Chiaroscuro technique

Shoulder to the Capstan
“Shoulder to the Capstan” is a two-plate linocut in black and blue.

Chiaroscuro in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures. Similar effects in cinema and photography also are called chiaroscuro.

Further specialized uses of the term include chiaroscuro woodcut for coloured woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink; and chiaroscuro drawing for drawings on coloured paper in a dark medium with white highlighting. Chiaroscuro is a mainstay of black and white photography.

I was very fortunate to spend a week in Hall’s Gap at “Grampian’s Brushes”. I attended two workshops, one two-day event with Lawrence Finn (Exploring Chiaroscuro Prints) and four days with Marion Manifold practicing hard and soft ground etching on copper plates.

The image above was created in the following process:

Step 1. On a piece of thick paper (the same size as the linoblocks you are working with) create a ‘cartoon’ or quick sketch of the image using pencil and then over painting with ink. Decide the direction of light and add highlights in umber gouache. 

Step 2. Leave a border around the edge to hold the ink roller away from large areas of white. Transfer the image onto the lino (remembering to reverse the image if required) and paint over using waterproof black ink. Once the ink has dried you can use a fine scraper to remove any errors or create interest.

Step 3. Once you are happy with the image, start cutting the lino, remembering to use a variety of tools and diverse marks. 

Step 4. Test print and make any adjustments.

Step 5. To create the second plate, print the first block (the key block) onto acetate and then onto the second piece of lino. Talcum powder can be used sparingly to dry the ink quickly. 

Step 6. Using this second block, cut out the areas you want white on the final print, leaving areas that you want printed in the second colour. For example, all the coloured highlights that you painted in gouache should remain raised on the second block. 

Step 7. Using masking tape on the print bed (or another registration method) print the second block made in colour and overprint with the first block in black. 

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