ART CHAT #8 – Block Printing

November 23, 2022
Block Printing

Block Printing


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.


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.

Block Printing

My owl drawn on tracing paper

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

carved block print

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,

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  • Reply Leanne | November 23, 2022 at 11:04 am

    Hi Min – I have vague recollections of trying this in art class in high school many years ago. I enjoyed reading your overview and your owl came out beautifully. The last coloured one was particularly nice. Glad you’ve found another interesting art form to add to your collection.

    • Reply Min November 23, 2022 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks Leanne. It’s fun to learn new things and I really did enjoy this workshop. Hopefully once I have all I need and work out where to do it, I’ll do another one and maybe more after that. My biggest love though is drawing/painting with ink and watercolours!

  • Reply Lydia C. Lee November 23, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    That’s really impressive. I’ve never done it before.! #WWandP

    • Reply Min November 24, 2022 at 7:43 am

      Thanks Lydia. There’s always somewhere that offers a class if you wanted to give it a go!

  • Reply Jennifer Jones November 23, 2022 at 6:26 pm

    I do remember using lino in art class at school Min. I love your owl and really enjoyed reading about the process. As someone who has not one single artistic bone in their body, I am in awe of your artistic talent. I think if this is your first effort, you should consider doing more of this kind of art

    • Reply Min November 24, 2022 at 7:46 am

      Thank you Jennifer! Do you remember what tough work it was to carve the lino back in the day? Thank goodness for the rubber blocks – much easier! I’m glad you like my owl and enjoyed reading my post describing the process. I don’t think you necessarily need artistic talent to do this. You should give it a go. You would probably surprise yourself!

  • Reply Susanne November 23, 2022 at 7:35 pm

    That looks really cool! Impressive that you do the carving by hand, I can imagine that takes a bit of practice before you do it successfully? I was a bit confused first about the actual print, do you put the ink onto the rubber block or on another surface?
    I probably wouldn’t do this myself – I’m more of a digital artist, but it looks like fun and you did a great job with it.

    • Reply Min November 24, 2022 at 7:49 am

      Hi Susanne – this was my first time so no need for heaps of practice to make a successful block print. With practice though you’d learn to refine your skill and more techniques I would imagine. In answer to your question – you first roll out the ink on a surface (eg glass or perspex) until it’s evenly distributed and then you load up the roller from there and then roll the ink (with a rubber roller – not a foam roller) over your actual carved block. Its best to clean blocks when you’re finished printing – just dunk in a bucket of water and wipe over. You should give it a go one day – it’s fun!

  • Reply Sue from Women Living Well After 50 November 24, 2022 at 6:41 am

    Hi Min, I’ve never really done anything with art apart from the compulsory Art Class in first year of High School. Your work is beautiful and so different to normal art. I’m sure they would make lovely gifts. You have really developed your artistic talent over the last couple of years and I’m sure it has helped to relax your mind from all that has been happening with your Mum etc. Take care and thanks for sharing how to do this type of art. x P.S. I love owls too!

    • Reply Min November 24, 2022 at 7:52 am

      Thanks Sue! It was fun to do this workshop and revisit this art medium that I had vague recollections of from high school. And as you said – it was a nice bit of mindfulness me time that is much needed lately. Thank you for such a lovely, thoughtful comment. You must have good taste if you love owls too! They’re cute little critters! xo

  • Reply Denyse Whelan November 25, 2022 at 9:21 am

    I loved seeing the result before reading the post. I also liked that it’s easier than the old line cutting. I am afraid my hands wouldn’t cope with this these days. But gosh, you are very skilled and creative Min, keep it up. How mindful it is to become so absorbed!

    Thank you for sharing your post for Wednesday’s Words and Pics. It is great to have you be a part of this blogging community each week. Denyse.

    • Reply Min November 28, 2022 at 11:18 am

      Thanks so much Denyse. I enjoyed doing this more than I thought I would. Hopefully I’ll do more next year!

  • Reply Debbie Harris November 25, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    This is so clever Min and what a great result! I love the mindfulness that comes into it too. Well done.

    • Reply Min November 28, 2022 at 11:19 am

      Thanks Debbie. Yes the mindfulness is great and with all my art I seem to slip into it very easily. I get very absorbed!

  • Reply Leslie Susan Clingan February 1, 2023 at 12:48 am

    I was an art ed major after sampling a fine arts program and fast determining I was not the caliber artist it required. So, like they say if you can’t do it, teach it. I think I had one printmaking class. Enjoyed it very much but it was on Monday nights until 9 pm or later. We had just a single experience with several types of printing processes. I think block printing was one. Your owl is darling. I like all the texture you were able to create in a medium that doesn’t lend itself easily to tiny details.

    • Reply Min February 1, 2023 at 4:09 pm

      Wow Leslie! I bet you are better at art than you are saying. You’d have so much knowledge with all that study and teaching! I’m so glad you like my owl. I’m so happy with it as my first print. You’re right about it being hard to get tiny details!

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