Saturday, 24 March 2012

Etching Linoleum with Caustic Soda

Lino  Intaglio + etch with caustic soda

Isn't this gorgeous's by Jo Sculthorp who keeps a blog called the green room - check her out she's an interesting artist.  It's lino printed relief and she has used lots of caustic soda.

If you decide to use caustic soda on linoleum - then you need to get all the materials organised and prepared keeping in mind that caustic soda is dangerous stuff.
Having said that I don't want to put you off using it.   You just need to be sensible.

Items / Implements You will need


Rubber gloves

Maybe some eye goggles in case of splashes

Old newspaper to protect your surfaces

protective apron

  artwork by Steve Edwards - its a relief print but
 I just love what he has done with the caustic soda


Caustic Soda Granules

Wallpaper paste flakes

A glass container  such as a jam jar or similar to mix the caustic in.

A stick or old wooden spoon to stir the caustic soda mix

A Tea spoon and a Tablespoon  for measuring.

Cold water

You will need a lid  too, to seal it  if there is any leftover.  I can not remember how long this stuff keeps but I seem to have the impression that it does actually keep for  a long time.  We had some at the print workshop I go to (FDPW in Dunfermline) and Bill (our technician)  says he made it years ago - it still works !!

To Create Your Mix

Take your glass container and fill it one third full of water.  
Into that  sprinkle two teaspoons of the dry wallpaper paste flakes.
Mix this together and leave it aside for five minutes, during which time it will  thicken up.

Put two teaspoons of caustic soda granules into this mix and then  stir it with a wooden spoon or  stick. ( don't use metal !!)

The mixture will get warm but don't worry - this is just the caustic soda reacting with the water/paste.
I think its a good idea to get a pencil or biro and write a label to stick on the jar .e.g.,
"2 tablespoons caustic soda and 2 teaspoons wallpaper paste"
 also put the date.  The mix is  ready for you to use on your linoleum.

Of course before you apply the caustic soda mix to your lino plate you will need to consider if you want to first apply some 'resist' onto the plate.


I have to add here that I came across some old book where the person had made a walled off area on a lino plate using putty or modelling clay so I guess you could do that too - I haven't done that myself so don't know about the 'ins and outs' of that approach.

I have also heard that you can use sellotape and parcel packing tape.  Actually I did a little test area on a small piece of old lino and used the shiny buff coloured packing tape and made a hole in the middle of it.  I put some caustic mix on it and it worked the area covered by the tape remained unaffected.  You can remove the parcel tape by slowly pulling it off or one time I removed it using acetone or nail varnish remover or it may have been methylated spirits.

I have mainly used wax crayon as a resist and also scratch into it. I can sharpen a kids wax crayon to a very fine point and do fine lines or I can cover a large area and then scratch into that for the caustic soda mix to etch into.

 I like this method because I can remove the wax crayon later on by scraping it away gently.  If there's still a small amount left then this can be removed by placing  brown paper over the surface of the lino, placing  a heated clothes-iron on top of it, not too hot though.

Iona Johnson - Australian artist (she doesn't have  a website)       Lino etch

Etching ground (bitumen based)

You can also use the old fashioned dark brown (syrup like consistency) as a resist - I tend to stay a way from it because of the need to use white spirit or similar to remove it.  I am highly sensitive to the fumes from it (it makes me feel really ill).

TIMING - 1 hour max

The caustic soda  mix achieves its maximum etching effect on the lino surface  after one hour.  No point in leaving it on longer than that. You might like to do a strip test and do a band of say 6 areas to/  get 6 different tones.

Wash the caustic mix from the plate under a hot tap using an old  dish (washing-up) brush or toothbrush to clean the surface thoroughly.

You can create a good range of tones by using acrylic hard ground and caustic soda combined 

Bear in mind that by using the caustic soda to create darker tones than the natural tone of the lino surface when you wipe it with ink (as you would e.g.,  an etching or dry point)

in combination with Lascaux Acrylic etch hard ground ( which you can dilute to different strengths)
as well as the lines you make in the linoleum itself - I use a  "cheap-ish" etching needle which they sell for students to use.  They have a long wooden handle and sharp pointed metal tip.  I have also used a triangular-shaped plate scraping tool.   It has a nice pointy tip - you just need to wrap some tissue paper around the shaft,  to protect your fingers as you are holding/ using  it.

          Iona Johnson       lino etch (details as above)

Here is a link to the post I wrote re. the print edition,  I made for the Dundee Contemporary Arts, print studio portfolio exchange -  using lino and caustic soda with the Lascaux Acrylic hard ground.  I diluted to about 3 strengths.  `one part water to 3 parts LAHG, 2 parts  water to 2 parts LAHG and finally 3 parts water to 1 part LAHG.

The Lascaux acrylic Hard Ground is available to buy at Intaglio printmakers suppliers in London.
It isn't cheap - but it is such a versatile and useful product.  You can use it in a collagraph fashion on  a metal plate to 'edit' your plate.  Of course you can also use it for collagraph making, in itself.

Raised text using etching...........more tests

Initially I tried to get the raised text effect using aluminium, zinc and steel but none of them worked.  I was using copper sulphate as the mordant.

sharpie marker on zinc etched in copper sulphate

I did proofs of the plates,  only yesterday - I had not bothered to do them after I finished etching the plates  because I could see that if I rolled ink across them I would get the background area as well as the handwriting.  Which of course wasn't what I wanted.  As can be gleaned from reading the previous post I wanted to be able to offset the text to acetate to then work on (a la monotype) and to be able create figurative imagery by additive or subtractive means.

Just thought I would see how they looked.  I quite like the larger of these which is done on steel.  I wrote the handwriting on the plates using a sharpie marker - to act as a resist.  I used the same ink mix on these - its funny how different the colour looks?!

Polymer Stamp Making Machine

I have been finally having success with my imagebox polymer stamp making machine.  When I first had delivery of it about 2 or 3 years ago.  I went through the process of making a stamp and it was a 'flop'.  So I thought OMG its not that easy and I was working on other printmaking projects and thought bah....I will have another attempt another time.
Fast forward to now where I find myself in a situation where I need plates of raised handwritten text to offset to acetate and then work up further to create monoprints
                   *    initial tests of A7 polymer stamps - offset on acetate - monotyped

So I had a go at the weekend taking great care to get dense black and white negatives and made sure I adhered strictly to the instructions.  AND it worked.
Last night I tried another one trial plate and it worked well - probably even better than the first one. I did make the writing bigger and fatter and I found I got the best negative for my stamp making procedure through doing the handwriting on the computer screen itself using a Photoshop virtual pencil.  Not the greatest 'ergonomic' experience as such but you kind of get used to it after a while. .

Here's a photo of my first test * - which looks awful in one sense but for me its a successful out come and I am able to proceed with my idea without having to spend hours and hours of back breaking neck aching carving of a lino plate - which I started last week.  I will finish that sometime but who knows when.  I was finding that my hands were truly aching after I cut away the lino of about 20 words and with 6 plates to create - life's too short and my hands are too precious!!

First A4 Polymer Stamp attempt

I had of course initially endeavoured to get the raised text by etching using aluminium then steel then zinc but time after time it just wasn't happening.  I was using the salt etch mordant i.e., copper sulphate which some might think would be a 'cinch' but you must be kidding it was like trying to get blood from a stone.

I wrote the above as a 'draft' post about 6 weeks ago.  Those polymer stamps I made using the Imagebox machine were A7 size - which is pretty small. 

 Second A4 Polymer Stamp attempt

Since that time I have been attempting to make an A4 polymer stamp and its been a lot of disappointment and frustration.  I have four A4 failed polymer stamps to show for it.  

I am hoping that the next one will be the one that comes out well.
I suppose at least they have improved.  The only thing that's missing from them is they don't have a floor.  The raised text is there but the poor little letters don't have a ground to cling on to.  Some of them even tried to escape down the sink plughole when I was washing out the 'gunge' from the polymer stamps.
Pretty boring post but that's an aspect of printmaking sometimes - trying to make something work !!


My A4 polymer stamp has worked - I used 1  minute for the first exposure phase which creates the 'floor' of the polymer stamp.
Then I flipped it over and let it settle down (the polymer sachet) for another minute,
Then as Sally ( at Photocentric) suggested - I did the next phase, i.e., the image exposure for 14 minutes.
This stamp has a floor which is excellent because that way the handwriting has something to grip onto.

I am so so so PLEASED !!!!........I got there in the end. HOORAY !!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Junior Printmaker number 1 (2012)


This young lady 'Birta Clara’ looks a bit sleepy or tired - I can't remember what the situation actually was although I do remember that it had taken me a while to ink up her plate with her although her mother was also helping in the task.  
Birta stayed in our house during the summer along with her sister 'Erna Carry' and their mum Birna my old buddy from the time when I was doing my masters degree, in Barcelona.    We had a lovely time and the girls were very good house guests and spent hours just playing with one another in their own little world.  They would either be upstairs in their bedroom or in the back garden - the weather was lovely during the summer and some days we sat out in the sunshine and one day even filled up the old garden plastic pond with water for them to splash around in.  Jo Arksey another friend from the 'Barcelona days',  came over to lunch with us that day too.
They would often ask if it was OK for them to go into the studio to do some drawing.  Then they would work industriously for a few hours just quietly getting on with it themselves.  I would pop in now and again and talk to them about their artwork.
Birta is still at the stage where she just draws whatever she likes and creates a world filled with all sorts of creatures and locations that link to her dreams and schemes.  Her older sister, another beauty, made drawings about her friends and their clothes and parties and fun things she liked like houses and roller-skating.  It is regrettable that she was very self critical of her own artwork and was quick to rubbish it and that in part was why she didn’t end up making a print using the ready made drypoint card as she wasn’t happy with her preliminary drawing.
They enjoyed being with our pussy cats too especially Toby as he used to be there most of the time.  Those were the final days that he was still in good health.  Even after all this time - I still miss him - dear sweet fellow.