Nearly everything I buy comes from the internet; the village has a couple of food shops, but that's it for anything useful to me; I don't drive and what buses there are, are infrequent, expensive and take a long time to get from A to B. Buying something like good paper, which really needs handling, is a problem.
However, handily, there is a brilliant paper merchant Paper Resources, literally just down the road from us. So in search of some really nice papers, I popped in to see them. Unlike a lot of paper suppliers, they are more than pleased to sell small amounts to individuals and the choice is fantastic; hence I emerged with a decent amount of gorgeous smooth, specialist papers, for about ten UK pounds, all handpicked by the merchant and myself, with much deliberation, including a wodge of hard-to-find Mohawk paper from the USA. Happiness!
So commenced another round of remembering how to print. Lino printing seems to be a bit of an ugly duckling in the art world - not regarded as sophisticated as etching, more akin to stamping or potato printing. However, there is a bit more to it than that. For a start, to get a really good, smooth print, the ink has to be rolled just so, the paper chosen to go with the ink viscosity and then the actual rolling of the ink onto the lino block is in itself a delicate operation, to get an even surface. I don't want edges on the print, so it mustn't be too thin or too thick.
That up above is a nice vintage Speedball brayer, which I was trying for the first time; I'm going to stick with it from now on as the roller is nice and densely soft, making the ink go into the block better than the harder rollers on my other brayers. I roll the ink out about an hour before using, to let it harden a little and get the right 'tack' - then it is rolled out thinly and again on a tray and then on a glass slab, until it starts making the right kind of light hissing noise. And only then it is carefully rolled onto the block, checking it from every angle to make sure that all areas are covered evenly. I look for a velvety surface like this;
To minimise ink getting where I don't want it, I use a mask while I'm inking up the block. The bed of the proof press I use has also been carefully raised up with various layers of paper and card, to get the depth of impression I want - even slipping a single sheet of newsprint underneath makes a difference.
And then yet another mask, for the actual printing.
The paper is held into place with a bit of tape, but I also like to hold it down lightly with my thumb as I make the first pull across, to stop slippage and misprinting.
I do two 'pulls' - quickly but carefully, not taking the roller off the paper, or it will slip minutely and give a double, blurred impression. It's a single, smooth movement and often goes wrong for me, with the first practise pulls. Here we go, with the first - the impression showing through.
And after the second pull. Now you can really see the deep indentation. Taking care to remove the paper so that you don't smudge anything, you peel the print from the block...
Breath a sigh of relief, as this time it came out well.
A now familiar sight in our little front room-cum-print-studio. Much has been discarded over the three hours of work and out of this lot, only a handful were deemed good enough to put in my shop.
Printed on the gorgeously smooth Mohawk Superfine heavy ivory paper, there are 14 copies of this printing of 'Monsieur le Roitelet and the Birds' for sale here at a princely £5.25/$8.
I'm really pleased to have managed that many, as it's a vast improvement on my other print runs and I think I'm getting back into the swing of it at last, after an 18 year break. Less bodge, more hurrahs.
If you are in or near Oxford, Simon of Paper Resources is going to be selling similar packs of paper at the Fine Press Book Fair on the weekend of 5/6 November at Oxford Brookes University, details here. I may well be going myself, to look up some old friends and seeing what's new.
(PS - There is a reason why my little man is called Monsieur le Roitelet, but I'll let you Google that one yourselves).