When I was in gradeschool (I'm Canadian, that's ages approx 6-14) it was normal for the teacher to write the date in full across the top right of their chalkboard. Most teachers at this time were writing in cursive which presented some compelling aesthetics to young Brianna. I would pay careful attention to how each teacher formed their letters. This was my first study in personal style.
I can distinctly remember "borrowing" handwritten fonts from other people to try them out. It took me a while to settle on a lowercase "e" that has no point on the leading edge in either printing or cursive. I briefly tried out "a" the way it's depicted here in railway font, but reverted to the simpler and faster "o" with a line beside it. I still feel like I don't know how to write a capital "T" in cursive, despite the fact that it's the first letter of my own last name. Reading and writing cursive may in fact be completely about context. But I digress.
This post is supposed to be about linocut artists, right? I've rambled on about borrowing other people's handwritten font styles because I've found the same thing happening in the linocut circles on Instagram. I get a little obsessed with how @karin_rytter_studio renders tiny faces, or how @lino_squirrel uses layers, or @agata_derda's powerful metaphors and I borrow a little piece (a single letter, if you will) to try out in my own work. If it works for me, I assimilate it into my personal style. This is a really important aspect of developing personal style (the one that comes from our brains, not our hands).
I've compiled a list of 8 amazing linocut artists that I follow on instagram, and I've included a little blurb with each about the thing I've borrowed, or want to borrow from them in the future.
Karin Rytter does a lot of figurative work which means a lot of tiny faces. I love the way she breaks them down to their most essential areas of light, dark, and middle-tone (which she renders with fine paralell lines - gamechanger) but they all still retain individualism and expression! She says that she always carves the face first. Often she doesn't even finish drawing the rest of the image until she has the face done, because if she doesn't nail the face, it isn't worth it to finish the carving. My instinct is to start with something easier but Karin's way definitely has merit.
Anya Barabanova is an artist who often works with mythological and fairy tale subject matter, and she uses her lino layers in a very painterly way. I could sit with one of her images for ages, trying to puzzle out which areas are layered over which, and how did she do that part! She employs a great deal of selective inking, where she uses small brayers to ink up different areas in different colours. It's something I have only dabbled in, but will continue to practise! In the image above "Magic Forest" I love Anya's use of light green to highlight the bear's fur, as well as to push a lot of the trees back with a foggy atmospheric perspective.
Okay, so... Latoya Hobbs is woodcut/mixed media artist but I am so inspired by her work as a linocut artist, that I thought it fair to include her! Latoya's final artwork is often not the impression, but the actual wood-block. In the image above, you can see the fine hatching marks used to render skin-tone are carved and the rest of the image is painted or stamped. She also uses pattern to excellent effect. Relief printmaking techniques don't always have to result in a signed edition of identical prints! Let's push the boundaries a little!
Kathleen Neeley is the master of the shaped block, as far as I am concerned. There are others who work outside of the rectangular frame but rarely does it feel as necessary, as perfectly integrated as when Kathleen does it. Her use of "chatter" here (the specks of ink that pick up on roughly cleared areas) to create the bubble, to imply that the atmosphere of this space is limited, is so satisfying. If you've read How to Draw for Linocut Printmaking, there is a bit in the middle where I talk about 1/3 dark to 2/3 light or vice versa. That is being illustrated perfectly here, with everything above water as 2/3 light and everything below water as 2/3 dark. It makes the image really straightforward to read. Thanks, I love it.
Christa Carleton is another woodcut artist but I'm including her because I believe that her work would be equally effective if it were rendered in lino. Also, it's excellent. If you're a letterpress-lino printer like myself, you might look at this and think, aha! I could use type to mimic this effect! But if you look closer you'll notice that the letters have all been carefully carved out of the background. Very neatly. Christa combines text and image in an effective way, certainly, but I think it's also important to note that her text is clever, even poetic, and her renderings of women are sensitive and honest. Bravo.
Agata Derda is a linocut artist who ingeniously incorporates inkjet printing into her works. She has a complex process of carving, printing, stretching, pasting, printing, soaking, drying that even though I have witnessed most of it in person, I would be hard-pressed to duplicate. Her use of rice-paste as resist was actually my inspiration for executing Conversations with the Ocean.
Agata's subject matter is hard for me to think about objectively because it's so emotionally impactful. This one is called "One Trick Pony" and even though it's a still image you can feel the spring, the impact. She also inspires me to write better titles! I am actually the proud owner of this print. It is 48 x 31" and it hangs above the everything table (eating, writing, bookbinding, carving...) in my home. Agata generously traded with me before we left Toronto and I am still somewhat in awe of it.
Morgan Pinnock's relatively new linocut practice has completely charmed me. Her prints often depict "traditional" activites like quilting, and jumping over a bonfire hand-in-hand. Morgan is also a weaver, and you can see an appreciation for texture in the variety of cloth demonstrated in the print above. In "Quilting Bee" I particularly love that there is no "main character" that the attention given to each figure reflects a necessity for community. I can practically hear the multiple conversations happening, feel the closeness. This is a good print for covid times.
Olesya Dzhurayeva is probably the closest there is to photographic realism in linocut but her work is also super expressive. Her shadows and figures have such a dynamic quality and you can really feel how sunny, how cold this day is. Her work feels like the artwork I desperately wanted to be able to do a few years ago and although I'm less likely to make something like this now, I'm glad someone is!
A Creative Practice Open Source Network
Whether you're learning to communicate your personality through cursive or developing an art style that matches your identity, looking at the work of others is essential. It's important to figure out what you like and why you like it. The opposite is also important but I'm not comfortable writing a list of artists whose work I dislike and why, (ha).
I think what's really amazing about artists on social media is that so many of us have incorporated instruction into our sharing. By being so transparent about what we're doing and how we're doing it, we're building a kind of creative-practice open source network. We're lifting each other up so that collectively, we can all reach new levels of excellence. I love my linocut and letterpress pals on instagram and I would LOVE to keep this list going! Use the hashtag
in a post or story about your favourite linocut artist and I'll collect the list to add here (remember, I can only see your stories if you also tag me @penrosepress.ca in them!).
The Continued List: