Project 3.1 Chiaroscuro: Leon


For this project you will be making one print in the chiaroscuro method from a subject containing a figure or figures based on either a Renaissance painting or a photograph you have taken yourself which reminds you of a painting. The image should contain at least one figure and a simple background. Your figure should contain strong tonal contrasts that can be easily identified as light, medium and dark.

Overall assessment

Chiaroscuro check and log

  • How did you get on with the material you chose to cut in? Did it present any difficulties? How restrictive did you find this medium?
  • Did the colours work well together? Which alternative tonal colour range could you have used to good effect and why?
  • What were the challenges presented by your chosen subject matter? Did the subject work well as a chiaroscuro print, why and how?


  1. Selection of the image

For this project I wanted to produce a dramatic image like those of Caravaggio.  Although Caravaggio is Baroque rather than Rensissance, he is generally regarded along with Rembrandt as one of the key painters of chiaroscuro.

I got the opportunity to attend a portrait photoshoot of a model called ‘Leon’ at Cambridge Camera Club. This was an excellent opportunity to experiment with different types of pose and lighting and look at the ways these affect the shapes and impacts on the face and figure.

Full figure with side- and rim-lighting




From these I selected the two images I found most dramatic and ‘Caravaggio-esque’, cropped it and printed it out in greyscale, exaggerating the contrasts. I placed the left hand eye on the intersection of rule of thirds.

2) Design

I had been exploring different types of chiaroscuro style in my LIfe Drawing classes.

These are styles….

But found a relatively flat style based on shapes rather than line would suit this image best. I worked first on a smaller image to try out different styles, reducing the shapes to a series of tonal layers using tracing paper and pencil.


the final block can be used to print as an outline with a few areas of dark tone.
Next make a full size drawing of your print that is made up of outlines. Each outline will define the figure itself and the areas of tone. In other words the outlines will surround each tonal area as well as define features such as hands or faces. This line drawing will be the basis of your cutting plan and needs to be made carefully and accurately.

I wanted the image to be quite large and square. I decided to use square 30mm lino tiles that I had used before. This meant that I could be sure that each plate was machine-cut to exactly the right size. The tiles are also quite thin and so reduce the problems of slippage of tiles and mis-registration on an etching press. I then refined my layered designs using A2 tracing paper – corresponding to 3 tonal plates: Light grey/white, dark grey and black.

NB reverse tracing paper as mirror image. Pay particular attention to the tracing on each block as they will need to be perfectly lined up when they print one over the other. Always work from the same image and line up the paper you are tracing through with the same corner on each block.

Once you have transferred your image onto the blocks, you are ready to start cutting. Take your time and make sure your cutting tools are sharp to give you accurate cutting. Always cut away from your hands and never towards yourself. Remember you can warm up lino against a radiator to soften it and make it easier to cut, but there is no substitute for sharp tools!
Cut the outline block first and print it as a proof to establish the design of the print. The outline block will demand the most cutting and the most accuracy so do not rush it. If while you are cutting this block you are not sure whether to cut or not, it is best to leave it until a later stage. You can always make more cuts but it is impossible to reconstruct sections that have been removed.
Cut a block for the light tone next. This block usually has little cutting as it is only the highlights that need to be cut out.
When you plan the cutting of the second tonal block you need to remember that you are cutting away the areas of highlight and light tone. The uncut areas of the block represent your medium tone. Accuracy in the cutting is essential to ensure the printed image is clear and the forms remain defined.

Paper and colours
When you have completed your cutting you are ready to print. You will need to decide on colours and choose your printing paper. The most common colours in chiaroscuro prints are dull greens and browns with black outlines but there is no reason to stop you choosing other colour families. The important feature of your chosen colours is the tonal range they provide.

Printing a proof
Once you have finished your cutting, carefully brush out the cut areas of your lino. This will remove any small loose fragments that will spoil the inking process by creating lumps in the ink. The success of the chiaroscuro print depends on clear distinctions between the tones. The tones should be sufficiently different from each other and equally balanced. Don’t forget the
colour of the paper counts as your lightest tone.
Print several copy proofs using all your blocks starting with the lightest colour and printing successively darker tones on top ending with your outline. This proof will show the effect of your design and if you need to make any corrective cutting before you make a print.
Clean the blocks carefully and dry them between layers of kitchen cloths or paper placing a weight, or heavy books on top to prevent them curling up. If the curling is a problem you can stick the blocks on wooden sheets cut to the size of the lino to add stability and robustness.
You should make any corrections to your block at this stage, before you make your print run.
An old toothbrush is useful for brushing out the small grains from the cut lino that can spoil the print.

Printing your edition
When printing an edition the quality and consistency of the print is of the utmost importance. The following points will act as a check list to help you:
• Cut your paper to the correct size (make sure there is a good border round your print)
• Mix your inks in sufficient quantities for your print run and spares (the colour must be identical on each print. Mixed ink is difficult to match if you run out halfway)
• Keep the printing area and your materials clean and neat
• Allow for additional prints in case of errors in the print run
• Do not use the ink too thickly. The rolled layer should be thin and even
• Print all the first colour block prints together and allow to dry before printing the next layer
• Number each print in pencil as you lift it to remember the order of your edition
• Clean the block between each print and blot it dry to ensure an even ink layer for each print
• Continue printing each colour concentrating on perfect registration at each stage
• The black (or darkest colour) outline block is printed last.

An edition of prints is a number of prints all taken from the same block, or blocks. Each print is numbered in order as they are made with the total number of the edition added afterwards. For example: in an edition of 25 prints the first print will be labelled 1/25 the twelfth print will be labelled 12/25.
The edition is only true if the block or blocks remain unchanged without any additional cutting during the print run. It is usual to print each stage together. That is, you will print the first colour 25 times, next the second colour 25 times, and so on.
Your first print will be labelled as the artists proof. This allows the opportunity to make revisions before the full print run.
Allow the prints to dry between layers of blotting paper.

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