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I am not a lateral thinker. If I am stuck when working in my studio, and something just doesn't seem to be working, it takes me ages to work out the answer. Sometimes it doesn't even happen. Either way, I usually spend a long time hammering away at slightly different changes to a technique -- say, the right mixture of materials to etch a lino block -- experiencing long bouts of frustration as I wonder why the thing just won't bloody well work. Some people, when faced with a problem that seems intractable, can get around the block by turning the terms of the problem upside down, or inside out, turning a positive image into a negative image and, by confronting the problem from a completely different angle, suddenly see the solution.

I am not that person.

But a few days ago, I actually had a lateral thinking moment, and it seems to have worked.

I have been experimenting with caustic soda etch on linoleum, with what I consider so far to be unsatisfactory results. Here is an example of what I've been doing:

I drew the object using Lascaux acrylic resist, then coated the block in the caustic soda mixture, following the exact instructions that I have found on lots of blogs and websites. It produced an image that it was possible to roll up and print, but the etch is always much shallower than I have seen in other artists' work, and there is a lot of interference in the background. I've been trying this out for nearly two months now, and always with similar results. Then, a few days ago, I finally thought: what if I draw the shape using negative space, so that, for example, the resist would cover all the white areas in the above image, and the wheel shape would just be bare lino?

I did this with a 'boxer' figure, and a factory shape. When the resist was dry, I used an etching needle to draw some lines into the resist around the main shape. Here is the result:

Success! The caustic soda etched the large area of exposed lino in the figure well enough to hold a lot of ink, plus it etched the lines well. The depth of the etch is still not much, but reversing the way the resist is used means that problem disappears. The variation of mark across the block is much greater: it even looks a bit like an etching plate:

I spent a while inking it in different ways -- intaglio style, by using a piece of card to drag ink over the whole block, then wiping it with tarlatan, and finally using a small brayer to roll some grey-pink ink onto the raised areas:

The other block, which I etched overnight, came out like this:

The white area at the top is a piece I had to cut away because so much of the block had been eaten away. I could have pressed more ink into the lines on this block, but anyway, the experiment succeeded: lots of nice textures and marks, lots of possibilities to produce interesting prints.


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