The secret of my linocut base art

I get emails all the time from other printmakers and artists asking about what kind of linoleum carving material I am using. Actually, it’s no secret. It just might be hard to tell from the pictures and videos I post.

LINDA COTE-Carve ravenI have been sending out individual emails, but because I am getting so many inquiries, I thought a blog (and video) would help those who are asking.

At the bottom of this blog is my YouTube video on the subject. In the  description below the video on my YouTube channel, you’ll find links to common Canada and USA suppliers of the soft linoleum I describe here. If you are elsewhere in the world, the visuals and brand names in the video notes should help you find the products through Google.

Softoleum

My absolute favorite base carving medium for printmaking is a product called Softoleum. I live in Canmore (Alberta), but order it online from Above Ground Art Supplies in Toronto (Ontario). It comes unwrapped, so I am not 100% sure who manufactures it.

What I love about this material is that it is soft, but really dense. That means my carving tools slip less while carving. If you’ve been using a traditional (hard) linoleum, it will take a bit of getting used to because the carving tools move quickly through the material. But, it holds an amazing line, washes up nicely, and it is pretty durable because it is so dense.

LINDA COTE-Garden Grow Carve2

My blog on the making of my print ‘How Does Your Garden Grow‘ shows me using Softoleum as a base material.

Since it is made of a water-repellent material, you can wash it up and reuse it without the base art warping, like can sometimes happen with traditional linoleum. For my art cards, this is great because I wash and reprint them over time. When I am doing a multiple-layer reduction print, like my ‘Three Sisters Summer‘, I wash the ink off between layers, and the Softoleum stands up very well.

Soft Kut

LINDA COTE-Penguing Card

Soft Kut is another soft linoleum that I use. I use Soft Kut mostly for my handmade cards (the material is slightly cheaper than Softoleum), but overall, I prefer Softoleum — especially for my fine art prints. Soft Kut is really soft to carve (think eraser) so takes a little getting used to. It can also be washed up with water or canola oil, depending on whether you are using a water-based or oil-based ink. I read that solvents ruin it, though, so avoid those.

Speedball Speedy Cut (beige)

LINDA COTE-Latte CarvingSpeedball makes a decent soft linoleum, but it can ‘crumble’ slightly, so just make sure you are using really sharp carving tools. One note of caution with the Speedball beige-colored soft linoleum is that after about 2-3 years, the block dries out considerably and parts of it can harden and break off. That’s OK if you are creating a one-time use limited edition print, but I won’t use this material for something I reprint all the time.

Speedball Speedy Cut (blue)

LINDA COTE-Ski block2You may find Speedball online or in an art supply store and see that it comes in beige, blue and pink block printing material. Although which type you use will be a personal preference, I don’t really like the pink one. I do use the blue one, which is a little denser. I recently carved my ‘Rockies Ski Day‘ print on this, and I would definitely recommend trying it.

Moo Carve

I don’t mention Moo Carve in my video because I don’t use it. It is (to my mind) quite different than Softoleum, Soft Kut or the Speedball products, but it is a newer product that seems to be more widely available. I have tried it and I personally find it a little too ‘rubbery’ to carve for my art prints or cards. One thing about Moo Carve, though, is that it comes in a thicker width (1/2″ thick), which is handy if you are creating stamps because you have more surface for your fingers to hang on to.

Watch my YouTube video for a walk through these products. And, don’t forget, the links to each of these products are in the notes at the bottom of the video if you are viewing it on YouTube (rather than just viewing it on this blog).

In the near future, I’ll be covering other materials — like printmaking ink and carving tools — on this blog and on my YouTube Channel, so be sure to check back in!

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9 responses to “The secret of my linocut base art

  1. I wonder if what you call Softoleum might also be called Nasco SafetyKut? That’s what I use and I order it from ArtWorld in Victoria. Opus has it too but ArtWorld will cut you custom sizes. It’s as you describe, quite dense, holds fine lines very well. One side is very smooth and the other one has a tiny bit of texture. When I carve it, it looks almost like there are very small bits of something sand-like scattered throughout, but I don’t feel that with the carving tool (I use the regular Speedball tool too).

    • Hi Sophie. Yes, that definitely sounds like the material! I had someone in the US track it down from a Nasco teacher’s supply store, too, there. It’s funny how it has different names depending on the art store! Thanks for the lead on Victoria. I will definitely check that out, too!

  2. Pingback: Tips for beginning printmakers | Musings From The Studio·

  3. On the Above Ground Art Supplies site it says Softoleum can be carved on both sides. Did you ever try that? I am new to printmaking, thanks for a great blog! 🙂

    • Hi Therese, you can carve both sides, but check the softoleum carefully if you buy it and you will see that one side is completely smooth and one side has a bit of texture to it. Since I prefer the smooth side for solid ink coverage, that’s the side I use almost exclusively. Sometimes, also, the pieces aren’t that thick and my cuts can be a bit deep, so I only use the one side so I don’t go right through the Lino. If you want something where you can carve both sides, try the Moo Carve as it is a lot thicker and both sides have an equal smoothness. Not as good a product for my fine work, but Moo Carve can be great for someone just starting out. Glad you are enjoying the blog!

  4. I would love to know what inks you can use with the softoleum or safety cut? I also wonder if it would hold up to a platen press for printing?? I love to cut with the few pieces I’ve found, but am not sure if I will be able to print them on my press, it’s a Kelsey 5×8 that I am setting up. I, sadly, am allergic to linoleum, it breaks my heart and gives me horrible breathing problems, so this is a great alternative for me, but really would love to set it up in my press to print eventually

    • Hi Heidi, I use an oil-based printmaking ink called “Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink” available through most art stores that carry printmaking inks. I have no experience printing the softlinoleum base on a press (all my work is done by hand without a press) so I’m afraid I can’t help you there. The best thing to do might be to try it? If it doesn’t work, you could always pull hand prints? I know the love of a press, so understand wanting to use this method, but it’s just not one I’m familiar with. You might also try joining/asking a Facebook group available called “Linocut Friends” if you are on Facebook. You request to join, but then can post any question to printmakers around the world. Very helpful. Here is also a link to my blog that goes into more detail on the inks I use:
      https://lindacotestudio.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/the-printmaking-ink-i-love/
      Best of luck!

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