A while back (in 2017), I visited a good buddy, and as a memento, I drew this little image and used it as a thank you card.

A an abstract drawing with images of forests, bees, the moon, a dogs eye and electronic circuits

In this image, I wanted to capture many of the elements that I fondly remembered from my visit: seeing the full moon rising over the forest, inoculating logs with mushroom spores, playing with my buddy’s synthesizer collection, his favourite pet dog, the bee habitats we observed, and various other things. This was a one-off image; after scanning and sending it, I had pretty much left it.

Fast forward to 2023, and my buddy starts a ‘mini-art gallery’ at his academic maker space and begins requesting contributions. The format constraints were tight, as the work had to be 3″x3″, the exact size of an average stickie note. Having recently done a large output of stickie note art for my 2023 inktober series, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to recreate this drawing in a simple stickie note format.?”. Going one step further, I considered the possibility of printing this piece so I could make many copies, potentially contributing many of them and keeping some and sharing them with others. With that, the idea of a stickie note linocut was born!

So I could have easily gone about this using the traditional method of drawing my ideas out, trying variations, and generating some artwork. Still, as this new-fangled artificial intelligence technology was out there, and I had recently subscribed to one of the services I wanted to see if it could help with the process. There were several technical challenges in converting my drawing to a single colour 3″ x3″ print. The original has a lot of detail, so cramming it all into a small space would be difficult. When you are working on a small scale, with a linocut, you can only make your lines so small, and I wanted as many of the elements as possible so it would have been very efficient how each one was rendered. So I uploaded the original drawing and began my prompts. This was the image generated from my first prompt.

Brainstorming with AI

PROMPT: “I would like to recreate this design as a lino-cut. It will be the scale of a post-it note, so the details have to be simplified. I will print white ink on a black background, so I would like more black in my artwork. The subject matter is focused on the full moon rising over a forest silhouette, but should also include a few bees, a ponderosa pine tree, a synthesizer with wires connecting all the elements, and a close-up of a dogs eye”

This was not too bad, I could imagine being able to create this on a stickie note. But of course, once you created a cool image so fast on the first try, I tried more variations. Prompts included as captions.

So this was fantastic for me, as I had many ideas very quickly to work from. They were all on the general scale I needed to work on and had mostly captured the elements I wanted. I have to say this was not what I had imagined in my mind’s eye. If I had tried to go about this process, I know it would have taken me much longer, and I would have tried to cram in way too many details than were possible. Regardless, from this point on, I would have to take over and finish the work using good old pencils, paper, and ink. Here is how that process unfolded.

Making the linocut print

1. First, an “original” image must be created in the final format and size. Using no one of the AI-generated images in particular, I put together the artwork here by drawing on a black stickie note with white ink.

2. I needed to transfer that design onto the lino block, so I would need a pencil version that could be ‘rubbed’ on. Using the original artwork, I traced the image onto some translucent paper, drawing the black parts onto the white page. I knew I would be printing on black with white ink, and in lino cut printing, you must remove the parts you won’t be printing. As I made this version, I tried to imagine that stage and made a few adjustments.

3. Now, it was time to transfer. After making sure the traced transfer art was very heavily pencilled in, I taped it to the lino and rubbed the back of the art thoroughly until I could tell it had all transferred to the lino block.

Showing the three steps of getting original artwork transferred onto a lino cut block ready for cutting.
Showing the three steps of transferring original artwork onto a lino cut block ready for cutting.

4. I had done some lino cuts in art school, but I was unsure how easy it would be to cut out this design. The medium was fairly easy to work with, and I was happy with the amount of detail and time it took to create this.

I did not get any photos of the printing process, but once the lino is cut you roller the ink on in an even layer, press on the paper of stickie note in this case, pressing evenly across the whole surface and repeat for each print. I did a limited edition of this one, only 13 prints on my first run. Of course, I will be able to go back and do many more runs now that I have this block cut.

Looking at the two images side by side, I am impressed. I captured most of the details and created a very good impression of my original drawing in the final print.

I do wonder if I would have been able to reach this stage without using AI and, if so, how long it would have taken me. Would I have ended up closer to my original drawing? Would I have given up in frustration at being unable to create a reasonable original piece of art? Now that I am more familiar with making lino cuts at this scale, I think my next piece will be much easier, but will AI still be useful in my brainstorming stage? Time will tell true believers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *