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.

How to make a lino print

My latest print is yet another mermaid. Why mermaids? My excuse is that they are not only beautiful, echoing as they do the female form (and actually no further excuse is really required), but also symbolise the ability to move between two different worlds.

A mermaid can see fish but she realises at the same time that she is not a fish. Similarly we can (with practice) see out own thoughts and realise we are not those thoughts. We can become aware of the water.

This is a smaller print, approximately 150x100mm, consistent in size with this mermaid print on Etsy.

Here is the initial pencil sketch:

m016 copy
Mermaid pencil sketch

This I scanned into the computer and then printed out again on tracing paper. Using a soft pencil (4B, but 6B would be better) I traced over the lines on the front of the image and then turned it over onto the lino. By going over the same lines again using a hard (H) pencil the pencil marks were transferred to the lino.

This produces a reversed image on the lino so that the final print will be the same way round as the original sketch.

This works well on pale soft lino. (I shall have further comments to make about this product in a later post.) Darker lino might require the use of chalk or soft pastel instead of soft pencil to transfer the image. The lines can be inked over for better clarity and also to modify the drawing if this is desired.

The photograph below shows the soft lino block marked up and mostly already cut. As you can see I used a cutting board to reduce hazards both to the table top and to my fingers. The cutting tools are Japanese wood block tools for softwood and are far superior to the usual lino cutting tools (more on tools later).

mermaid 16 first carve with tools
Mermaid lino cut in progress

Below is the set-up for printing. I am using an inking tray from Amazon although a piece of thick glass would do. A flexible palette knife is handy for spreading the ink. In this case I am using water-soluble printing ink. TIP: if using water-soluble ink, clean both the surface of the lino and the brayer (ink roller) with soap and water or with alcohol because greasy fingerprints will stop the ink from taking.

mermaid 16 set-up for printing
Set-up for lino printing

Next place your paper over the image. I used tracing paper for the first print and used the back of a spoon to rub the back of the paper in order to transfer the image to the paper. If you are using opaque paper you can still check the progress of your work by carefully lifting a corner of the paper – as long as you don’t lift too much you will not affect the registration of the image. You could also use a press but then you will have to do many experiments to get the pressure just right.

mermaid 16 in progress
Checking the print

As you can see below, the first impression showed up many small areas which should have been cut away. Since these areas take up the ink it is easy to see where corrections are necessary.

mermaid 16 first impression 2
Mermaid lino print first impression showing errors

Here is the final image, available printed on tracing paper or opaque white paper in a signed limited edition of 30:

mermaid 16 20180108
Mermaid lino print