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Just another day at the Graphics Society of Cienfuegos, Cuba

I recently took a family group to Cuba, where we visited the Graphics Society of Cienfuegos. This is an artists’ collective that specializes in various types of printmaking – woodcutting, lithography, collagraphy, and so on. They’re great people, and I’m particularly friendly with the group’s director, so I always love to drop by for a visit.

Anyways, that day one of the artists, Omarito, was working on a linocut. Linocut is a variant of woodcutting where the printing plate is a piece of linoleum. With a sharp knife or other tools, the artist cuts and shapes the linoleum to produce the plate.

The workspace. In the foreground, Chris looks at some prints. Everyone else is an artist and member of the collective.

Omarito explained the whole process to us. Basically, the linoleum plate acts like a big rubber stamp, which he’s cut into the design he wants. He inks this plate with a single color and then prints that color onto the paper. He can ink and print as many copies as he wants. And once he’s finished with that color, he then cuts away part of the linoleum to re-shape the stamp for the next color.

Omarito allows a day between colors for the ink to dry. So the process takes at least as many days as the number of colors used. This print had nine, so he probably worked on this piece for a couple weeks.

Omarito took a picture after each new inking for a total of nine colors. The day we visited, he was working on the fifth color, black. Omar plays a lot with tigers in his artwork, and this untitled work is a reimagining of the Beatles.

This technique is interesting because you can produce as many prints as you want – but only in a single run. There are some engraving techniques where you use multiple plates, one for each color. After printing, you can keep the plates around and run a new series of prints anytime you want. But with this technique, you use the same piece of linoleum, cutting away more and more of it as you go along. So there’s no going back to re-print an earlier color. However many copies are printed on the first run, that’s it.

I stopped by the studio a few weeks later and saw the finished product! In fact, I bought one as a keepsake. Somehow I enjoy it more after seeing it first as a work in progress.

Omarito shows off the finished piece. He often depicts tigers in different settings and styles, so this print is of a piece with much of his other work.

This untitled work is a reimagining of the Beatles as tigers. Omar Sosa Padilla, 2016.

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