3.1 Reduction method linocutting

This exercise is about exploring the use of reduction print techniques to make a multi-coloured linoprint. Unlike multi-block printing where each printed colour uses a separate lino block, reduction printing uses the same block to overprint different layers of colour.

Keywords from the brief:

  • Planning and preparation are paramount
  • Choose a subject which can be simplified into three colours and a black outline
  • The subject can be anything you like


Personal objective

During the last project I had started thinking more analytically about developing a personal voice in my work and what that really means for me. In addition, my tutor feedback from Assignment 2 suggested that I should start to focus on image development. In particular I should look at:

  • the meaning and intention of the images; and
  • what are you saying to the viewer/audience and why?

This is the context within which I developed the work in this exercise.

What I did first

I had a false start with this project. My original idea was to do another print using the same subject matter and approach that I had used for the ‘A walk around St Lawrence Church‘ multi block print that I made during the previous Multi-block linoprint exercise. The difference being that I would create the print using a reduction method.

I did the photographic research and worked up mock-ups of the the idea to a point where I needed to create the final artwork.

After receiving my Assignment 2 tutor feedback I stopped developing this idea. This was because whist the graveyard images are visually ok and the print technique fairly competent,  the content and meaning of the imagery was not sufficiently engaging for either me or a viewer.

What I did instead

I started to pay attention to what I pay attention to.

Along with thousands of other people I spend two hours each working day commuting in and out of London. I started sketching commuters and observing the daily rituals and behaviours that get people through their journeys. There was something about this subject that grabbed my attention and this was what I chose to explore further.

It’s a subject I’ve used for a couple of other exercises in both Illustration 1 and for one of my combination monoprints from PART 1.


My visual research took three forms:

  1. Sketches from life. These were all drawn direct from life.
  2. Photographs from rush-hour tubes on the Waterloo and City and Northern London tube lines; my regular commute.
  3. Development sketches and colour mock-ups.

Sketches from life

Photographic reference

As well as sketching from life I took photographs as reference. I found this necessary because there’s not enough time to make detailed observational sketches between tube stops, and I’m not yet brave enough to pull out a sketchbook on a packed Northern Line rush hour tube.

Development sketches and mock-ups

I developed sketches and colour mockups from both the original sketches and photographic reference.

I found something compelling about these sketches. What I started to notice was just how strange and contradictory the whole notion of being a commuter in London is. People are willingingly packed into tight carriages day-after-day, year-after-year, and have to find ways of coping and/or using the time. There is no eye contact, no talking and most people retreat into their own personal spaces, mostly through the use of technology (phones, earphones, ipads, Kindles), which are ironically supposed to make us more connected than we ever have been before.

I created a mindmap to capture and organise some of these thoughts:


Design and artwork

Going back to my objectives for this exercise, I gave myself a brief specifically to address the image development challenges.

  • What is the meaning and intention of the image? – The images are exploring what it is to be a commuter in London. They capture moments of behaviour and body language that are typical, specific and hopefully insightful.
  • What are you saying to the viewer/audience and why? – I want to say to the viewer ‘There is a strange sociology to how we all coexist in our major cities and it may not all be good. At a very mundane level (getting to and from work), look at how we cope with modern living’.

The subject of the image I chose to develop provides a snapshot of the commuter behaviour I was exploring. Three commuters sitting next to each other. One lost in music with earphones in, one lost in their iPhone, probably playing a game on answering email, and the final one looking over the shoulder of the second.

I did several sketches. The drawing style was deliberately loose and expressive, and one of the things I wanted to test was whether it would be possible to transfer some of the energy and spontaneity of the drawings into a print:

I wanted to keep the final print down to three colours because of the long drying time (4/5 days) between print runs.

I mocked-up a couple of different colour combinations inspired by some of the Claire Curtis prints (see research point below).

Sketchbook 05

I then created layered artwork in Photoshop, with each layer corresponding to a different colour in the final print.

A design digression

I wanted to add another dimension to my print and liked the idea of juxtaposing found text over image.

I’d started to notice and collect photos of stickers that are surreptitiously plastered on lamp posts and call boxes all around Liverpool Street.

I particularly like this one because of the additional hand written comment

I looked at the work of Ray Pettibon and Barbara Kruger and enjoyed the interplay between caption and picture. This feels quite natural to me and something I used in several projects and assignments from Illustration 1.

It also linked back somewhat to tutor feedback in relation to the untitled poem from Assignment 2, where the combination of words and picture create a more  engaging and layered experience for the viewer.

Sketchbook 04
Sketchbook extract – A2 sized

In the end I didn’t use the idea because it seemed a bit puerile and an afterthought, but I may use the approach in later projects.

Cutting and printing

The following sequence of images shows the step-by-step cutting and printing process. The end-to-end linocut and print process took me 41-hours.

The print run was an edition of 10.

The final prints

Commuter line art block
The final print, 40cm x 30cm sized

Research point

Now look at the work of Clare Curtis or Mark Hearld, both contemporary printmakers, and look closely at how their prints are created. What makes them work? Are there any techniques you could re-use?


  • Like Richard and Edward Bawden, these prints are broadly divided into sections that have one predominant colour
  • Mark making is very ordered, geometric and stylised and designed to make the most of the medium.
  • Subjects are heavily simplified and distorted
  • Composition is kept very simple with exaggerated perspective
  • Many shapes e.g. plants, flowers and reused/resurface across multiple images

Use of colour

  • Colour palettes are highly stylised
  • Use of color opposites
  • Colour temperature and placement used to strengthen content hierarchy

Mark making/texture

  • Simple, stylised, patterns, regular, measured, even. Very controlled and considered.

Techniques I could reuse

  • Explore the design process to arrive at a final resolved image. Redraw, rework, doodle…
  • Use transparent overprinting as a way to extend the colour range – adding transparent layer to add shadow. Need to plan the order in which colours are printed to maximise this effect.


What went well

Pay attention to what you pay attention to – I deliberately stopped my initial line of enquiry/image development to refocus on a subject and idea that seemed to hold more potential and challenge. Through visual investigation and rework I think I’m starting to mould and develop a subject of interest; the sociology of commuting. Being alone in a crowd, coping with the 2-hour plus daily journey to and from work. The bizarre contradiction of being more digitally connected than ever before whilst at the same time having less and less ‘real’ human contact.

Visual style – I really like the loose style of the drawings. I want to push, explore and ‘own’ this for myself.

Combining text and image – something I explored but didn’t use this time. This seems like a natural extension for my way of working and is something I used in the comic strips I created for Assignment 5 in Illustration 1.

I experimented with Japanese paper – I used Awagami Hosho Select Japanese paper which completely changed the printing process. It is a beautiful light but incredibly strong paper that enabled me to see what areas of the print needed additional pressure/work to get a good quality print.

A solution to accurately register paper that is hand cut and therefore not identically sized – this was a bit of a conundrum. The registration device I created and used very successfully during the Multi-block linoprint exercise works when the sheets of printing paper are identically sized. This is because I used the four corners of the paper as the registration points. The Japanese paper was not identically sized. I solved this by having two registration marks on each of the four edges of the paper. I roughly taped the EPSON MFP imageunprinted paper in place and marked up each of the eight registration marks in pencil on the back of the paper. This solved the problem.

Use of cobalt drying agent – this is added to the oil based relief printing ink and reduces the drying time for a layer of ink from 4/5-days to 2-days. This allowed me to significantly reduce the end-to-end duration of the print process.

What would I do differently/better

The second colour the reduction print, pink over grey didn’t give the expected colour/colour temperature. I wanted a warm pink, and I got, (unsurprisingly with hindsight), a cool magenta. I need to think more carefully about how and what I use reduction printing for and plan the order in which colours are laid down carefully.

I used Sharpie marker pens to draw to line art. These give a very even quality of line that is not as expressive as what I achieve use a dip pen. The challenge is that varying the quality of line/width of line is not easy (for me) using lino. I’d like to try and capture more of the expressive nature of pen and ink drawing in my next relief prints and I’m wondering if this is something that working with a woodcut might achieve.


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