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15 August 2016

10 top tips guaranteed to improve your artistic composition


"The first 9 tips were amazing, but the 10th blew my mind!" 

Don't you just hate cynical blog posts that promise so much and then deliver so little!

We both know that there are no rules that guarantee better artistic composition. Where would the fun be in that?

Regular readers will have twigged to the fact that I have become obsessed with lino-cutting in the past month or so. It's literally all I think about at the moment. Ha ha. Such are the burdens of madness. In trying to learn this new skill it's made me think about all manner of things. I'm going to share some of my thoughts with you right now...


I was inspired to try my hand at lino-cutting after seeing some fantastic artwork in a book I bought recently by Roger Butler called "Melbourne Woodcuts and Linocuts of the 1920's and 1930's". The 20s and 30s seems to have been a magical time for lino-cut and there are a number of names of this era that are sticking out for me. One in particular is Claude Flight. I won't talk too much about Claude right now, but see this screenshot from wikipedia; I've been intrigued by a certain phrase in there:

"Linoleum cut technique - the potentiality of a truly democratic art form"

What on earth is this meant to mean?

Perhaps this is a reference to how accessible lino-cutting is to the masses being relatively cheap to get up and running? Perhaps it is a reference to the fact that lino-prints can be mass-produced and everybody can have their own personal copy? I forget where I read it, but I recall an assertion that lino-prints should be cheap to buy because they are cheap to make. Perhaps it is about cost? Perhaps it a reference to the hard-arsed guerrilla artists that practice this grave and nimble craft, who smash down the class divides on a daily basis and laugh in the face of Bourgeoisie convention? :-)

Perhaps it is all of these things?

Whatever it means, I love it and I am inspired!


"Lino-cut is everywhere... if you want it to be" ~ King Uke

I paid a flying visit to the Lakes this weekend and was delighted to see that the place I was stopping had embraced lino-cut. See this wonderful logo for the Kings Arms based right at the centre of beautiful Hawkshead. The place was jam-packed to the rafters with dogs and Aussies doing their OE (neither of which I have a problem with in the slightest). Fanstastic!

I'm wondering now whether this is lino-cut or wood-cut? For the purpose of this blog-post, let's call it lino-cut. It looks like a lino-cut print to me and this is all that matters! ;-)


I know that this isn't lino-cut, but you're forgetting what I just told you: EVERYTHING is lino-cut... if you want it to be.

Oh dear, I've made the mistake of looking at my photos from my visit to the Lakes...

Lino-cut is what is often referred to as a "relief" printing technique, referring to the fact that you need to cut away the bits of the picture you don't want, to create a relief. By carefully hollowing out of the empty space, you're left with bits that stand proud. These are the bits you ink and finally make the print with. Easy!

This duck block uses much the same idea, only I think you are meant to lay your paper over the top and then you gently run a pencil, crayon or chalk over it to produce a relief outline. This is art too... don't let anyone tell you otherwise!


I often find myself drawn to churchyards, not because I am a religious man, but because I am fascinated by the artwork that can be found hidden away on the walls of churches or on crumbling tombstones. This too is lino-cut... if you want it to be.

I can't look at Celtic knot-work without wondering what secrets are hidden away in the designs. Lovely!


Hold on! I've just discovered that Gravestone Rubbing is a thing!

Perhaps I can combine a couple of passions in one activity? Ha ha. Don't tempt me. 



Another form of relief printing is "letterpress" printing. This was how books were printed in the old days; In letterpress printing, blocks of letters are arranged on a page to produce words and sentences. This in itself is considered an art-form. Putting aside the logistics of the actual printing part of the process, there are guidelines on page composition and even techniques to aid in the building of pages.

I love this snippet from a letterpress hints and tips book whose name I can't track drown at the moment. I think you can tell from the quaint wording that it is old. It was the statement: "A still tongue makes a full stick," that first caught my eye. The stick being referred to is the composers stick where lines of letters are made before being transferred to the page. I can only imagine how difficult this is to get right consistently... all those little letters... reversed images. I struggle to get my words right just typing this blog up!

BTW - did you spot the typo in the picture? The original author will be spinning in their grave! :-O

The lesson here is obviously: Good habits are good... Bad habits are bad... or am I oversimplifying things here?


I guess it's about time that I showed you one of my lino-cuts.

Check out something I knocked together last weekend. This is the one-eyed king... the King of Diamonds, sporting Kudi Tranchang in Balinese magical splendour.

I'm really pleased with the grain I achieved on the ink. I'm discovering that there is a real skill to getting the final printing right. I have a tendency to use too much ink, but this one is spot on!


Here I am reprinting a couple of my pictures. I want to try framing one to see what they look like in frames. 


I've been reading some great posts on "negative space" recently. It's not something that I have consciously been paying too much attention to, although I can see now that it is something that I have been using for some time in my own pictures. Get the negative space right and everything else will follow... or so the experts say.

In truth Negative Space is a difficult thing to explain. I'm not sure I'm able to properly describe what it is and I've read loads on it. Put simply it is that space that surrounds your subject. I've used it at times to help me to simplify my pictures. The mind has a wonderful ability to fill in gaps. Negative space allows you to hint at detail that just isn't there. It's a kind of magic! Woohoo!


Here are a few words on negative space by John Suler. I feel a little bit like Grasshopper reading this account. I love the quote at the end. I couldn't put it better if I tried. Well done John!


Okay, I'd better bring this mammoth tribute to lino-cut to a close.

I told you that I was struggling to get the detail I wanted with the big fat gouges I was using. I wondered if I could maybe pinch them smaller. It's a delicate operation, but I can report back that it is indeed possible to do this, though I snapped a couple in the process. I'm getting a finer cut, but even pinched gouges are a pretty rough tool.

Here I am experimenting with a sort of textured background. I noticed that the background was showing through in some of my earlier prints and I wondered what it would look like if I did it on purpose. Okay I guess. I'm not sure this is the best technique for this particular picture, but I reckon it has potential.


Inspiration is everywhere!

I'll just plonk this here for you. Oh wow! 



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