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9 April 2017

A Scarab in the Geometry

My last post was all about mind-blowing Progressive Metal in the form of a new album by Hologram Earth called "Black Cell Program". Did I mention how much I love that album? In many ways BCP has become the soundtrack for my latest lino-cutting project. This was the music I was listening to as I pulled off some test prints yesterday. The two will forever be linked. Beautiful.

But what is my latest lino-cutting project? Read on...


This is the cover to "Black Cell Program". It's a design by Jasper Kloosterboer. I've taken this picture at a gawkish angle to confuse you, but let me describe it... Flat on, the picture fills a roughly squarish space. I can see distortion in the construction. There are what looks to be branches... a sort of organic touch and then lots of what appears to be stretched images that have a strange geometric feel to them. It's a jumble of lines and shapes, like an explosion! I'm quite taken by it. By some weird coincidence, my latest project explores some of these ideas. Jasper and I are on the same track... only coming at it from completely different angles.

Reading about Jasper on his site I am quite taken by this quote: "Constantly learning and experimenting he approaches design in a systematic way, crafting his own tools to overcome boundaries."

Jasper is battling #geometry with his own weapons.

I too am knee deep in this self, same battle and my weapon of choice is linocutting! ;-)


One of the things I love about lino-cutting is that it forces me to simplify my thinking. Working at the small scale that I do, there is only so much detail that my cutter and failing eyes will allow me to reveal. Making the above "Death of Skills" design pushed the boundaries and got me wondering whether it is time to go the other way. Can I do something simple. Can I push lino-cutting in other directions?


See what I stumbled across on eBay the other day: a set of postcards that are available to buy from bigglesmcguinnessvintage. I find the cards strangely compelling. I think that the colours are inspired, but the thing that grabs me is the simplicity of the idea.

I've always been a fan of #geometry and black and white (or two-tone) design. What is different here is the introduction of almost a third colour in the form of the shaded effect. It's achieving a sort of shadow on the pyramids. Do you see pyramids or just triangles? That simple technique of adding in the lines has opened up this design for me. We're in that awkward place between 2D and 3D. I love it!

Furthermore, these prints have been created from lino-cuts in the sort of size that I like working in. Surely, this has to be a signal from the Gods!

I studied the design above and after a while the revelation hit me that although this is at face value a picture of triangles, it is also a picture of squares. This is important! Squares are the building blocks of repeating designs like this. Can you see them? Each card is made up of 4 squares along the width and 6 along the length. It takes a while to spot it as each square is made up of 4 triangles that side-by-side create larger triangles. For me the triangle instinctively draws my attention more than the square. I needed to look for the squares. But I spotted them!


I can't remember if I blogged about a book I bought called "Low Tech Print" by Casper Williamson. It's a great read, showcasing a range of artists who are printing in many different ways. There is some inspirational stuff hidden away inside both in terms of design and technique. Get yourself a copy and give it a read.

As I spotted the squares in the pyramid design above a memory triggered of something I had seen in Low Tech Print. Ken Borg has produced simple geometric relief prints using a technique of assembled blocks. I've seen it done elsewhere (even with things like Lego blocks) where people create patterns using whatever they can lay their hands on and get a print off them.

The difference here is that Ken has cut his blocks especially for his project. He has made his own weapons! Ken's blocks are wooden. They've been "lasercut" for precision and finished by hand.

I like the idea and seriously considered going down this route for my project, but in the end I wavered and decided to stick true to my lino-cutting roots. Could I do something similar with linoleum? There would be only one way to find out!


After much deliberation (and a little nervousness) I finally took the plunge and set to work cutting lino blocks. See here that I am starting with a version of the pyramid design that originally inspired me. Thanks and credit to biggles for this.

Knowing full well that I could never achieve the precision that Ken does, I chopped up some larger lino with a stanley knife and set to work cutting the pattern.

A few words on the design...

It turns out that the pyramid design can be achieved through the use of two block patterns which I've been calling "A" and "B". Half the blocks are of type A and half are of type B. If you put them together in the right formation then you get the pyramid design. If you organise them slightly differently then you come up with other designs. I think you can guess where I'm going with this ;-)


There will be no prizes for the photography, but I wanted to quickly show you what I ended up with in terms of the blocks. It was just as difficult as I predicted it would be to cut them out... difficult and boring! The hardest parts were the "shaded" lines, especially where these reached the edge of the block. I could tell as I worked through the stack that there were all sorts of imperfections in what I was doing, starting with the fact that none of the blocks are exactly square. Try as I might, I struggled to cut the same thing over, again and again.

This wouldn't matter, I convinced myself; The whole charm of lino-cut is the home-made feel. All these little imperfections would add up to something magic. Or at least, this is what I told myself ;-)

Can you see the glitch above? Can you see the bug in the design... The Scarab in the Geometry?  Patterns are all well and good, but I wanted to add a little bit of me in there. A bit like Robert Thompson - the Mouseman of Kilburn - I wanted to leave a breadtrail. I cut a scarab block to sneak in there while nobody is looking.


Here I am "breadboarding" my first print. It actually fits together quite well. I started to grow in confidence. But would it print well? The combined blocks are a shade under 4 by 6 inches. This arrangement is simply columns of the same type block side-by-side. 


My next challenge was to mount the blocks. I ended up sticking them to a flat board with double-sided tape as you can see above.

Getting a print was a challenge. Due to the fact that all the blocks don't quite sit flat, I found it difficult to get a good layer of ink and just as difficult to get the paper pressed. I resorted to a lot of pressing with my fingers and the end result is a little bit cruder than I've achieved with single block cuts. 


Here is it! Arrangement 1.

It's not dry in the picture, but you get a feel for the art of the possible. I love it! Even before I took the print I was imagining different arrangements of the tiles and even considering other block designs that could be done. Then, how about if I started combining blocks from different design sets! The possibilities are endless. I haven't got that far (yet), but here are a couple of different arrangements to whet your appetite... 


Arrangement 2

I've swapped the orientation.


Arrangement 3. I really buggered up this run by putting far too much ink on the first print. This was the best of a bad bunch.

This is my daughter's design. It makes me think of bamboo for some reason. I think it has an Eastern charm to it.

Remember that these were all created from the same set of blocks.

Amazing #geometry!

Ha ha. There you go. No posts for ages and then two at once!

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