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.)
This is the design for the frontispiece of Sir Henry Herring’s book, S. Doris Iland and Divers Marvells found therein as described in Milton Marmalade‘s masterpiece, A Mermaid in the Bath.
A mermaid irrupts into the previously humdrum life of our hero Lionel, and almost as quickly is captured by the local police acting for an unseen master villain. During his quest to rescue her, Lionel finds an old book dating from the 16th century, purporting to be an account by one of the voyagers on Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde of the discovery of St Doris Island, a previously unknown volcanic island in the Caribbean. A fact not recorded in Hakluyt‘s version, for reasons that are probably fairly obvious, is that the original inhabitants of the island turned out to be mermaids (and for all we know, still are, since St Doris Island was lost to naval charts for reasons explained in the book).
In any event, Milton Marmalade asked me to reproduce as best I may the frontispiece to Sir Henry Herring’s book which he claims to possess but has mislaid, so all I have to go on is the description in A Mermaid in the Bath. I have tried to emulate the sometimes crude but equally delightful style of 16th century woodcuts, although I have used lino. You can get your very own limited-edition artist’s print from my Etsy store.
In the picture you can see, as described, on one side Drake’s Golden Hinde at anchor together with a traditional sea monster (and it is left to the reader to decide whether that is somehow symbolic of the threat to gentle people everywhere of colonialist expansion) and on the other, St Doris Island and its volcano fringed with palm trees, together with frolicking flying fishes (and the reader may or may not surmise symbolism here too).
In the centre is, as also described, a triumphantly naked mermaid. The print is on acid-free tracing paper, which when mounted on a white background makes a luminous impression. Also tracing paper is smooth and takes the ink well, leaving a sharp image (sharper in fact than the above photograph suggests). The size of the paper is A3 and the size of the image is approximately A4 (8.3×11.7 inches which is 210x297mm). There will be no more than 30 signed and numbered in addition to the artist’s proof.