new work meet the maker

Blockprinting, part I

I decided to put together a block printing how-to, after getting lots of comments and emails from people expressing interest. It’s a cinch to get into, as it requires only a bit of equipment to begin with. Block printing is a fascinating technique that presents new artistic opportunities to explore. Getting to the final product is a unique process that moves from sculptural to two-dimensional.

You’ll need a linoleum cutting tool and some cutting tips, a few pieces of linoleum, a brayer, and some block printing ink. I found a great starter kit, which includes everything you need, here.

Draw your image directly onto the piece of linoleum. Start removing the material, little by little, always pulling away from the item you are carving, and towards your body. Keep the fingers of the other hand clear of the path of the cutter, as it can slip. Rotate the linoleum as necessary to make this easier.

The linoleum can sometimes be tricky to remove, but the way the tool is held is important and the process will go much smoother if you do it right. Hold the cutter so that the ball of the handle rests in your palm, and use your pointer finger to help guide and control the tool. Hold the tool at only a slight angle and pull gently. If you have the correct angle, you will feel the cutter doing the work and you won’t have to pull so hard. It will take some time to get a feel for this. Keep a gentle grip on the cutter. It’s easy to find yourself holding the cutter too tight which will result in deep cuts and a sore, tired hand.

A word about words: keep in mind that any words you include need to be carved in mirror image (see previous images), lest you end up with this.

Continue to remove the material, using a variation of cutting tips as needed to get the desired image. Explore texture and negative space, as well as composition and design, and have fun!

Linoleum pieces can also be purchased mounted on wood, and I find that the mounted pieces are a little easier for the kids to use—it’s more for them to hold onto as they carve. Alternatively, you can mount a piece of linoleum onto wood yourself with some contact cement.

That’s the cutting/carving portion of block printing in a nutshell. My next post will describe the inking and printing process.

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