linocuts: the man with no name.

So I’ve now been working on this project for almost a year. I still haven’t quite finished the posters (99% complete) and yet I moved on to a new thing under the umbrella of “The Man With No Name” trilogy. This time, instead of doing gigantic posters or something of that nature I went with a simpler idea of taking the main graphic from each poster and turning it into a 9×12 sized, 2-color linoleum-cut print on heavy, colored stock. I kind of underestimated the total costs of the project and the time it would take but it was well worth it. I’m really happy with them and it’s taught me even more about working with lino-cuts.

I first bought one 9×12 mounted block of linoleum. I didn’t want to buy all three right away in case the whole project didn’t pan out like I wanted it to. I transferred the graphic to the block and began cutting in. It took a while but I was finally able to get the rough outline of Clint and most of the inner details of him finished.

The details around his waistline, the feet and the face were awful to deal with. Lots of switching between my smallest cutting blade and an Exacto knife. The gun is a little under-detailed but really it’s pretty convincing when printed. I had also bought some paper to test the cut with so I decided to do a few prints next.

The process for printing was pretty standard for me, except it was a 2-color print using the same block. That meant that I first had to lay down a layer of white onto the block, transfer it to the paper and then wait for it to dry before applying the black over it. Cleaning the blocks is also a pain. It takes a little while to scrub all the ink off and out of the little crevices of the left-over linoleum. It’s a water soluble ink though so it’s not really that hard, thankfully. So after cleaning and drying I applied the black ink. This is where it really comes to life. The white ink just doesn’t roll onto the linoleum and cover the graphic quite the same. The black just glides and covers so much nicer. All the little details seem to hold up better with the black too.

After I finished working on the test prints I realized I was getting more ink on the paper than I wanted in areas that aren’t the actual graphic. In the end, I decided to just cut away all the leftover linoleum that wasn’t necessary to the final image. It was a long process and pulling up that much linoleum definitely cut into the fingers a bit but it worked out better in the end.

It was a few more days until I bought the rest of my supplies and began working on the other two cuts. I had finally begun work on the second piece of linoleum when I learned that I had a company interested in hiring me full-time. Good news, but it did slow down my progress on these quite a bit.

Anyway, I got to cutting the next graphic up and this time I knew that I’d be hacking away all the excess from the beginning. This made it go by a little quicker because I’d do some cuts and then pull up all the remaining linoleum by hand. I had the basic shape of the graphic all cut up by the end of the first day of working on it.

Next was a lot of little refinement. The guns have a lot of little lines and angles in them. One of the handles also has a coiled snake embedded into it. These things were a little tricky at first but they came out alright in the end. In the end, this cut took only a few days to complete, one of them being a weekend day and I really pushed to get it done quickly. It’s probably my favorite graphic/cut of the whole series. It was the first image I made for the series and it’s just a really fun shape.

Two down, one to go.

I was in the groove at this point. These larger cuts, the pulling up the excess linoleum, the changing the blades often… it was all becoming second nature at this point. The final cut, I thought, was going to go by so fast. It’s the “simplest” graphic I created and I thought it would be two days at the most. I was very wrong. I thought because it’s a simple shape with no intricate details like the portrait and guns have that it would be as simple as outlining the shape with a small blade and just cutting away the leftovers. Not so fast. This one was actually the one that took the longest.

The picture above is all I got done the first night and the next morning. I quickly discovered it’s a lot of work to outline each of these little rope strands. I could really only use the smallest blade I had to outline it because of all the angles involved. I wanted to get the basic outline of the hoop done before I started cutting mass quantities of linoleum away and so after a few mornings and nights of working I got to a point where I could begin tearing it all away and revealing the final image.

I had that familiar excited feeling again. I started working a little faster and I eventually made a mistake. The mistake didn’t happen to the graphic but it happened to my finger. I had my hand in a place it didn’t need to be and the blade slipped and I stabbed myself. This was, as far as I can remember, the first time I had actually cut myself working on one of these cuts. Kind of crazy.

After I got all bandaged up I could begin cutting away the big chunks. I finally started seeing a light at the end of this long, tedious tunnel. It took a while but I finally got the graphic revealed and I began work on the knot part of the graphic.

The knot was more of the same kind of tedious cutting. It was actually quite an ordeal because of all the little rows and areas that ran into one another. It was a lot more small cuts than I originally anticipated. Looking at the graphic on screen it seems so simple but with a blade in my hand it felt so overly complicated.

Eventually I got it all cut and cleaned up and I was finished. I went over each of the cuts again and cut away any more random bits that needed removing. I was now left with three finished linoleum cuts.

It was about two weeks since I started this project (not very long by my usual standards) and all I had left to do was some test prints of the two newest cuts, though that process had to be left for a weekend day. The mess and clutter that is associated with me printing is best left for a whole day where I have no reason to clean hastily.

When I finally found enough free time to sit down and properly make some test prints I took it. I cut down all my paper, set out my cuts, got out my inks, rollers and glass to begin printing. It’s a surprisingly cluttered mess to print these, especially when there are three cuts, and two colors per print involved. The white was first. I bought some new ink for these prints as well. I was hoping that they would roll on a bit better but no… they didn’t. For some reason the only ink that ever really rolls smoothly and prints how I’d expect is the black inks. Not sure why but so far I’ve not had good experiences with white or red. Just the black. Oh well. I set out and finally got all of my white tests out of the way. I’d say the white prints lack about 20% of the details that are in the cuts. Oh well, it’s just a base for these anyway so I presses on.

I took all of these prints and had to lay them out on our bed to dry. It wasn’t exactly warm and it took them a while to dry to a level that I could begin more work.

Before I could work on the black prints I needed to clean everything. That’s the part I hate about making prints. It’s not an overly long or complicated process, it’s just one I don’t like doing. I clean of my piece of glass that I roll my ink with first. That’s easy. Since it’s all water-soluble inks it kind of just disappears from the glass. Simple. Cleaning the prints is a little more of a task. I use a wet toothbrush and carefully clean out all the of the small detailed areas so that they don’t get super clogged up and continue to give good definition when printing. That takes a bit more time than I’d like but I suppose it’s worth it. Cleaning the ink roller is pretty fast though. Run it under some water, take it apart, make sure it’s clean and then dry and reassemble. Drying is as simple as taking a paper towel to everything and just blotting away the leftover water.

Now I’m ready to print the blacks. When the white prints were finally dry enough (or so I thought) I began printing the blacks. I ended up not waiting long enough and learned what happens when you print a color over another color that’s not quite dry yet. It gave a splotchy, wet look to the black prints in the end. It’s not a killer problem to have because I must have waited a good amount of time and the prints didn’t actually come out looking that bad. It gave it a definite  antique, hand-printed feel. I kind of liked it. I’m just not sure if I like it enough to attempt that for the final versions. Despite the slight setback with these wet prints I pushed on and printed all three cuts and set those aside for drying too.

Overall they were a pretty successful batch of prints. I learned loads about the inks, the transfer process and even the drying times. I’d done two-color prints before but nothing this involved so it was as much a new learning experience for me as it was a test to make sure my normal processes were still working correctly.

I’m hoping that a set of the final prints will be finished up this Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to work on one color per day so that they completely dry and end up looking pretty good. Keep an eye out for some final print images next week.

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