Printmaking with Health Issues

I’ve talked this month so far about what printmaking processes I can no longer participate in due to my health issues, however I’ve not discussed yet what possibilities are still open to me as a printmaker?

As I’ve previously discussed, etching (and by default dry point), along with screen-printing in previous blog posts this month.  But, I’m still working my way through a few other printmaking processes for their value in terms of health and environmental impacts.

So, are linocuts, woodcuts and digital prints really more human and environmentally friendly than most other artisanal printmaking processes (such as screen-printing, etching, dry point, lithography, etc) and what are the arguments around this?

Linocut, Woodcut, and Digital Prints: The Case for Human and Environmental Friendliness in Printmaking ~

  1. Less Toxic Materials: Linocut and woodcut, with their water-based inks, offer a safer alternative to solvent-based inks. Digital printing, on the other hand, eliminates the need for hazardous chemicals, fostering a secure working environment for artists.
  2. Reduced Energy Consumption: Linocut and woodcut embrace manual effort, sidestepping the need for energy-intensive equipment. Digital printing, while relying on electricity, tends to be more energy-efficient than techniques involving high-temperature operations.
  3. Limited Waste Generation: These methods generate minimal waste compared to traditional processes that often involve chemicals. The carving process in linocut and woodcut removes unwanted material, and digital printing, especially on-demand, produces less waste.
  4. Natural Materials: Linocut and woodcut utilize natural materials like linoleum and wood, contributing to a sustainable lifecycle. This contrasts with printmaking methods involving metal plates, chemicals, or synthetic materials (note!  Some lino products are a plastic base, it's traditional linoleum which is not) with a more significant environmental impact.
  5. Accessibility and Lower Cost: These techniques are often more accessible and cost-effective. Affordable materials and less specialized equipment make linocut and woodcut inclusive, fostering a diverse artistic community.
  6. Artistic Expressiveness: The hands-on, tactile approach of linocut and woodcut emphasizes craftsmanship and connection with materials, fostering a positive and engaging experience that aligns with well-being.
  7. Minimal Environmental Impact of Digital Printing: Digital printing, in comparison to traditional methods like lithography, involves fewer chemicals, less water usage, and reduced waste. Printing on demand further reduces overproduction and associated environmental impacts.
  8. Adaptability and Experimentation: Linocut, woodcut, and digital printing allow for experimentation without extensive setup or specialized facilities. Artists can explore creativity without significant resource consumption or environmental impact.

Considerations for Printmaking Processes:

  1. Screen-printing, Etching, and Lithography:
    • These processes may involve chemicals, metal plates, and higher energy consumption. While some efforts have been made to introduce safer practices and materials, the overall impact can still be higher compared to linocut, woodcut, or digital printing.
  2. Health and Safety Risks:
    • Screen-printing, etching, and lithography often involve exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Artists working in these mediums need to take extra precautions to protect their health, whereas linocut, woodcut, and digital printing generally have fewer associated health risks.

In conclusion, linocut, woodcut, and digital prints present compelling arguments for their human and environmental friendliness. These techniques align with sustainable practices, reduced toxicity, and enhanced accessibility, contributing to a more environmentally conscious and inclusive artistic landscape. While advancements are being made in improving the sustainability of other printmaking methods, the inherent characteristics of linocut, woodcut, and digital prints position them as environmentally friendly alternatives in the contemporary art world.

Whilst I originally ended up specialising in copperplate photogravure (due to its superior tonal gradation when printing drawings and photographs), I did train in linocut, taught it, and enjoyed my own printmaking experiences with it – especially reductive linocut.  I had always thought that I would return to it at some point so maybe the new year will be my time for re-embracing this printmaking technique as a healthy alternative.  The style definitely lends itself to much of my drawing and design processes.

And, I’ve never stopped using digital processes – knowing that they are a much healthier option these days, with more environmentally friendly options continuing to be developed which outrank any of the more traditional techniques.  I’m also very excited as risography is available as an option in Sydney which I’ve been wanting to try again for ages!!  So this may feature in the new year too in my art and collectable décor.

PS.  If you are interested in the images, the first and last two images in this post are linocuts printed on traditional linoleum from some of my first ever linocut attempts way back in 1995.  I later taught relief printing as part of a regular semester series of printmaking at the BIA (Brisbane Institute of Art) in Brisbane for a number of years, and the whale prints, and cover print for this blog post of the bee and magnolia in the breeze (which includes chine colle) are examples of my work I would show students.  The second image on this page is an example of my flocked-block relief printing on material.  If I can find an example, I'll post on insta some reduction lino printing too!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.