Thursday, 30 January 2014


I was half asleep one evening last October while watching a natural history TV programme, when onto the screen popped the most wonderful seahorse.  What a great subject, I thought, for a linocut - I could finally try out  the Caligo Safewash relief inks given to me the previous Christmas -  the Phthalo Blue and Green inks were deep sea colours if ever I saw them!  I found a suitable photo almost immediately, but life intervened, so it was only this January that I finally got round to making any prints.

source material, design & tracing, partially cut plate
© Teresa Newham

I'd decided to try a reduction linocut, where you trace the design onto the lino, cut away the parts you want to be white, print up the first colour, then cut away the parts you want to be the first colour, and so on.  I wanted to work on a full sheet of paper, so I also needed to find a way of registering a print of that size.

the first colour, printed
© Teresa Newham
 These are the first oil-based inks I've used, and behaved differently to the water-based ones I've worked with in the past.  But I was hopeful I could get the effect I wanted.  I had to bear in mind their high pigment content, and that the colours I had chosen were transparent - each layer would affect the ones printed on top of it!

inking the seahorse with a small roller
© Teresa Newham
 The printed colours were very crisp, and my registration tools (as usual, the back of a picture frame, but this time with the addition of two drawing pins) worked well.  The basic colour was green, which I tried to modify so that it  became paler.  The blue of the background (whose strength I also tried to reduce) had printed up rather dark over the green.  I managed a reasonable effect by printing the seahorse in green ink which I hardly modified at all,  and its markings in unmodified blue:

seahorse print - first series (blue on green)
© Teresa Newham
 I was certain I could improve the colours further, so to keep the first set of drying prints out of the way, I made a makeshift drying rack from an old plastic crate, supporting the prints with cardboard so that they didn't fall over and touch each other, before moving on to make a second series.

makeshift drying rack in an old plastic crate
© Teresa Newham

The blue ink, however, turned out to be less responsive than the green, and I started out with a very dark first layer.  I reversed the colours so that the green areas became blue in the second set of prints, and the blue areas became green.  That first layer showed through everything else, though, and the whole effect was extremely dark (unless, annoyingly, you held the print up to the light, in which case the colours were almost exactly as I wanted . . . .)

 seahorse print - second series (green on blue)
© Teresa Newham

Surely, I thought, I could make that blue colour paler in the third series?  well, not exactly.  I only succeeded in making it slightly lighter and more vivid.  Rather than waste the ink, I rolled it onto the plate then wiped off the areas where I didn't want it to show through the other layers. The resulting prints show a row of ghostly seahorses:

ghostly seahorses after the blue of the third series is printed
© Teresa Newham
 I printed up the green parts (wiping the ink off the seahorse), then went for broke with some yellow on the seahorse itself.  Where I'd left some blue ink on these areas it showed through as green.  The whole effect was loose but that was fine - when researching the subject I'd reasoned that any flaws in printing could be put down to it being an underwater scene!

adding colours to the third series
© Teresa Newham
 For the markings I chose red, simply because it is so vivid and I wanted that seahorse to stand out.  Which it certainly did:

drying off the third series
© Teresa Newham
 As an afterthought, I printed up the markings on their own on some scrap paper.  It's a strong design (I may well use it again) and I thought they worked OK as a stand-alone subject:

playing around with the final plate of series three
© Teresa Newham

The third seahorse is much more vivid than the others - possibly too much so.  I've looked online and noticed that other printmakers who use these inks go along with the punchy colours, and some use different printing techniques, such making separate plates for each colour, or using one base colour (or two combined) with a black overlay.  It's something to consider for the future . . .

seahorse print - third series (punchy colour)
© Teresa Newham
 On the whole, though, I'm pleased.  I've never attempted prints this size before, the registration worked OK, and the ink transferred well onto the paper, giving sharp outlines.  I'm sure I can do better with the colours.  And I'm really happy with the design - borrowed almost straight from Mother Nature, it's actually a pretty simple cut. When laid out side by side, they look quite effective, don't they?

Seahorses - reduction linocut prints
© Teresa Newham

1 comment:

  1. I think these look absolutely brilliant, beautiful vivid colours and a really strong design.