Cutting Linoleum (Sb)

I’ve been on the road and otherwise occupied with sundry things during the month of July, but I’m back and getting back to work.

One of the first things I did was to drag out the old stack of golden linoleum I had at the back of the studio. I ordered some in bulk when I bought my etching press two years ago.

Common ‘battleship gray’ linoleum ages relatively quickly, and can harden over the course of six months, leaving a brittle crust on the surface which is hard to carve. Regular linoleum is made to do that because it is a floor covering. After an initial softness, making it easy to lay down, it hardens to resist damage and wear.

This makes it great for printing plates, as it will age to a harder surface after it has been carved. But you can’t really store it for very long.

Dick Blick sells two kinds of linoleum made for the art industry. Wonder-cut, which is their softest version with the longest hardening time, and Golden which is between the harder gray and the softer Wonder-cut for shelf life.

Why not buy Wonder-cut? If you are going to shelve the materials for an undetermined amount of time, such as a school classroom, it is fantastic. It will remain soft for much longer. But if you are going to use it within a year or two, remember that it won’t harden for you either. Your plates will remain soft and liable to be damaged easily.

I meant to use the linoleum within a year, so I bought large sheets of Golden which matched the maximum width printed with my etching press. Thus I could cut it down to odd sizes if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I did not use it immediately, and I was initially unsure as to its current condition.

Luckily, though the top sheet was exposed to air and light, and not soft, the other sheets, which were wrapped in plastic and protected from UV light are still nice.

Judicious application of heat increases the softness of the linoleum as well. I use an old shrink wrap gun, much like a heavy duty hair dryer, to apply heat to areas of the block. A hair dryer would probably work too, or a small heater like they use to apply embossing powders to inks. Laying the block in hot sunlight, on a radiator or on a warm electric griddle for short time works as well. I put it on my car hood once, in August. Worked great.

Clothing irons or things which would apply heat on contact would probably not work as well, as the linoleum gets sticky if it is too hot. Don’t heat it too much or you will have a hard time touching or working with it.



Scottish Boobrie (Sb)

Scotland has a vast array of fairy beasts for me to sort through to make a single selection. I decided on the Boobrie, to add some variety to my choices. There are a lot of water creatures in Scottish fairy lore, reflecting the culture of a land with vast stretches of coastline and a large number of islands.

The Boobrie is a monstrous bird, described by sources as having the shape of a Great Northern Diver, (or Loon in the U.S.) with large, clawed feet. Some sources describe it as only a foot tall, while others state that the prints of its webbed feet are as broad as the span of a stag’s antlers.

It is said to haunt the fresh waters of Scotland, and also described as stealing livestock from the cattle boats that move between the islands and Scottish mainland.

Sources seem to agree that the beast enjoys both fresh and roasted meat. It is often associated with the ‘each uisge’ or waterhorse, and some sources state that it is, in fact, another shape used by the waterhorse.

The Boobrie has been included in ‘natural histories’ of the British Isles up through the mid-1800’s. This supports my roommate’s theory that natives of the rural areas of the Isles enjoyed passing along tales of amazing sorts to the wandering scholars and linguists of the Victorian era.

There is a description in John G. McKay’s “More West Highland Tales” of a man whose child was taken by the Each Uisage, and his revenge. This consisted of heating a set of giant hooks until they were red hot, and luring the beastie to the shore with the smell of roasting sheep. The hooks were plunged into the sides of the monster, keeping it from escaping, and by morning there was nothing left but large quantities of slimy jelly on the shore.


I’m hoping to work up a woodcut plate for this piece, keeping the design simple and bold. I”ve done a sketch for the plate, using stylized Celtic elements rather than realism.


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