Fade to Grey – chiaroscuro linocuts

It has been a few years since I did any serious linocut printmaking but as with many things there is always the right time for revisiting something, and that time seems to have come around just now.

In a few days the Royal Academy of Arts (www.http://www.royalacademy.org.uk) is opening a new exhibition called “Renaissance Impressions – chiaroscuro woodcuts from the collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna“.  This exhibition promises 150 prints made by some of the greatest Renaissance artists such as Parmigianino, Raphael and Titian.  This pioneering 16th-century printing technique breathed new life into well-known biblical scenes and legends, with the chiaroscuro method used to create the first colour prints that make dramatic use of light and dark showing a new level of technical brilliance and visual power.  This exhibition is to open on 15 March and will run until 8 June 2014 and will be knocking on their door early on.

The promise of such and interesting exhibition of traditional printmaking prompted me to  dig out my tools and what materials I had lying around and have a go for myself at making a simple chiaroscuro linocut.  This is how I did it:

1. First make a simple line drawing, I chose a face from a magazine photograph.



Rubbings taken from my 3 print blocks

2. Take the first of three blocks and trace the line drawing on to the block, right side facing up. (It may be helpful to ink the block up first using a dilute ink to allow the traced line to be seen more clearly). Now cut the lines out so that only the lines stand out in relief against the rest of the block.  This will be the key block.

outlinesThe key Block

3. Ink up this block and print on to a piece of paper.  While the ink is wet on the paper, press the paper on to the second blank block.  Repeat this with another paper print and the third block.  

4. Take one of the printed blocks which will now become the highlights block; anything which is to remain in white will be cut away from this block leaving the rest of the block uncut.

lightest tone and whiteHighlights Block inked up

5. Take the second printed block, which will now become the midtones block and cut around areas which are to be shown in shade, these areas will be seen in relief against the rest of the block.


Midtones Block inked up

6. Prepare to print.  Register the position for the placement of the print block and then register the placement of the paper over the top of the block so that each successive block will over print the other exactly.  As my blocks were only very small (5 cm square) I drew around one of the blocks on a sheet of newspaper, then I placed my print paper over the block and traced around the corners of my paper so I knew exactly where the paper should fit in relation to the block underneath.


Glass plate showing 3 shades of grey ink

7. Ink up the highlights block with the lightest of your chosen colour.  I used pale grey.  Make a print from this first block.

palestHighlights print



8. Now ink up the midtones block using a darker shade of your chosen colour.  Pull a print   from this block over the top of the first print.

stage 2

Midtones over the highlights block

9. Finally ink up the key block and repeat the printing procedure as before.

cara chiaro

Key block over the previous two blocks

Now you have a 3 tone chiaroscuro print.

I had forgotten how closely related printmaking is to drawing and also how much I used to enjoy relief printmaking.  I am off to my art supplier to buy some new blocks, somewhat larger in size than the tiny 5 cm square blocks I had lying in a drawer to make some larger images!


About paisleypedlar

Artist, Sewist, sometime Cyclist and Arm Chair Activist
This entry was posted in acrylic painting, Art, art and design, Books, colour, drawing, drawing and painting, education, Fine Art, mixed media collage, Museums and Galleries, My Work, oil painting, pencil drawing, printmaking, screen printing, Uncategorized, water colour painting and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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