"Buste de Femme au Chapeau" by Pablo Picasso, linocut in colours, 1962, on Arches wove paper, signed in pencil, numbered 1/50, published by Galerie L. Leiris, Paris, 1963 - Source: Christie's
The linocut is one of the highest-regarded and most popular print types around today, having been beloved by historically great artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and M. C. Escher – you may have even made one at school. So, how can you pick out a linocut from the many other types of prints when you’re looking to collect them?
If you have read our previous blog on how to identify woodcuts, then you will already know many of the basic rules of linocut identification. Did you read it? Did you?
Return of the Relief
Remember: linocuts are relief prints!
A linocut is a type of relief print, and very similar to a woodcut, which means the shapes and lines cut out of the plate constitute the negative, rather than positive image of the final print.
What do we mean by that? Shapes that are cut out of the plate will show up as light in the final print, given the actual ink will have been applied to the intact, raised areas of the plate.
As the name suggests, in the case of a linocut, the plate itself is a sheet of linoleum which is a material made of rubber and linseed oil backed with hessian.
Love Me Some Lino!
What about the material itself?
Whereas woodcuts have seemingly existed since the beginning of time, with evidence of the technique used at the time of the Chinese Han dynasty, linoleum emerged as a floor covering in the later 19th century, and took until the early 20th century to begin being embraced by artists.
Linocuts therefore didn't always command the respectability that they do now, even being described as "woodcuts" at first (how rude!). But even today, it isn't always easy to tell linocuts and woodcuts apart unless there is wood grain clearly visible (these two are like sisters from other misters!).
However, with linoleum being much easier to cut than wood – particularly when heated – and the material not having the directional grain or tendency to split that wood has, a linocut lends itself better to certain artistic effects than woodcuts. The shapes and lines of woodcut prints are usually sharper and more angular than those of their linocut counterparts.
I’m Gonna Squash You Like A Bug!
Look out for the 'ink squash'
Another way to identify a linocut is to keep your eyes peeled for what is known as an 'ink squash' or 'squeeze out' (that sounds wrong), which is where the pressure of the raised areas of the printing plate against the paper causes ink to build up around the shapes or lines of the image.
Even though this is a characteristic of relief prints in general rather than just linocuts, it is still helpful in narrowing down what kind of print you are looking at.
In addition, keep look out for signs of embossing. Check out the reverse of the print and feel for signs of raised perforation and pressure. This will tell you the paper was pressed on the relief block.
Also, you should be able to see that shading on a linocut print is made by a series of cuts and not by the introduction of another ink colour.
So, to wrap it up:
- Linocuts are relief prints.
- Lino doesn’t have a directional grain and generally does not split like wood plates.
- It’s easier to obtain certain artistic effects with lino than with wood as lino is a softer material and therefore easier to cut.
- Look for the ‘ink squash’.
- Feel around for signs of embossing.
- Look closely for signs of cutting in the shaded areas.
Hopefully, the above advice will get you on your way to sussing out a linocut print from the many other print types out there. Who knows, you may even be inspired to make your own – just don’t cut up your granny’s kitchen floor for materials!
Whatever you do, we hope you have fun with your 'art sleuthing'!