For Art Chat I decided to share about an art medium that I’ve been interested in revisiting for a while now – ‘Block Printing’ (otherwise known as ‘Lino Printing’). I’ve only tried it once before and that was in art class in year 8 at high school! A … *ahem* … little while ago. Back then we carved into ‘lino’ (actual linoleum flooring) and it was quite difficult. Nowadays there are rubber blocks that are much easier to carve in to. It should be noted that the term ‘Block Printing’ can refer to wood also. Block printing is a relief printing technique that uses a carved material (typically wood, linoleum, or rubber) to transfer ink onto fabric or paper. The block serves as a stamp, with the final product resulting in a mirror image of the carving.
HAND CARVED BLOCK PRINTING WORKSHOP
I attended a 4 hour Hand Carved Block Printing workshop at Studio Yellow one recent Saturday. We were given an 11 cm x 11 cm rubber block on which we were to carve our print. I decided on an owl. I have a bit of a thing for owls so why the hoot not?!
First you draw your image on tracing paper – pressing hard with your pencil to be sure to transfer maximum graphite to the paper. You need to keep in mind that you have to carve it and it can be difficult to get fine detail. You’ll see that a frame has been drawn around the image which helps make for a more defined print. I poked holes in the corners to help line it up on the block.
Next you turn your traced image upside down on the block and rub carefully with the back of a spoon to transfer the graphite to the block. Remember the image on the block will be mirror image to the image you’ve drawn on the tracing paper. This is particularly important to remember if you decide to carve your initials on the print! We then were advised to draw around the image with a marker pen on the block to be sure the lines weren’t too fine to carve and to give us a better idea of what we could realistically carve and what we might need to leave out.
Then we began to carve. You can see in the image below the utensil used to carve with. When it comes to carving you need to think – what you carve goes away, what you don’t is here to stay. In other words – what you carve away will be white (or whatever paper colour you’re using) and what you leave will be the colour of the ink you use. It’s important too that for safety reasons you carve away from yourself rather than towards yourself and be mindful to keep your non carving hand out of harms way! It took a little while for me to get the hang of it. Shallow for fine lines. Deeper for thicker lines. Don’t go vertically deep though. Try and keep it horizontally deep – if you know what I mean. Then there were little gauges and things that I used for the feathers. I think with practice I’d get much better at carving and learn more effects I could get and of course do a better job than this first try (I’m pretty pleased with it for a first go though).
Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way ~ Edward de Bono
I didn’t get any photos of the next stages but once you have carved your block it’s time to do your first test print. If you notice anything you don’t like or that’s not quite right you can fix up your carving before you print again. Once your carving is finished you have that then ‘forever’ (note that if you carve into ‘lino’ they can tend to crack over time – another good thing about the rubber blocks) and there are so many different creative options of how you can use it. This post barely touches the surface!
What happens next is that:
- You spread block ink on a surface (perspex or glass etc) and roll with a roller until it’s evenly distributed.
- Then you load your roller and roll the ink over your block, going in different directions to get good coverage.
- Next carefully line up and hold in place your paper over your block while you apply pressure/rub to transfer the ink to the paper.
- Carefully peel back your paper to reveal your print.
Hopefully my novice explanation of the block printing process makes sense. There are so many other creative ways you can use these blocks to create art. Maybe I’ll share some of those in another post another day when I’m a bit more practiced!
So that was my first attempt at block printing, and it was fun! I actually bought another little 11 x 11 cm block, some ink & the carving utensil with thoughts of having another go at home. I’ll need a few other things yet – a roller, some tracing paper (could use baking paper), something to roll the ink out on. It’s a bit messy so I’ll have to give some thought to where I would do it too.
There are a few in my art group who are very into block printing and now I understand why. I think it could become quite addictive!
Have you tried block printing? Do you remember lino printing back at high school?
Ciao for now,