not enough on the roller. Otherwise, you might also spread it unevenly, leaving some areas of your prints under or over-saturated. You may also inadvertently employ intaglio processes and ink areas that you should have left blank.

Charging the brayer can be time-consuming and may seem counter-intuitive. The more pressure you apply on the roller, the less paint transfers onto the lino plate. This pressure relationship is especially the case with water-based inks.

Apply The Ink With Even Pressure

You are essentially stamping the canvas or paper with the ink-coated lino plate. This process requires a uniform pressure over the entire plate – otherwise, the ink will not transfer evenly.

You may burnish the back of the canvas or paper by hand, but this can lead to a mottled finish in the resultant prints. Try using a wooden spoon to provide additional pressure if you do not have access to a mechanical or hand press.

Final Words

Linocut is a popular printmaking technique with artists of all experience levels and from diverse backgrounds. However, it has received criticism over the years for its tendency to degrade quickly, increase the amount of chatter in your prints, break after just a few uses, and decompose quickly. 

However, linocut is a valuable printmaking skill to pick up, and you never know. Maybe it will become your printmaking technique of choice!


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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