Here are my top ten tips for linocutting.
Before you go straight into carving a design make a test print on a small piece of lino. Practise making a range of marks. Don’t worry about making a recognisable image, just play around and make as many different shaped cuts as you can – lines, dots, dashes, circles, marks which get thicker and thinner.
Use a range of tools
If you can, get a few different tools: V-gouges, U-gouges, large and small. Use all the tools you have, each will make a different kind of mark. For example, a V-gouge will make a very fine line if you use just the tip. If you carve deeper it will make a wider line.
Learn how to control the tool
You control the tool by the angle you hold it at. Holding it at a steeper angle makes the cutting edge go deeper. Holding it at a shallow angle brings the cutting edge up. With practice you should be able to carve a continuous line by finding the right angle. If you keep slipping, lift the handle slightly to make a steeper angle.
Draw your image out in ink
Drawing your image out in black ink will help you visualise the design and ensure you cut away the correct parts. You may even want to shade in all the areas that will be black on your print completely.
Sharpen your tools
Sharp tools give you more control and enable you to cut clean lines with less effort. A lot of cheaper tools are not sharp when you buy them, which doesn’t help matters. Tools should be sharpened little and often. Use an oilstone or Japanese wetstone. There is a very long and intense video on sharpening tools on youtube here.
Use fresh linoleum
Linoleum is made from natural materials: linseed oil, cork and resin. Over time it dries out and becomes hard and brittle. Fresh linoleum smells of linseed oil and is flexible. Make sure you buy fresh! I recommend Intaglio Printmaker.
Carve away from your hand
If you follow a few basic principles you should be able to prevent ever cutting yourself. The first and most important of these is to cut away from your hands.
Carve on a non-slip surface
Placing your lino on a non-slip surface like rubber of felt means you don’t have to hold onto it with your non-cutting hand. This will save a lot of energy and arm-ache. You can buy cheap non-slip matting from pound shops.
Move the lino round
As you carve in different directions, rotate the lino block rather than twisting your body around. This will save you more energy (just imagine what you will do with all that saved energy!) and avoid you cutting inwards towards your vital organs.
Take frequent breaks
Carving lino takes concentration. Rest your brain and your eyes frequently by going outside to look at the clouds or doing some squat-thrusts (see, that extra energy came in useful).