Icon Magazine Cover Illustration

I was commissioned last week to create a linocut to illustrate the cover of the April issue of Icon magazine, a publication about architecture and design. The brief was to make an image of the Absolute Towers, designed by Ma Yansong of MAD architects and currently being built in Toronto. The towers currently look something like this:

I was given a brief to make a two-colour linocut featuring the two towers and to make it look dramatic and eye-catching. I could add things in the background if I wanted but I decided to go with just a few clouds to give a sense of scale. This is the first sketch I did:

I decided to make the clouds more interesting and to base them loosely on clouds you might see in a chinese woodblock print. I added the red colour and sent off the first rough:

The feedback was that it was looking good but the clouds were wrong and the towers needed to be more dynamic and twisting. I did the second rough very quickly and sent it back to check I was on the right track:

They really liked this one and said I should finish it. After a couple more minor adjustments the final rough looked like this:
Now that everyone was happy with the design I had to carve and print the blocks. Obviously once it is printed it is harder to make adjustments so if I’m doing a linocut I try to get the rough to a stage very close to the final image. I traced down the image onto two blocks of lino, one for each colour. Here is the background block, to be printed in red. I use red japanese carbon paper to transfer the image, remembering to reverse it first! The text was to be hand-carved so I had to trace this accurately.
Once both blocks were carved it was just a matter of inking them up and printing. I do my printing at East London Printmakers. My own studio is right upstairs in the same building, which is very handy. Here you can see the black block inked and ready to go, with my print-out of the rough for reference:
Here’s a close-up of the block. It measures 20 x 21 cm, just smaller than the final image will appear on the magazine but small enough to fit my A4 scanner!
And here’s the red block:
I was going for a quite textured look, so I had to reduce the amount of ink and the pressure on the press. I did a few versions, making minor adjustments until I got the desired look.
This is the one I chose. It had the intensity of colour I was looking for while having some texture. By the way, it is deliberately off-register! I scanned and sent it off and happily it was well-received.
Look out for magazine in the shops in about a month…