Four colour linocut Christmas card

Lino cuts by Myfanwy Tristram

For some reason, when it’s time to make Christmas cards, my first thought is always to turn to linocuts. It’s a shame that my first thought doesn’t happen about four weeks earlier than it does, mind you, because I’d really like to spend a bit more time getting my technique nailed down.

That said, this is the first time I’ve tried doing a linocut of more than one colour, and to my amazement — despite a few nailbiting moments — it worked.

It’s a multi-step process, and as usual, I’ve been using the time I have each morning before work to get it done. That’s had the side effect that for much of the time I was working in a just-woken-up fog, so for my sake as much as for yours, I’m recording the process for future reference.

1. The original sketch

Sometime in early November, I was idly doodling in a notebook and out came a sketch I rather liked. Note to self, that would have been a good time to get started. But no, I didn’t think of it again until early December. As soon as I finish this blog post I’m going to put a note in my calendar for next year. Watch me dazzle everyone with efficiency in autumn 2018.

reindeer skecth by Myfanwy Tristram

2. Colour tests

December came around, and I thought I’d try drawing up a colour picture from that initial sketch. I used pencil crayons (and less successfully, felt pens) to  finalise the design.

pencil crayon reindeer sketch by Myfanwy Tristram

I had some inks left over from previous projects, so I had some idea of what colours I’d be using. I tried out overlaying them in my sketchbook, so I could see the different colours that could be achieved with varying degrees of water or white ink mixed in.

As with many art media, you are supposed to make prints by putting down the lightest colour first (and in the end that’s what I ended up doing) but I did note that the yellow could be overlaid over the light blue to make quite a pleasant green. Anyway, look how many different tones you can make with just two colours and white!

Myfanwy Tristram

 

3. Tracing paper

I traced the picture so that I had three versions – one for each main colour (the 4th colour is the nose, so no complicated working out there).

Myfanwy Tristram

4. Photoshop

At this point, if I was confident, I could have gone straight to carving, but because I’d never done a multilayered print before I thought I’d scan in the tracing paper and colour each layer in Photoshop to ensure that they lined up as I was expecting.

Myfanwy Tristram

Of course, prints come out back to front, so I had to flip these over before transferring them onto the lino. After that I carved away the parts where I didn't want any ink, ie the parts that would be white on the page.

It worked! Mind you, this is in the lovely clean world of Photoshop, with each colour set to 50% opacity, which I didn’t know I’d be able to achieve with the inks. Then again, it was a relief to think that even if the lino prints didn’t really work out, I could always print these from my computer!

5. Carving

The two main things to remember when carving the lino are that a) you have to do it back to front, so the reindeer pointed to the right; and b) you remove the parts where you don’t want any ink. That might sound obvious but in my experience it’s easy to get confused! And a) is particularly important if you are including writing. Not a consideration for me this time, thank goodness.

Lino cuts by Myfanwy Tristram

6. Test prints

 by Myfanwy Tristram

I happened to have a roll of newsprint around, so I tried out various colour combinations and the order of overlays. I’m quite glad I did this, as it meant I had some techniques for higher-quality results all worked out by the time I moved onto proper, more expensive paper.

My top tips here are: a) keep some tissue around to wipe clean the parts where you don’t want ink, because as you make prints it tends to accumulate; b) make little corner marks when you position the first piece of lino, so you can line up the subsequent ones; c) keep the ink reasonably light, but roll over the paper multiple times to make sure you’ve covered every part; d) after you’ve finished, wash the lino with a damp cloth, but don’t get it too wet or it will start curling up. I let mine flatten out under a pile of heavy books.

7. Print!

First colour down:

 by Myfanwy Tristram

2nd colour (after a 24 hour wait so the first colour could dry):

 by Myfanwy Tristram

And third. Thank goodness, it worked! I’d been a bit worried looking at the two-colour prints, but it was the darker blue that tightened it all up.

 by Myfanwy Tristram

The final touch was the red nose on each. I did carve a wee circle but in the end it was easier just to paint these by hand:

Myfanwy Tristram linocut reindeer cards

Myfanwy Tristram linocut reindeer cards

And there you go – finished. If you receive a Christmas card from me this year, now you know what went into it. Don’t expect one quite yet though… they’re taking a little time to dry… relatedly, I may also need to remove a few cat hairs :)

My final tip is to make loads more than you think you’ll need. I did this and I still came out with slightly fewer perfect ones than the number of people on my list. Hopefully people will like the imperfect ones just as much. And let’s not even mention the several prints I did before thinking through which end of a piece of paper they’d need to be to be able to fold them into a card…

I would like to take some more time to get better at lino cuts: some of the ones I’ve seen online are so clear cut (literally) and adept, while these are much less predictable and every one is different. Not necessarily a bad thing but it’d be nice to be more in control.

Winter animals linocut Christmas cards

Crow and hare linocut by Myfanwy Tristram

I haven’t sent Christmas cards for quite a few years.

I think many artists and makers feel like me: they don’t want to send cards unless they’ve been handmade, or can act as a showcase for their artwork.

But, if you think it’s hassle buying your cards, writing them out, and getting them to the pillar box before last posting day, well, imagine making the things from scratch as well.

I’ve just learned that lesson again, for, indeed, somehow, this year, I have made my own cards.

And, indeed, they did take absolutely ages.

Hare by Myfanwy Tristram

Which is partly my own fault, because I decided I wanted to do a linocut. The theme was originally inspired by one of the Christmas carols my daughter is learning at school: “The rising of the sun, and the running of the deer”.

I did cut a deer, but ironically, it was the design I was least pleased with, and I ended up not using it.

Crow linocut by Myfanwy Tristram

It’s ages since I’ve done a linocut, but fortunately it’s really simple. The only thing to remember is that the print will come out facing the opposite way to the design you create  – so in the final prints, this crow flies right to left.

Crow linocut by Myfanwy TristramI thought that some of the detail in the feathers might be too fine for the medium, but I switched to a craft knife instead of the linocutting tool, and it worked.

Crow and hare linocut by Myfanwy TristramAt this point, I remembered that a friend of mine has a fondness for both hares and crows, so I thought that if I made him a print, I could try the lino-cuts out, and create him a Xmas gift, all in one fell swoop.

I made a foliage linocut as well, so the hare had something to be leaping above.

I did several copies across a roll of brown paper, so that I could pick the one where all three elements printed out cleanly. That turned out to be a good strategy, because there were very few where that was the case. It’s not exactly hard to make the prints, but you do have to be paying attention to ensure that every part is inked, and that you’ve applied the right amount of pressure across the whole print, otherwise you get missing limbs and blobby bits.

It would also have been a nice way of making wrapping paper, though, wouldn’t it? And the imperfections wouldn’t matter so much.

Crow and hare linocut by Myfanwy TristramHere is the card production line. I was originally going to do each card featuring a hare OR a crow, but when I fiddled about a bit, I decided I liked it better when a) each animal was spread across the fold, and b) the crow appeared as a surprise when you open the card.

I made a few variants – some have foliage on too, and some don’t have the crow element at all, and some are *just* the crow element.

And there are some in the bin – deer, mostly.

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Now, you can’t go about an art activity in this house without a certain nine-year-old wanting to get in on the act – and as it turned out, that was great. Once we had all the equipment set up, it was an efficient way to make the 40 or so cards she wanted to send to her classmates, teachers and friends.

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IMG_0680We added some red glitter to the kitten’s Santa hat at the end, but I didn’t get a photo of that before we packed them all into envelopes…

So, now. Did it take a long time? Yes it did. Maybe a week’s worth of evenings to cut the linos, and a couple of weekend days to print everything out. Plus the trips to the art shop, of course, to buy materials.

And THEN the faff that everyone experiences, whether they buy their cards or make them, of chasing up addresses, writing a note inside each card, buying stamps and envelopes, etc.

For once, I’d planned well enough ahead to actually get it all done ahead of Christmas, so, yay me.

If you’re feeling jealous about that, don’t forget I posted some cards that you can print out for yourself, as well – you’ll find them here.

Free Christmas card downloads

Snowy Holly by Myfanwy Tristram

What good is drawing?

I draw mainly in the evenings, and generally while listening to the radio – and the later it is, the more serious the subject matter becomes.

Fretting over a frivolous piece like the Underdog cartoon does start to seem slightly insignificant when there’s an interview with Ebola nurses coming across the airwaves, or there are doomy tales of food banks and poverty in our own country.

Well, here’s an idea that might redress the balance slightly. If you like the Christmas card designs below, you are welcome to use them. And if you do, please donate a couple of pounds to charity in return.

You can print them out from the PDFs at the foot of this post. They will fit an A4 sheet of card, so you can print them on your home printer or take them to a professional print shop.

Tree Christmas card by Myfanwy Tristram

Christmas tree card by Myfanwy Tristram

Garland Christmas card by Myfanwy Tristram

Snowy Holly by Myfanwy Tristram

snowhollyblsfwCreative Commons Licence

These Christmas cards by Myfanwy Tristram are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

How you may use these images

I’m releasing these under a non-commercial creative commons licence. That means:

YOU MAY print these out for your own use, provided that you keep the attribution that I’ve put on the back of each card.

YOU MAY NOT sell them commercially or modify the images.

(If you would like to sell the cards for charity, drop me a line and we can talk).

Donate

Here are some charities where you might donate, or feel free to choose your own:

The Red Cross Ebola appeal

Oxfam, working on poverty in the UK as well as internationally

The Fawcett Society, fighting for equality between the sexes

Downloads

Here are the downloads in PDF form, ready to print:

Tree with a star (Large, one card to an A4 sheet)

Tree with star (Small, two cards to an A4 sheet)

Garland (Large, one card to an A4 sheet)

Garland (Small, two cards to an A4 sheet)

Tree with lights (Small, two cards to an A4 sheet)

Holly in the snow (blue) (Small, two cards to an A4 sheet)

Holly in the snow (black) (Small, two cards to an A4 sheet)

Thanks – and do feel free to spread the word around.