High School report...

Just over a year ago I reported on how I was invited to demonstrate lino reduction techniques to some senior students at Bishop O' Byrne High School in Calgary. The students were already familiar with lino as a printmaking medium, so my task that day was to demonstrate how reduction lino worked with just one block. You can read the original story here

A couple of days ago I received a surprise message from their teacher, David Nielsen. He'd attached a couple of photos of his students latest lino reduction prints. To say I was impressed would be a huge understatement. For anyone who has ever tried lino reduction ...I leave this with you. Not only had the mastered registration, they'd learned how to build a registration board, understand design and how it works in lino, and how using good materials matter to a successful outcome. Quality teaching goes a long way to shaping what we're capable of. So I hope some of these students realize just how advanced they are! Kudos to their teacher for guiding them to success. You can see that they were paying attention. And for once I have no words to express how impressed I am. The future looks brighter already.


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Leighton Workshop

The Leighton Arts Centre is currently showcasing a significant exhibition called 'Impressions!' until September 24, 2017. This show partly recognizes the work of Barbara Leighton, who is renown for her many artistic skills and her legacy as a great teacher. She lived, worked and taught there with her husband and artist, A.C. Leighton from the 1950's.

During the weekend of August 19 & 20, I had the great privilege of continuing those skills and instruct a reduction lino workshop in the very same school house that carries her legacy.

With 6 enthusiastic students from a wide range of professional backgrounds, I set out to introduce the fundamental of mastering basic techniques of this medium. What surprised me right away was that the students had little to no experience of this type of printmaking. One student had only just taken it up two weeks prior. Keep in mind that reduction lino printing is considered an advanced form of practice. They came armed with ideas and a willingness to learn - without experience. I couldn't really have asked for more. But nonetheless, these guys were brave!

preparing lino 
Sanding down the lino. This provides smoother surfaces multiple ink layers

One of the challenges as a teacher is translating not only the process, but a particular language, filled with all sorts of new terms, tools - and how to use them. There are procedures and expectations for newcomers to grapple with. I wasn't certain if my approach would bridge the cognitive gap that exists, especially considering a lack of student exposure. But much to my delight and surprise, these guys aced it!

Following some basic housekeeping rules and a word on using tools safely, I talked a little about what makes a good lino image, and how we prepare lino before transferring our drawing. The students were clearly hungry to get going and wasted no time in having their designs ready, drawn and transferred onto the block. But before venturing off and having fun, I provided a registration board to each of them and explained why it's important to have a solid board for ensuring the process is frustration-free when overlapping and aligning colours. The board was something that anyone could make at home. Indeed, the core of this class was that despite the seemingly complex process involved, they could easily create great art like this in the comfort of their own studio, classroom, or even their kitchen.

Using the Sun to warm the lino

I also provided my collection of professional tools, book presses and Print Frog glass baren to give them the choice (and understanding) of different methods of creating their marks and making impressions. Each to their own, they quickly found their own comfort zone within the classroom.

Demonstrating colour mixing (note: Sherry creates a rainbow roll with blue and white)
Photo: Janice Meyers Foreman

Photo: Janice Meyers Foreman

The classroom itself is quite unique. Going back decades, this room had all the hallmarks of history written all over it. Barbara's original work sits on the wall by the door, while other students classwork decorates the walls and shelves everywhere. The large windows provide decent sunlight, and what imperfections there were for 'studio lighting' was made up by nostalgic charm.

Knowing your drawing and where layers of colour are placed, or cut, is a technical challenge that requires some creative thinking and focus. Seeing the finished image before it's completed takes vision, but that skill allows us to know the sequence of colours and make the choices necessary to cut, or reduce, the surface of the lino block. Encouraging a fearless 'try it and see' approach, backed with support and advice was provided at every step of the way. We also made use of some stencils that enabled the students to spot ink particular sections or details without covering the whole block in ink, which is the standard way applying ink on a reduction lino.

The students at work

It was an eye opener for everyone - including this teacher! From knowing next to nothing, to producing a fully rendered reduction lino print - in just two days, is an undeniable achievement for a newbie. I am so proud of this class and grateful to the workshop coordinator, Ariane Larose for facilitating this event. It just proves that despite the seemingly complex nature, or lack of practice, anyone can master reduction lino print making - and it was so much fun too.

Until next time... I leave you with the results.

Lenny's lino team with their results! Photo: Janice Meyers Foreman

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The Art of Learning

Recently I was an invited guest artist at the class of David Neilson, a local art teacher and well known Albertan artist at Bishop O'Byrne High School in Calgary. This is the third time I've been invited to come and demonstrate lino printing practices and having had an excellent high school art education myself, I really value the opportunity to pass on what I know for the greater good.

I love demonstrating skills that sometimes aren't always included in the school arts curriculum. But it's often difficult to gauge if I'm making a positive impression on these young minds. Looking back on it, I was fairly naive about what professional artists actually do when I was a student too. So it came a a surprising revelation to me, when during this recent class one of the students brought out her 'book' and allowed me to read what she'd written about my last visit. The student, Stephanie, showed how she'd been listening carefully to what I was saying, understanding what can be a complex process and documenting the colour layers that go into making my work. The book mostly illustrates the work of known artists around the world, some famous, and some just like me. I'm humbled to be counted among the pages of some great people. Thanks Stephanie!

I can't tell you how gratifying it was to find that I'd left a positive impression. Positive feedback is one of the things artists hope for and measure our success by. Similarly, it's great to know that the work and time we donate to good causes actually improves the lives of others and allows them to enjoy the pleasure it brings.

So, thank you to David Neilson and Stephanie for sharing this with me. I hope we'll meet again and I'll get to see how you have progressed.


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How to spread the love with printmaking

Kids, by their curious and energetic nature, can be fascinating to work with, keep you on your toes and challenge you in ways that are always surprising! Put a group of high spirited and like-minded individuals together and you have such a positive vibe to work with. It was one of those days...

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High School Lino Demonstration with David Nielsen

Yesterday I had the rare privilege of demonstrating lino reduction techniques to a group of 30 students at Bishop O'Byrne High School in Calgary. Many thanks to their teacher, the well known Canadian artist and ASA member David Nielsen, for his warm welcome and invitation to his class. This proved to be an exciting opportunity for me.

The students were already familiar with the lino printing medium and some had even used multi-blocks to create coloured lino prints with significant success. I was pleasantly surprised at the excellent quality of the students work that was on display. It not only demonstrated that they were equipped with good creative resources, but they also had strong technical competence and an eye for good design. So this led me to think that the piece I'd prepared in advance would be beneath their capabilities.

However, I was assured by their teacher that the lino reduction process would be new to them and my concerns were unfounded. And so, as I was introduced by David to my captive audience, I gained their curiosity and interest. This was the first time I'd put myself in front of a large number of talented young adults, but I got off to a great start when I heard songs on the class stereo from one of my favourite bands, Echo and The Bunnymen! It was a very lively and stimulating environment. It immediately felt like I had been transported back in time to my own Art College days. At ease, I knew right away that this was going to be fun. For a moment I was able to reflect that not so long ago, I too was a student like them. And what a journey it's been since then. I'm sure we've all said to ourselves, "If only I knew then what I know now". It was one of those moments.

After a quick introduction on lino reduction and how it differs from multi-block printing, I quickly got to work. Emphasizing the fundamentals; keeping it clean (ironically, to the tune of 'Do It Clean' by Echo and The Bunnymen, and with David Nielsen adding some backgound harmonies - thanks David!), good preparation (the essentials of registration board, paper and tabs done correctly), tools to use, applying thin layers of ink and  identifying the right way for placing the lino block, they were eager to get moving. Happily, after demonstrating the first print, some students volunteered to undertake the process of doing it themselves.

Interestingly enough, some of them had forgotten one or two steps shown to them. It was an enlightening experience for me to watch. I was learning too. This of course was a simple reflection on what I took for granted. It was new to them and by trying it out first hand, they were able to better appreciate each step in it's own light. I observed carefully from close by. I was impressed. I knew they could nail this easily with some experience.

After taking a few impressions with the first colour (red), the students got the chance to browse through my portfolio while i cleaned up and carved the lino block in preparation for the second colour.

lino lenny
Preparing for the second colour. Note the prints in red on the top left of the photo.

The magic, as always in lino reduction, is when the second or subsequent colours are placed directly over the first and previous colours. This is the proof of the pudding, and tells us if our registration board or practice is accurate. Thankfully, these kids did a first class job of pulling off a small series of top notch lino reduction prints. I pointed out the fine details, like the whiskers of the fox print, emphasizing how there were two colours surrounding those very fine lines. This is what a good registration is all about. 

'Foxy' - by students of Bishop O'Bryne High School.

Afterwards some of the students got the chance to ask questions about some of my work - and one of two were clearly paying attention by the depth of their understanding and the questions that were put to me. I am impressed!

I donated the registration board to the class, outlining it's construction and how to use it. I also left them a step-by-step print out of the process they had followed. And finally I provided a step-by-step guide on how I created my print 'August'. They're smart kids - they'll work it all out. Now I look forward to seeing them develop into fine young lino printers. Here's hoping!

Davide Neilsen and Lino Lenny
Lino Lenny with David Nielsen


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