Monday, October 27, 2014

The block-printing bug...and a Guinness or two

It all started innocently enough when I was drawn to the vintage graphics on this brayer box at an estate sale. A few weeks and a few purchases later, I'm in the throes of a block printing obsession.

(There are tons of wonderful block-printing tutorial videos and instructions online—I especially like Linda Cote's site—so I won't go into a lot of the "how-to" details of preparing your drawings, etc. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.)

For the first pass, I used a little block of Speedball's "Speedy Cut" material. (It's either white or blue in the stores.) Yes, it's super easy to carve, but the eraser-like material doesn't hold up all that well to multiple cleanings or larger print runs. Here's the block I used for my first little piece, seen above:

Confidence boosted, I decided to try a regular carving block of linoleum. I chose one of my favorite old drawings to adapt. At first, I was discouraged at how difficult it was to carve. But I realized that I was trying to carve too deeply; once I got the hang of it, it was great fun.

This material gives your cuts more of a traditional woodcut look, but it'll take some more practice for me. However, I may not return to the lino, because I'm in love with Speedball's "Speedy Carve", as you'll see below. (Why Speedball named their two materials so similarly is beyond me...I just call it "the pink stuff" now.)

Feeling pretty brave at this point, I decided to make try a two-color reduction print for my son's girlfriend's birthday, using a photo I'd taken of her beautiful Doberman, Guinness. Yes, I did an overlay on this one, not an original drawing, but it was a photo that I took myself. I decided not to create my own drawing, because I wanted to capture this specific dog, and we all know that we, as pet owners, know every little unique detail of our animals.

The Speedy-Carve is soft enough to cut easily, but retains its edges beautifully through multiple cleanings and printings. I experimented with different  papers, etc. My new fave is Arches 88...those prints turned out beautifully.

On a reduction print, you print the lightest color first, then cut away everything that remains that color to print the next color. Obviously, this creates a limited edition—there's no going back to that first layer! But if you used a little homemade jig like I did (see below), it makes registration a breeze. In fact, getting those two colors to align perfectly was my biggest fear, and they all came out lined up perfectly!

Here's my set-up: a piece of foamcore board with a hole cut the exact size of my block but not quite as thick. An L-shaped corner to register the paper against, 

and I made a "mask" out of heavy paper to quickly lay over the image after inking so that the stray inking marks would be covered up and wouldn't print. I learned that many experience printers prefer rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon rather than a traditional baren. Easy and cheap!

I made about a dozen and got quite a few pretty nice prints out of those, but this was my best one, all framed up to send off!

I'll never give up my pencil drawing—in fact, I'm having a great time on a new piece at the moment—but there is definitely a lot more block printing in my future!