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