I’ve been working on the roads pretty much full time over the last few weeks so not much time for doing art or blogging about it. So it was really good yesterday, to kick back with a few others for a day of lino cutting at St. Andrew’s Arts Centre in Gravesend http://www.graveshamarts.co.uk/. It was a mixed group in terms of previous lino cutting experience but, as you can see from the pictures below (with thanks to Mandy Wooding and Amanda Groom Davies) everyone had got the hang of it – with minimal blood letting – and everyone produced some great work by the end of the day.
Was good also to see ‘Penny Les’ New who dropped in on his massive bike, pictured here outside St Andrew’s and the magnificent LV21 https://lv21.co.uk/
If there’s enough interest I’d love to run another workshop soon and am happy to come and work with groups if anyone would like me to. Just contact me via the website. If you haven’t already subscribed to my website, please do, then you’ll get regular updates of forthcoming events. Just put your email in the subscription box and click on the link it sends. You won’t get bombarded with stuff, I promise.
While I was adding some more pictures to my gallery a couple of weeks ago, I came across a series of lino prints that I did for a local art project in 2017, based around Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/526
Heart of Darkness begins aboard the British ship, Nellie, which is anchored in the Thames, near Gravesend. As the crew wait for the weather to clear, one of the sailors, Marlow, tells the story of the time that he travelled in a steamboat up the River Congo. He describes his shock at the European traders’ treatment of the natives and how the experience of trading in Africa changes people. He relates what he has learnt about the darkness of the human heart, and the things of which that darkness is capable.
In Chapter One, Conrad describes the scene from the ship, Nellie, looking up the river towards London.
The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman light-house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.
Several local artists, including me, provided artwork, inspired by scenes from the book. Others involved were Matt Kilda, Jane Prangnell, Mark Wrangham and Nikki Price.
Mental health is a key theme in Heat of Darkness and the show was produced in association with North Kent MIND http://northkentmind.co.uk/, with all ticket money donated to them.
If you missed it, these You Tube clips give a flavour of the event.
If you’ve read the book you’ll know that, as well as being an adventure story, Heart of Darkness is bleak. It explores thenes of greed, cruelty and humanity, and raises troubling questions about imperialism. It is said that Conrad made the book deliberately hard to read. He wanted the reader to feel as though they were fighting through the jungle, just like Marlow did in search of the desperate and deranged ivory trader Kurtz.
My pictures, all lino cuts for the project, focused mainly on the weird and the macabre in the book, plus a couple of others on a maritime theme.
As a boy, Marlow, the storyteller in Heart of Darkness, was fascinated by maps and longed to be an explorer. After several years sailing in the Pacific he returns to London, and inspired by a map of Africa and the Congo River that he sees in a shop window, he takes a job as a steamboat pilot and sets off into Africa dreaming of adventure.
But Marlow’s comparison of the river to a coiled snake is a portent of the evil he would later encounter.
But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird – a silly little bird.
Marlow soon realises that his employer, ‘the company’, is in the Congo for gain and to spread European ideals. ‘The company’ say they are ’emissaries of light’, but what Marlow sees are ‘groves of death’.
The heads on sticks appear at the end of the book and symbolise Kurtz, the ivory trader’s, excessive brutality and madness.
Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to make me throw my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing—food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.
I was interested to find out that the film Apocalypse Now was based on the Heart of Darkness, but set in the jungles of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It explores the ways in which the ‘darkness’ of Vietnam caused an apocalypse in the hearts of those sent there to fight, just as the ‘darkness’ of the Congo revealed the darkness in the hearts of the European traders.
Last weekend I did a lino cutting workshop at Northfleet Central, Northfleet Big Local’s community centre http://www.northfleetbiglocal.com/ After a short demonstration, everyone got going and produced some amazing work – see the slideshow below. Thanks to Mandy Wooding and Mandi Knight for the photographs.
Lino cutting is a type of relief printing. It developed from wood cutting, which was the main way of illustrating books before hot metal etching plates were used.
Lino (linoleum) was invented and used as a floor covering in 1863. It’s a natural product made from solidified linseed oil, pine rosin, ground cork dust, sawdust, and chalk. The name was coined by Frederick Walton who combined the Latin word for flax, ‘linum’ with the Latin word for oil, ‘oleum’.
The lino cutting technique wasn’t really used by artists until the 1900s. Some of the first examples of lino printing as art came from artists in Die Brücke, Germany, where the technique had previously been used for printing wallpaper. In 1911, ‘linoleum art’ by Vojtěch Preissig made its first appearance in a gallery in New York City.
When Picasso and Matisse used lino cutting in their work, it became an established professional print medium.
The lino cutting technique is quite simple. I start by cutting my lino squares. Because it is a natural material, if it is cold, lino can be brittle and break. So I work with two pieces at once. I sit on one to warm it up while I work with the other.
Lino is a great medium for printing because, once it is warm, it is soft, pliable and easy to cut. Also, unlike wood, it doesn’t have a grain so you can cut in all directions equally easily. Before you start to cut, sand the lino gently with a fine grade sandpaper. This helps the ink to stick and makes it easier to get a consistent result when you print.
In the UK , lino was made in Kirkcaldy, Scotland by the Nairn family. It is still used as flooring in hospitals and prisons because it is so durable and hardwearing, but it has been largely superseded in by vinyl and laminate flooring for domestic use. This means it is now quite difficult to get off-cuts to use for artwork, although there is still a major lino stockist in East London. You can, however, buy alternatives to lino in art shops. So, for example, children often learn relief printing using ‘dry point’ on thin polystyrene tiles.
Anyway, once you have your lino ready, you cut your design with sharp V- or U-shaped tools. Be careful, lino cutting is a blood sport! Remember, the uncut (raised) areas are a reverse of the image you want to print.
Next you spread a thin layer of ink on a glass plate. I use a glass chopping board from Lidl. Then, you ink up your carved lino with a roller, called a brayer, and then place it on to a sheet of paper, holding it carefully in one position. You need to press down evenly. I do this by hand, using a metal spoon, pressing it all over so I get an even print. Some people use a printing press. This YouTube video gives a good introduction.
I’ve been lino printing now for about five years – I’m not sure how long really. I like it because it is so ‘hands on’. As a teenager I was always whittling away, turning bits of wood into animals and other objects, and it’s really the tactile nature of lino printing that appeals to me. It allows you to put your ideas directly into your hands as you carve your design and, although you’ve got to concentrate, it’s relaxing because you’re not thinking too deeply, you’re just there in the moment with your design. As far as the prints go, I quite like the monochrome effect and also that sense of never quite knowing what you’re going to get when you peel that first print off the lino.