Laura Whitehouse
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Linocutting a Logo

I spend my time as a full-time designer at One tackling a fair few strange briefs. The variety of projects we get in is enormous, and a perk of working for a lovely small agency is that I often get a chance to dabble in all of them.

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So when a client brief for a new logo appeared on my desk a few months ago, I decided it was high time to crack out my linocutting skills, despite having not so much as touched a piece of lino since my A-Level in Graphic Design. 

The new logo was for Manifest, an architectural practice, historic conservationist, and craft workshop based in west Oxfordshire. Linocutting a logo by hand seemed appropriate because Manifest tackle projects in a very hands-on way, choosing local natural materials that fit within a landscape, and producing sustainable work that 'lies close to the earth and lifts the human spirit'. They're all about craft, and so cracking out my Mac, opening up Illustrator and moving some shapes around until they Looked A Little Bit Not Shit didn't seem like quite the right approach.

This post isn't really intended as a guide on How To Make A Linocut, because quite frankly I'm pretty sure I did it very wrong (cut away from your hand is pretty solid advice to be found everywhere). But I will be listing what I did, because it's miraculous it worked and I want to express just how easy it was. I used a block printing kit that had been knocking around my house for a while which I'd bought from Fred Alduous in Manchester, and even before starting I was armed (for no reason) with definite confidence that it’d be hard to fuck up… or at least, I was pretty confident in the chances of someone coming to the rescue if it did. 

I initially sketched out some designs working from some of the starting points Manifest had provided in the brief, and then used trace down paper to transfer my final sketch onto the lino - a process that baffled me for an embarrassingly long time as I'm pretty sure this is 90% magic. I then used five different blades to cut away at the lino, varying them depending on how much I wanted to remove, and went at it. I might have stabbed myself five or six times but given I was a total novice I'd say I did well to come away with all my fingers still attached. I also managed not to bleed all over the lino or the paper, which is quite an achievement. Albeit one nobody is giving awards for at the moment.

After rolling the plate in ink I used the buffer to smooth the card and lino onto the plate, in a sort of less-exciting-than-a-real-sandwich-sandwich.  Each print made using linocutting varies slightly based on the cuts you make and the amount of ink you apply, making each one a little rough round the edges and distinctive, so it took around five or six goes before I was happy with it. Turns out getting the right balance of ink is the trickiest part, and it’s actually better to go full-whack with it to start with than to tread cautiously. I think this might be where my six year break from linocutting put me at a disadvantage: it was not a speedy process.

I picked my favourite prints and took them into Photoshop to do some tidying - otherwise known as re-adding in the bits I'd accidentally cut out before I'd got into the swing of things. Then I played around with some typography and added in little details, such as the birds, which would have been tricky for my already-punctured-hands to try and create with the lino. I was left with three versions that I was pretty happy with, one of which went over to the client along with some other excellent ideas that another designer had been working on. 

t's often hard to know where to start with logo design, especially if you're staring at a totally blank canvas. Usually I scour the internet for ideas I can borrow to start off, sketch out some ideas that might work, and then crack out some popular fonts that might sit together well. As a designer you can often spend hours searching the internet for textured effects and natural brushes, and more often than not this does pay off, but on this occasion it was incredibly fun to spend a day doing it by hand.

I think it's pretty important for designers to get some non-screen time every now and again, even if it's not possible very often, and I'm going to try to do it more. So keep your eyes peeled for an Etsy shopping flogging foul-mouthed quotes lino printed on garishly coloured paper - something I feel the world needs at the moment.

 
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Laura Whitehouse