The Making of a Linocut Christmas Print

For the past ten years I have created a holiday linocut (linoleum) print and given it out during Christmas. This has been a turning away from the pervasive commercialism of the holidays and creating something from the heart and by the hand. This year I sketched out designs before carving the final lino block.

The inspiration for this year’s print was an image that kept reappearing in my thoughts and journal pages. It stemmed from my summer’s visit to Portland, Oregon and the beautiful streamlined 1941 steam engine, a Southern Pacific GS-4 , numbered 4449. This engine I strongly connected with memories of my father and the time we spent chasing the engine on rail excursion across the Golden State and once were even passagers on an excursion from San Francisco to Los Angeles.


The iconic hood of 4449, which appeared in many sketches since seeing the engine for the first time again. The typhoon air horn on the upper right, was used to cut throught the thick coastal fog on the Coast Daylight’s route. 

4449 no1

The first field sketch I did of 4449 at the Oregon Heritage Railway Center in Portland. I knew that I wanted to do a linocut print featuring the unmistakable profile of this engine.

It took a few months to decide how to represent the engine in a wintery theme. In reality the engine, which was in service on the California Coast, was more likely to encounter a fog bank rather than a snow bank, but that’s why I have an artist license.

Relief printing is the opposite of field sketching. In the field there is a sense of spontaneity, of whimsy and surprise. With relief printing, everything is planned out and there is very little room for improvisation. And to top that, you have to think backwards. So it is a medium that takes patience, planning, and vision. 


Daylight in Winter. This was one of the first really polished sketches, with color, of the lino cut design.  With this sketch, I hit upon the element of the pine tree in the background.


This is a pre sketch with notation as I was finalizing my design before carving the lino block. You will notice that it sketched as it would look on the block, the engine going left to right. When the block is printed the image is reversed, the engine going from right to left.

The linoleum key block and the final hand tinted relief print (in watercolor) above. 

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