I love to paint and draw, but if I could do one thing for the rest of my life, it would be printmaking. Lithography or etching–I’ve spent hours milling over projects in joyous contentment. Block printing is the easiest to do in my home setting, though, and that’s what I’ll be sharing with you today.
I use linoleum sheets or blocks when I block print. The sheets are less expensive than the blocks, but don’t last long after a series of prints. If I’m doing a commission or a series that I haven’t fully figured out in my sketchbook, I may use the sheets as a test-run. It isn’t impossible to use them for final pieces–I think there is a way to attach them to your own blocks, too. That isn’t in my knowledge, though. The blocks are a lot easier to carve into, and they will last passed your initial series of prints. Of course, you’re paying for that stability.
I bought my stash a few years ago from Utrecht. Here’s a recent side-by-side of the two. It refers to the sheets as ‘unmounted’ and the blocks as ‘mounted’. The difference isn’t staggering with the price, and in bulk, the difference only ends up about $3.00.
Now to the process!!
I always start with a sketch that I’ve inked in black. With block printing, you have to think backwards. So I try to have all my whites and blacks set-in before I start the permanent process of carving out the linoleum block. It saves a lot of time, money, and your wrist to have a solid sketch before you start. Like with sewing: measure twice, cut once (or in this case, color twice, carve once?).
Even when I sketch my picture onto my linoleum block, I shade in the parts I don’t want to carve. This reminds me not to touch those parts. Every bit helps so you don’t have to start over.
My carving tool of choice is this Speedball carver. It comes with 5 different tips, but I mostly use the three pictured here. It’s very easy to change out the tips, and you don’t have to have several tools lying about. They all fit into the hollow handle–so it’s easy storage, and super light! I bought mine at an art store up north, but I know Michael’s Craft Store and Hobby Lobby have some in stock, too. It’s fairly standard for art supplies stores, so I’m sure you can find one!
When I start to carve, I start with my thinner tips to outline details I want to keep, such as the mouth and eyes on the face.
Continue that until everything is carved!
For inking you’ll need a roller (or brayer), baren (or wooden spoon), and some ~fancy~ paper. I have two brayers: one hard and one soft. I prefer the way the soft brayer puts the ink on the block–you can mess around and see which fits your needs better. I did go and buy a real baren for my printmaking kit, but the back of a wooden spoon does the job just right, too. I like how I’m able to exert pressure with this tool rather than a spoon.
Now, there’s a lot of printmaking paper out there. Many textures and colors. Depending on your project or personal preferences will decide on what paper you choose. After a lot of messing around, I found this rice paper very cheap at Hobby Lobby. One side it slick, the other is heavily textured. I use the slick side for my prints. I really like how the ink settles on top of this paper and doesn’t move around.
For ink, I use Speedball’s water soluble block printing ink. I wouldn’t use this near food, but it’s definitely safer to use than an oil-based ink. Since my studio at the moment is the kitchen table, this is a must-have. Also, it’s super easy to clean up! Dish soap and water.
First thing to do when getting ready to ink a block print is to make sure the block and your area is clear. I have a sheet of plastic to set my ink on and use a flat drawing board to minimize the space I need to clean up. And my mom appreciates me not getting ink on her table.
Try as you might, you may still end up like me and have something on your print that messes up a clean finish. I have a plastic palette knife I use to clean off stuff such as this.
For a full step-by-step of the process, please check out the video I did for this project!
Something I’d do differently the next time I do a block print is not have a large area to be inked–it was very difficult keep enough ink on the linoleum for a completely black space in front of the woman. Adding some texture to the black area would probably help the ink hold onto the medium better.
And that’s that! Thank you for reading my blog post, and if you have any questions about the materials or the process, please comment below! I’d love to help!
Love and hugs!