How to make a block print. Wood Cut and Linoleum Cut printing tools and technique is explained
Block printing is a useful technique for producing multiples of the same image. It is an extremely affordable art form and can be accomplished in a small workspace such as a kitchen table or desk.
Tools and Supplies:
- Cutting Tools
- Linoleum or Wood Block
- Carbon Paper
- Brayer or Roller
- Plexi or Glass Plate for Ink
- Press or Baren or Smooth Object for Rubbing
- Cutting Tools
There are gouges and knives for both wood and linoleum.
Linoleum cutting tools are generally less expensive and have tips that can be chucked into a single handle with storage inside the handle for the tips you are not currently using. Gouges come in a variety of sizes from 1 to 5. The higher numbers remove more material and the lower numbers are for finer work. There will also be a flat small knife tip.
The gouges are pushed through the material and it is very important that you not hold the block in such a way that the gouge will be pushed into your hand or fingers when the inevitable slip happens. The Linozip tool has been created to overcome this safety hazard. It is a hook shape that is intended to be held more like a pencil and it is pulled toward the user. It produces a somewhat different texture.
Linoleum comes in a variety of qualities and hardness’s. A common linoleum is called Battleship Gray. It comes in different sizes and you can order pre-cut sizes or you can order in rolls.
You can also order your linoleum mounted on wooden blocks. The benefit of the mounted linoleum is that it is easier to hold and can be braced against the edge of a stationary carving tray.
Linoleum has no grain, it is soft and easy to carve.
Wood Cutting Tools
Wood cutting tools should be made of forged steel and are permanently fitted into sturdy handles. They need to be very sharp and you should have a nice oil stone and leather strap for keeping them sharp. They come in v shape, u shape, broad spoon shape for removing large quantities of material and flat chisel shapes of various sizes.
There is no one particular variety of wood that is recommended for block printing. If working with a heavily grained soft wood it is best to work with the grain as much as possible. If you are working with a hard wood it will be easier to work across the grain. The texture of the wood can add an interesting element. One tip for working with highly grained wood is to cut around the design first with a sharp knife before gouging out the negative space.
Printing ink comes in oil base and water base. Oil base ink needs to be cleaned up with a solvent such as mineral spirits or turpentine.
Brayer or Roller
A brayer is a tool with a roller on a handle used for applying ink to your block. You will want to get one that is hard rather than soft for block printing. You may want to get several sizes after you gain more experience and start using multiple blocks to print an image.
Plate for Ink
A flat piece plexiglass or any other smooth non-absorbent material about 12 x12 would be good. Be sure to tape the edges if they are sharp.
There are papers made specifically for block printing but you can use any absorbent paper and even fabric. Have some newsprint handy for some test prints so you don’t have to use your expensive paper.
Smooth Object for Rubbing or A Press
Draw your image on paper and transfer it to the linoleum or wood block with carbon paper. Remember that you will be drawing a mirror image of what you want to see printed. This may not be important for some images but if you are using letters or numbers it is critical if you want to be able to read them. If you use tissue paper you will be able to draw your letters and numbers naturally and turn the tissue face down on the block for transferring.
Carving and cutting your block should be done with your block braced against a fence or a stationary carving tray. Cut away everything that you do not want to be printed. Begin by using the smallest veining gouge and cut around the entire image to be printed. To remove large amounts of material use larger scoop shaped gouges. Use smaller ones as you get closer to the image or when you need to make detailed cuts. Go slow and make shallow cuts. If you dig in you may unintentionally cut chunks and you will have much less control. Your cuts will be a pushing motion so keep your hands free of the block where you are cutting. Slips are frequent especially for beginners and your tools are very sharp.
Spread your ink on the plate and roll it out with the brayer until you have a smooth consistent layer on the plate and a smooth coating on your brayer. You do not want to have globs of ink on your brayer. You can always add more ink.
Ink your block by applying the brayer to the design and rolling it over the entire printing surface. It will take some practice to know the right amount to apply. Do some practice prints on newsprint until you become comfortable with the process.
Making your print can be done in a couple different ways. You can lay your paper on the inked surface of the block and rub it gently in a circular motion with a smooth flat object or baren. Carefully peel your print off the block.
If you have a press you will place the paper in the press and place the block on top of the paper and engage the press. You can also use the block much in the way you would use a rubber stamp. If using this method it helps to put a pad of newspaper under your printing paper.
Block printing is a great technique for making cards, invitations, bookplates and fine art prints.
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