With 2020 being what it is, I decided to go all out on my holiday cards this year. Normally, I don’t even send out cards because I don’t think about them until I start receiving them…oops!
I’ve written up a brief tutorial on the process, but learning to block print takes practice and patience!
Part 1: Setting up and Carving your Linoleum Block
I like to draw my image on a piece of paper with the outline of the block size drawn as a border. This way, there’s not too many lines on my block, which can get confusing. Next, I set my drawing on the block with drawing side face-down. This way, I can use a graphite pencil to transfer the image by rubbing the back of the drawing.
This will only transfer a rudimentary outline, but I find it’s usually good enough. A word of caution about the image reversing: what you’ve drawn will show up with the same orientation once it’s printed, but will be backwards on the block. I forgot about this and accidentally inverted my Orion constellation in the process, so now it’s printed upside down.
“A word of caution about the image reversing: what you’ve drawn will show up with the same orientation once it’s printed, but will be backwards on the block.”
Now for the fun part! I first carve an outline around chunks of linoleum that are being removed. I’m no expert in relief printing, but I’ve found using high quality tools makes the job much easier. I like the Pfeil rounded carving tools, but there are many styles to test before committing. Next, I carve away everything inside my outlines I’ve already carved.
Part 2: Proofing and Printing on Fancy Paper
Now that I have my image carved away, I print a proof on regular printing paper. There are two types of inks: water based and oil (linseed) based. I’m using Gamblin’s Portland Black oil ink for this project. There’s technically a 3rd type of ink, which is Cranfield’s Caligo Safe Wash ink that’s oil based AND can be cleaned up with soap and water. I will probably switch to this style of ink because traditional oil based inks need mineral spirits to be properly cleaned (messy and need to be in a well ventilated area).
I had to do a few proofs, making sure I carved deep enough on the snow areas to ensure my brayer didn’t accidentally ink those voids. Once I was happy, I moved on to printing on my fancy BFK Rives paper. I honestly don’t remember what weight I bought, but it was pretty hefty. I wet my paper with a damp sponge and let it soak between two pieces of plastic for 15 min before starting.
From what I could find online, some people always wet their paper, some people never wet their paper, and others do depending on if the paper is sized or not. This got really confusing, so I just tested a wetted vs. non-wetted piece. Since I’m printing by hand, without a press, the wetted piece took the ink up much better, but I could see how wetting isn’t necessary using a press.
“From what I could find online, some people always wet their paper, some people never wet their paper, and others do depending on if the paper is sized or not.”
Printing went really well! I ripped my paper to size, tearing with the back facing me and went ahead printing without setting up any registration. This worked because the block was almost the same size as the paper, so I could easily see the edges. After a few days, the ink was dry and I was ready to assemble the cards.
Part 3: Creating the holiday cards
The last step was to add colored paper to the inside of the cards. I cut green and red pieces of cardstock so they would be offset by 1/4″ on all edges of the outer printed paper. Last, I used an awl and a book binding technique called saddle stitching to attach the two pieces of paper. This was very simple once I figured out what the technique I wanted to use was called and could search for tutorials.
If you’re interested in learning more about relief printing, I have a few books that have been helpful to learn the basics. The first, is Nick Morley’s Linocut for Artists & Designers is a great, all-around book that covers enough of every topic to get you started. The second is Laura Boswell’s Making Japanese Woodblock Prints. This book features specific information related to the Japanese style of relief printing, but offers different ways to think about registration, inking, and even cutting relief prints.
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