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Amateur Creative Episodes: Linocut Printmaking

by Pam Llaguno

One particularly warm winter morning in Seoul, I took the subway and made my way to a cozy creative studio in Banghwa-dong. I had been anxious about this schedule in my itinerary since my INTJ-A personality isn’t really well-suited for meeting new people. Fast forward to six hours later, I had learned a thing or two about a new creative medium – linocut printmaking – AND made a new friend.

One of my goals for my first year of full-time freelancing is to EXPERIMENT; explore new creative mediums, try new techniques, implement new strategies, think of new ideas. I held myself back a lot in the creative exploration department during my almost four-year stint in corporate to the point that I felt stagnated and stale.

I knew that enrolling myself in some kind of creative workshop was the quickest way to catapult me into the Experimentation Mindset. So when I chanced upon Joo’s printmaking workshop on Airbnb Experiences, I booked it quickly, before my hesitations could stop me.


Leading up to the workshop day…

I did a little bit of research (a.k.a. Googling) on the linocut printmaking method and found myself in awe of the many different ways this method can be used to create unique artworks. Artists used them for handmade cards, full-color prints, album cover designs, business cards… you get the picture.

I grew fond of the natural, rough-around-the-edges look that this printmaking method inherently has. The inconsistencies and imperfections between each print add character and beauty to each piece, making each individual print a unique creation.

I think at this point, it was safe to say that I started to look forward to the workshop a little more than I thought I would 🙂

 

The day of the workshop…

With a curious mindset, I made my way to Joo’s studio, located in a quiet residential neighborhood, just a few minutes walk from the subway station. Small, cozy and full of personality, Joo’s studio had an atmosphere of creation. One that encourages making and getting messy with your hands.

A record playing on a vintage turntable. Various artworks displayed on all four walls. Mismatched drawers filled with art supplies. I’m definitely taking notes for my own studio.

After a few minutes of introductions, Joo explained that the concept of the workshop is to create a travel book based on an unforgettable memory from your trip using linocut printmaking techniques.

As luck would have it, I had just witnessed a beautiful sunset from a cafe in the mountains the day prior. The view was breathtaking and I found myself feeling warm and fuzzy from it despite the cold winter temperature. I knew instantly that this was the moment that I should capture in my travel book.

This moment definitely meets the “unforgettable memory” requirement:

Since I’m a complete beginner to printmaking, let alone linocut printmaking, Joo took the time to show me the different materials and tools that we’ll be using as well as several examples of her own linocut prints.

To the uninitiated, linocut is a printmaking technique derived from woodcut wherein linoleum is carved to use as a relief surface — you can think of it as a stamp, essentially.

Thanks to Joo for all the photos of me working on the travel book! 🙂

 

The very first step is to figure out the design that you want to print. I had brought in a photo of the sunset view and I used a scratch paper to translate the photo into simple line art. Since linocut requires you to work in layers, Joo helped me deconstruct the line art design into separate “plates” or layers: sky, mountains, Namsan Tower, buildings, building silhouettes and the moon and stars.

 

The next step is to transfer the design from paper to the linoleum block that we’ll carve later on. To do this, you need to trace your design using the tracing paper. Then flip the tracing paper so that the design is now mirrored / reversed. You’ll need to do this for each layer of your design. In my case, I have six layers which means I’ll do the transfer steps six times on separate rubber blocks.

Side note: You can certainly skip the transfer step by just drawing the design directly on the rubber block. An important thing to remember though is that you’ll need to draw the designs in reverse or mirrored since you’ll be stamping the block onto paper.

Layering the carbon copy paper on top of the rubber block and the mirrored tracing paper at the very top, begin tracing the design again. What you’ll have at the end is the mirrored design printed on the rubber block.

The third step is to finally carve the blocks based on your design! This part can be both tiring and therapeutic so don’t worry and take your time. You’ll need to carve out everything that you don’t want to be printed. For simple designs, you’ll have everything you’ll need in a basic carving tool set. Joo had a lot of carving tools available for the workshop but a basic set would suffice for simple designs such as the one I was working on.

A quick safety reminder: always carve AWAY from your body and make sure that your fingers are not in the line of danger!

Once you’re done carving all your plates, we can finally start the actual printing process! In the workshop, we used oil paint as it doesn’t dry quickly and it’s easier to get a thin and pigmented color with it (at least that’s how I understood it).

We started by choosing the colors for each layer. Joo suggested to use a varying gradients for the “sky” in order to create a sequence of prints that depict the many shades of the sky as the time progresses from day to night. The colors are mixed on an acrylic glass a brayer is used to coat the printing plates with a thin, even layer of color.

Here comes the fun part: take the paper you want to print with and place face down onto the printing plate! Apply even pressure all over the paper to ensure that you get an even print. Joo recommended using the back of a spoon to apply the pressure evenly – it works like magic!

Carefully lift the paper to reveal your first print!

It may or may not look great at first… I also did a lot of test prints before moving onto the actual travel book so that I could get the hang of it. It takes a bit of practice and repetition to figure out how much pressure you’ll need to apply for each printing plate.

You’ll need to do this process for every layer. Ideally, you want to set-up one printing plate first and then print all the iterations of that layer before moving on to the next printing plate.

In my case, I started with the “sky.” I printed six different versions of the sky — different gradients to represent the changing colors of the sky as the sunset approaches — first then moved on to the “mountains,” doing the six prints for that as well. This minimizes the risk of misaligning the printing plates and printing crookedly.

At the end of the workshop, Joo asked me to create a cover for the travel book using some pastel colors that she had in her studio. I decided to keep it simple and copy the same design that I used inside the travel book.

 

 


Take a look at the completed travel book:

I really loved the outcome of this workshop! With Joo’s guidance, I was able to make this creative keepsake despite being a beginner at linocut printmaking. There’s a feeling of fulfillment after seeing the completed print and all of its inconsistencies and imperfections. Despite each print being similar, the handmade and organic look adds character to each individual print. The best part is that I can use these plates over and over again to make reprints of the same design. I can use different colors, arrange the layers differently or print on a different surface.

I was initially going back and forth about this workshop… I even considered backing out since I wasn’t sure if I’d do well. But what comes to mind is this:

You have to create your own formula for growth. If you don’t continuously challenge yourself, expand your comfort zone and nurture the skills that you want to improve, how else would you evolve?

I’m glad I decided to forge on because I really enjoyed this workshop and learned a lot in less than four hours. It seemed intimidating for a beginner but truthfully, the process itself was simple if you put your mind and heart to it. While this medium requires its fair share of patience and elbow grease (just the carving part took a little over an hour), the end result is definitely worth it.


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