Leda and the swan: variation on a theme after Maillol

Here is Aristide Maillol’s apparently simple wood block print showing Leda and the swan:

Leda by Maillol

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:

My version of Leda and the swan, variation on a theme by Maillol

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.

More post-modern rococo: work in progress

Nymph in a wood after Dossi Dossi.
Nymph after Dossi Dossi; (above) first rough impression on layout paper; (below) lino block. Image size 4×6 inches.

As you can see I again drew directly onto the lino. Cutting the block is almost the easiest part. I first print onto layout paper using the back of a wooden spoon rather than a press. Then errors in the cutting can be identified and corrected. The hard part is getting the inking just right to produce the final print edition, because I don’t want to waste expensive Japanese paper. I’ll need a clear day to get an edition done.


I have just invented Post-modern Rococo (work in progress)

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.

Muse Lino print
The Muse Euterpe after Charlier after Boucher

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.

Muse after Boucher - 9 Feb 2019 - 17-16

About lino printing tools

In a previous post I gave links to soft ‘lino’ (actually PVC) for making relief prints. As you can see from the finished print,

mermaid 16 20180108

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.)

mermaid-lino-5a

Linocut boy recommends Pfeil tools. They certainly look the business and I intend to try them. More information about Pfeil tools here.