My linocut illustration for the Independent on Sunday appeared in the New Review a couple of weekends ago. I’ve never done an illustration for The Independent before, but I was contacted by Shazia Chaudhry, who commissioned my cover illustration for ICON when she worked there. So thank you Shazia!
Making linocut illustrations is a relatively laborious process, but the texture and carved marks add something unique to an image. There are ways to imitate the look of linocut using Photoshop and Illustrator but they don’t look quite right. There is also something about the way you have to construct an image for linocut that forces you to think in clever ways – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle where you have a limited number of pieces. Each colour has to be printed from a separate block. In order to avoid carving hundreds of blocks you have to overlap colours to make new ones. This requires careful planning.
I always start an illustration project by making one or more roughs, which are sketches to show the basic composition of the illustration. The roughs are then developed through several stages, becoming more detailed until they resemble something that will work as a linocut. Not until everyone is completely happy do I start to carve.
This particular linocut illustration was to accompany an article about Brian Turner, an ex-soldier who writes poetry. The brief was to combine a war scene with an image of writing. Several ideas were proposed and the one settled on was an image of two figures, sitting back to back against a scene of burning buildings. The illustration was for a double page spread, and I liked the idea of using the gutter (the fold in the middle) as a kind of mirror.
Here is the first rough:
Shazia was happy with the general layout but made some suggestions for improvements, including replacing the fire with buildings and adding some more texture to the foreground. She also suggested moving the figures closer together to become more like a Rorschach blot and making the profiles of the faces the same.
Here is the second rough:
After a bit more tweaking I was ready to carve the lino. Because I was going away I only had one day to carve and print the blocks so I had to be organised and hope that nothing went wrong. In order to make sure I had at least one good final print I started off printing twelve copies of the first layer, adding layers of colour and discarding the ones which went wrong along the way. This gave me the chance to try out one or two colour and tonal variations at each stage.
Due to time constraints I only managed to take a few photos. This first one is of the block with the image outline transferred onto it. I use Japanese red carbon copy paper for this from Intaglio Printmaker. Note the image is reversed.
During the printing process I used my large book press to print one of the stages. This gave an interesting mottled texture.
Registering each layer of colour is one of the hardest parts of making a multi-block linocut. As you can see from the image below, sometimes it goes wrong. I actually liked this happy accident but it didn’t make the final cut.
Here is the final linocut illustration and a photo of the image in the New Review. I am very happy with how it looks, and the way the title of the article works with the image. You can click on the images to see larger versions and visit my illustration page to see more of my work.