Monday, January 22, 2018

Analysis of a Watson Lino Print

Ernest Watson created this linoleum block print called "Mousehole in Cornwall."

As you look at the image, can you guess how many plates he used, and in what order they were printed?

Answers below (scroll down):

There are four plates. Fortunately, Mr. Watson isolated them for us.

1. He starts with a pale yellow shape under the entire silhouette of the buildings. The yellow was probably not quite as dark as it appears below.

2. A graded blue-green plate goes under the large areas of the sky and water. A few of the birds are cut out to the white of the paper, and he has also cut out some sparkles in the water.

3. A plate for the shadows of the buildings. These shadows overlay the initial pale yellow run. This plate is inked unevenly to give it texture and to make some of the birds darker.

4. Finally, a dark blue-green key plate provides the windows, ropes, wavelets, and details of the figure.

Watson was able to multiply the effect of each of plates 2 and 3 by inking them with more than a single color. He said: "It is quite possible to 'paint' rather freely with the rollers in this manner, producing an infinite variety of gradations of hues."

Quiet Anchorage, lino cut by Ernest Watson.
This sequential thinking is similar to the way watercolor and gouache painters typically plan a picture, painting large color areas first, and adding the details later.
Online article by Ernest Watson: "Color Printing from Relief Blocks"
Books by Ernest Watson: 
Image: courtesy, which has more samples of his prints. Thanks, Thomas Watson for building the website.
Previous Posts:
The El Dorado Page (pencil drawings by Watson)
American Artist (1937-2012) (Watson was co-founder of the magazine)


David Webb said...

These are very impressive. I remember doing linocuts at school, and you're thinking in reverse really, as every piece you cut away is a part of the picture that will not be printed.
Another artist I particularly like, who also specialised in this medium, is Norbertine Bresslern-Roth. She was born in Austria, in the 19th century, and created many brilliant linocuts of animal subjects.

Glenn Tait said...

In offset commercial printing you can achieve a two colour look in a one colour press. It's called a Split Fountain. In the ink fountain instead of filling it wilth a single colour you fill half with one coloured ink and the other half with a second colour. As it prints you have two colours on the sheet. Where the colours merge in the centre, a third colour is produced by them mixing together. Using a Pantone equivalent of burnt sienna and ultra blue ink you could get some interesting effects almost like a David Grove illustration.

James Gurney said...

David, thanks for letting me know about Norbertine Bresslern-Roth. Lots of good things came up on Google and Pinterest searches, including some reduction linocuts.

Glenn, I didn't know you could do that. Can you link to examples?

Sheridan said...

You can also increase the number of colors by overlaying transparent colors over opaque color and not overlaying in other areas..

James Gurney said...

Sheridan, yes, and in Watson's case, he liked to overlay some of the colors when they were still wet, which led to even more ways they could interact.

Steve said...

Thanks, Jim, for making this connection between relief printing and watercolor painting. I hadn't quite thought of them in these terms before. There are some important similarities. I think one of the main differences has to do with the transparency of many inks used in printing. You have more freedom in alternating dark over light or light over dark, depending on the opacity or transparency of the inks. In that regard, it more resembles working in gouache. Still, the degree of pre-planning is really more similar to carefully executed watercolor.

I know she's already been cited here recently more than once, but Sherrie York's occasional blog, Brush and Baren (, has many posts documenting works in progress in which she chronicles the stages of her prints. She's charmingly open and unpretentious about "mistakes" and unexpected results along the way -- and what she did to rectify them.

Glenn Tait said...

Here is a link I found that has some good examples as well as talking about the Split Fountain process:

Glenn Tait said...

Found a short YouTube video that shows the Split Fountain process from inking up to the press approval, though as someone who has done may press approvals over the years, that is the fastest one I have ever seen.