Let’s get physical (with linocut)!

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Had fun making some lino prints of aerobics babes this weekend and learnt a lot. Started out with  printing in pink, and overlaid some with gold for an 80s lo-fi feel.

I’ve started playing around with linocut, and I’m loving it. I like how tactile it is, how every print is different, and how I need to be so involved in the process but can’t determine the end result 100 percent.

In high school, my mum bought me a book about printmaking techniques and I fell in love with the bold, graphic result of block printing (I also like ink drawing/painting and papercuts for the same reason).

I’ve been wanting to try linocut since, but only found a place that sells supplies to make it a few years after I moved to Singapore. Plus, there’s always a mess with carving and applying ink – so mostly I stuck with drawing and sometimes embroidery as creative outlets. (I love the end result of embroidery but the process is just so tedious and repetitive!)

This afternoon I carved this picture of an 80s aerobics chick and did some test prints with it. I must say I’m pretty happy with the result and the number of details I could capture, given the piece is way too small – only about 12cm across. Note to self: make things easier for next time and carve something bigger.

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She started out like this. Just a small sketch in my Moleskine.

It started with a sketch of a girl in a leotard and leg warmers in my sketchbook. Well actually, it started with the fact that I’ve always liked the 80s/90s aesthetics. Last weekend while lazing around at home, I started on a Youtube marathon of Key & Peele and stumbled upon the Aerobics Meltdown episode – Which was based on a 1987 aerobics competition video (They even used the same song). I was inspired! And I knew I had to draw some aerobics babes in my sketchbook.

I realised that I had some pink and gold printing ink lying around in the house, and BOOM. Lightbulb moment. What else would be better to be printed in pink and gold other than something from the 80s like aerobics babes?

I bought the two tubes of ink two years ago, as I was planning on printing my own Christmas cards. But then lazy happened. I hoped that the inks didn’t harden and I was lucky that it hadn’t. I bought them from Art Friend, which I think is the only place where I can find printing supplies easily in Singapore – but they only sell one brand of block printing ink and one brand of linoleum carving knife.

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Some tools I used. Apparently Speedball’s inks are Gluten-free. Are they edible? I don’t know. 

Since the sketch was done in a little Moleskine, it was small to begin with. And I couldn’t be bothered to scale it up for the linocut.

First mistake – It was so hard to recreate the details with the carving tools I had. It didn’t help that the lino I had was the softer, rubber-like type – which means it’s difficult to end each cut cleanly and it doesn’t take small details well as it stretches under the carving knife. Second (very noob) mistake: I didn’t copy the sketch in mirror image.

The project I was carving was soft and small in size, so I also realised I had to glue it to a hard backing. This was what I did for my last (bigger) project. But I didn’t have any dispensable boards at home, so I settled with pressing the linocut with a coaster – Which worked pretty well!

I only had a relatively large ink roller, so I worked the ink and applied it with a sponge brush instead, as can be evidenced by the visible brush strokes in the print. Far from perfect, but it’s another thing I learned while working in this medium. And it resulted in a pretty interesting texture, too. I tried applying it different ways, but there’s a reason why an ink roller is a common tool to use in block printing as it gives a much more even and consistent coverage.

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The printing block and some results. Carving the small details almost broke my eyes. Also, I need to take pictures with a better camera next time.

On the first print, I was actually surprised by how much details I could capture in the linocut, given I had difficulty carving it. I was happy with the result! After using the pink ink, I wanted to try out the gold and decided to print over the dry aerobics girls to give it a bit more lo-fi feel. The gold came out a bit more yellow ochre than anything, though. I suspect it’ll look better, bolder with a thicker layer of ink on a piece with not so much tiny details. One thing I didn’t try today was printing with gold and overlaying it with pink. Might have an interesting result since the gold appeared as a much darker colour than the pink.

So here I have a series of aerobics girls on paper. Once I get the colours right, I’m thinking of making it into a pattern, which can work as postcard, wrapping paper, or plain art print.

All in all, I’m very happy with today’s playtime with linocut. There are so many unexpected things that turned out to add on to the character of the final work – so long as I’m open to using them to my advantage. It’s really about learning to love mistakes, working with them and taking notes. With more experience there should be more and more aspects of the process that I can control, but not everything. Therein lies the charm of printmaking – there’s always an “imperfection” left by the process and no two pieces are the same.

I feel like there are so many more things I can do with lino and that it fits my personality very well – even more than drawing or painting. I must say it may just become my favourite medium.

Since we’re on an 80s theme, here’s an 80s cover of the Justin Beiber song, “What do you mean?” I found on the internet a few days ago. I think it’s amazing and you should have a listen. Enjoy.


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