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On reduction linocut

I’m teaching a five day class in reduction linocut this summer, and I want to tell you what a wonderful technique it is.

Here are some prints made with the ‘reduction linocut’ method that I’ve found from a quick internet search:

Ellen Starr, 'Birds of a Feather'
Sherrie York, 'Ptarmigan'
Traditionally, coloured block prints were created from separate blocks. So in a landscape, for example, the background would be cut out of one block, the birds and clouds from another, the trees from another, and so on. Each would be inked separately, and then printed one after the other on the same sheet of paper.

I believe it was Picasso, some time in the late 1940s, who started making multi-coloured block prints from just one block of linoleum (left).

The process was as follows: Cut a few shapes from the block, ink it in a light colour (yellow, say), then print it. Now you have a yellow rectangle with some white shapes on it. Clean the block, cut away some more shapes, ink it in another colour (red, say), then print that on the yellow page. The red ink overprints the yellow, EXCEPT where the block has been cut away in the previous stages. So you now have an orange-y rectangle, with some yellow and white shapes showing through. You can repeat this process until you’ve cut away most of the block, leaving only a few shapes.

Hence the term ‘reduction linocut’: between printing each colour, you’re cutting away more lino and reducing the printable area. Usually you would leave some ‘outline’ shapes on the block last, and print these in the darkest colour.

It’s a little tricky to grasp until you do it. But once you do your first one, and get used to the little bit of extra mental planning required, it becomes a hugely enjoyable, satisfying, and addictive way of making prints. You can also combine the reduction printing with other techniques, such as ‘rainbow roll’, in which you blend two or more bands of colour on the block, or chine collĂ©, where you combine collage and ink printing.

Not only will I be teaching this for five days in the summer: I will be doing it here:

This is the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. It’s on the campus of the Interlochen Arts Academy, the world-renowned arts high school which for nearly 50 years has produced generations of classical musicians, dancers, actors, and more recently visual artists and creative writing students. I’m always meeting people who say they attended high school at Interlochen, or that they attended the summer music camp, or had children who did so. The campus is surrounded by thick woods, and sits between two lakes in northern Michigan, near Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. So you can study and create your art surrounded by a lot of natural beauty, too.

The ICCA offers classes to adults, in a beautiful purpose-built building. The summer classes there are particularly good fun, because in addition to making prints in a new classroom, and walking for miles through trails in the woods, you’re surrounded by all the young people attending the summer camps. And we’re talking about gifted young musicians. It was a great pleasure last year to walk from the ICCA to the lake, passing by the rehearsal cabins in the woods, and hear the most wonderful music floating out over the warm evening air.

It’s tempting, isn’t it? We had someone from Texas in the Introduction to Printmaking class last year, so wherever you are reading this in the USA, go to the ICCA page and think about registering for the class. It will truly be the experience of a lifetime.

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  1. Hello, I've just stumbled on your blog, via a link in Pinterest!
    Glad to have found you, it all looks so interesting. I'll be popping in and out of here for a while, having a good read!
    This is a good post about Reduction Linocut - it explains the process very simply and clearly (something I struggled with on my own recent posts!)
    I'm a "beginner" at lino reduction. I spent a week in Mijas, Spain, at the studio of Mariann Johansen-Ellis (, where I was able to try this technique and make some prints that I'm quite proud of. It's a fabulous way to make art and I've been finding more and more amazing and beautiful work, by a number of printmakers, that makes me catch my breath and say "Wow, that's a Linocut?!".
    Thanks for all these great posts - I'm off to read more!


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