Skip to main content


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.


Popular posts from this blog

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.

A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Soft Ground Etching with Baldwin Intaglio Ground

This is another post where I talk about my own research into how to obtain the best results from non-toxic etching materials -- specifically, the Baldwin Intaglio Ground. This is a form of etching resist developed by printmaker Andrew Baldwin, from the UK, as a non-toxic alternative to the nasty chemicals contained in traditional hard ground and soft ground resists. It comes in a tube, and when you squeeze some out onto an inking slab it looks like etching ink. You roll it onto the copper plate with a brayer, as if you were inking a relief block, in contrast to the traditional hard grounds, which are either melted onto the plate or poured on as a liquid hard ground. Applying the BIG to make a hard ground is relatively easy. Using it as a soft ground can be quite tricky, and it has taken me many tries and many failures to achieve a satisfactory etch.

The main problem, unfortunately, is the lack of specific instructions in preparing the BIG soft ground. Andrew Baldwin has some excellen…

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.