Hand-printing linocuts using a spoon is a simple technique I learnt years ago, during my first encounter with relief printing at a WEA workshop called Printing Without a Press, led by Maggie Slingsby. I started making A4 and larger images, both single colour and multi-colour reduction prints, after catching the print-making bug and finding a large silver spoon on a market stall. The lino I used initially was Softcut, which is easier to carve but doesn’t allow quite as much fine detail as traditional linoleum. A Japanese bamboo baren (burnishing tool) was purchased too but soon discarded in favour of the spoon, which I found gave me more control over how much pressure to use when hand-printing.
I began with cheap basic water-based inks, inexpensive plastic rollers, printing on a range of white and coloured papers including crepe paper and tissue. I watched hours of YouTube videos to learn better registration techniques. My idea was to see how far I could progress at home without further tuition before investing in more expensive professional resources and equipment. I liked the fact that each print had differences and inconsistencies, and using cheap materials meant I could experiment freely on a slim budget.
Getting the inking right was a priority. Thanks to tips on the Linocut Friends Facebook page I learnt to listen for the ‘Velcro’ noise as ink was rolled on my glass slab, and to look for a moleskin texture. As Linocut Boy (Nick Morley) said, it took a lot of patience, concentration and determination to burnish evenly with a spoon. The large one had a smooth bottom while the tip of the spoon was ideal for areas of the block where more pressure or detail was needed. I did get muscle ache sometimes but decided it was all in a good cause!
My subject matter varied: hens, fish on a plate, apples, butterflies, birds – fairly simple subjects in compositions that didn’t present too many challenges of depth, distance or tonality.
A growing passion for printmaking led me to enrol on a three-year part-time degree course at Leek School of Art. Great friendships were made there. We were introduced to a broad range of print techniques but I felt that my mission was to show that hand-printing could produce quality prints. I achieved that, started to sell work, developed more complicated designs, and submitted some crow-themed townscapes for my final degree work.
Since those days I have progressed to a range of barens, with a beautiful glass one by Derbyshire artisan glassmaker Thomas Petit https://thomaspetitglass.com/ being my favourite. Reading lots of other printmakers’ blogs helped me find out what were the best papers to print on as well as better inks to use.
Nine years on, I still don’t possess a ‘proper’ professional etching press but now use a repurposed X-Cut die cutting machine to print smaller work with more consistent results and less arm ache. I still use my glass baren and spoon for larger work like a 120 cm x 90 cm commission on canvas for a French country house. My cheap rollers have been put to one side; better made, heavier ones in various sizes are a joy to use.
As for papers, I favour a selection of cartridge, handmade and high quality white Zerkall smooth papers. Working with quality materials including strongly pigmented inks produces much better results and adds value to the finished work. Favourite inks are Caligo Safewash oil-based inks and Lukas Studio Linol water-based inks.
There are no registration issues these days thanks to using Ternes Burton pins and tabs alongside my own registration jigs to stop the block moving when the print is printed and pulled. My preferred lino is now the traditional battleship grey hessian-backed variety that I buy in large sheets and cut to size. It’s great for detail work and is more easily carved with precision-made Pfeil cutter tools that are just perfect to hold.