This hand-made lino print is based on an 18th century statuette by Falconet and images of Gunnera found on the web. Gunnera, or ‘giant rhubarb,’ is found near ponds and rivers as it likes a lot of water, so it seemed appropriate for this nude lady dipping her toe in the water.
Not a perfect print, but I have yet to settle in my mind how perfect hand-made prints ought to be. There is some charm in what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, which according to Wikipedia is ‘a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.’ In this and similar artist’s prints I am aiming for near-perfection in the nude figure, emphasising the pure line and form, and am more tolerant of accidental effects in the foliage or landscape.
This print will be available on my Etsy site when I have time to edition it.
This is an A4-size lino block (approximately 21x30cm), partly carved. You can see my search lines in pencil. I first drew her skinnier than she is in Boucher’s drawing, and looking critically at my drawing compared with his I came to better appreciate the Rococo taste for, let us say, more substantial women.
Having drawn the image in pencil I then went over the important lines with a fine-liner and then with a brush and ink. This means I have a pretty good idea of what the finished print will look like. In the image shown I have begun to carve out the face and some other key areas. I like to do the face first, because if that is wrong the rest might as well be thrown away.
Here is Aristide Maillol’s apparently simple wood block print showing Leda and the swan:
I wanted to make my own version, inspired by Maillol’s bold design. However producing my version proved a lot more difficult than I expected.
Leda is sitting on a very large swan, and the swan is the god Zeus in disguise, as lovers of classical mythology will know. The seduction of Leda by a swan has been the subject of many paintings from antiquity to the present day, varying in explicitness from the relatively respectable Leonardo to the very naughty Boucher.
For my lino block I am making a drawing first using Affinity Photo with an Apple pencil on the iPad. For some time it looked very wrong, because Maillol has taken such extreme liberties with the swan. This is my current version which looks almost anatomically plausible:
The next step is to convert this into a lino block and then print it. I found that I could transfer the image onto the lino block, prior to cutting, by printing it the same size as the lino block using an inkjet printer, turning it over face down on the lino and rubbing the back with a hard pencil.
This is based on a miniature in the Wallace Collection of the Muse Euterpe by Jacques Charlier, after another painting by Boucher. My version is a lino print. I have chosen this medium because everything depends on simple lines. There is no fudging possible. In addition I have chosen to print in one colour only. The image either works or it doesn’t.
Immediately above is the first attempt at printing. As you can see there is a problem with the inking, largely because I am using a brayer that used to belong to my mother when she was at art school in the year dot, so the roller is too hard.
There are some areas of vegetation that do not make sense and even suggest bats which are not intended to be part of the picture, so some further cutting is necessary.
Below is the sketch of the design. I drew with pencil directly onto the lino, then inked over the lines I wanted to keep.
sharp definition is possible, and it doesn’t require as much force to cut as proper artists’ lino. The drawback, however, is that material cut away does not easily break off, as it does with ordinary lino, so that a line of PVC is left attached at one end. It is then necessary to use a flat blade to cut the attached end. This is sometimes trickier than it sounds.
With regular artists’ lino, at the end of a cut a simple upward pull with the cutting tool or fingers is sufficient to break off the piece to be removed.
On the other hand, regular artists’ lino can get hard and the effort to cut it can reduce control. Lino gets harder with age so newer lino will be easier to work with. A common trick is to run an iron over it to warm it up before carving, but this needs to be done repeatedly and tends to interrupt the flow of the work. I have found that using better cutting tools is the best answer, as shown below. (These are Japanese woodcarving tools. The Swann Morton scalpel you can just about see is not included in the set.)