Linoleum block printing can seem very intimidating at first, but with a little guidance and the right tools, it's really a great new medium that all artists should give a try at least once.
Step 1: The Tools of the Trade
• Pen, marker, pencil, colored pencil
• Linoleum block
• Transfer paper
• Bench hook
• Lino Handle/lino cutters
• Printer’s ink (Oil Based)
• Brayer (ink roller)
• Electric blanket and towel
• Spoon (or a Baren)
• Glass surface (plate or baking pan will do)
All of these tools can be bought at your local craft supplier. I bought a block printing kit at Michael's Arts and Crafts store, and this included all of the basic printmaking materials that are needed. Speedball Art is a great supplier for block printing supplies. They are affordable and of good quality, especially for a beginner.
Step 2: Design and Draw
a. Remember: You will essentially be creating a large stamp. So your drawing should go on the block the opposite way that you want it to be printed. So either draw your design the opposite of how you would like it to print or, iff you do not want to draw your design in the opposite way, you can draw your sketch normally, and then scan it into a computer and use a photo editing program to reverse or reflect it over the vertical axis.
b. Also remember: You will be carving your design into a piece of linoleum, so if this is your first time carving a linoleum block, consider doing something relatively simple, rather than a complicated design with lots of fine lines.
2. Draw out your design. Be sure to make the drawing the same size as your linoleum block, so that you don’t have to mess with resizing the picture and printing it before you begin to transfer.
a. Remember to keep in mind that the lines that you carve away will be white, and the block that remains will be what prints color.
Step 3: Transferring Onto the Linoleum Block
Now you will need to trace over the lines you have drawn again to transfer the design onto the block, by pressing the pencil down firmly over the lines.
a. Be sure that you trace all of the lines onto the block. Using another color pencil can help you differentiate the traced lines from the lines you have yet to trace.
NOTE: If you don't have transfer paper, you can make your own, like I did. You simply take a regular piece of paper and a pencil, and shade a square onto the paper the size of your block. To make sure that it will work properly, you should shade in several different directions to make a solid block. This can be used just like the transfer paper.
After you have transferred the design onto the linoleum, you might need to go in with a pencil and fill in any small areas that you missed, or add in any details that you feel necessary. You might also want to trace over the pencil lines with a permanent marker, because as you begin carving the pencil lines can smudge and become difficult to see.
Once you have traced your image, design or drawing onto the block, you are ready to determine which parts of the block you want to carve. Consider which lines you want to be white, and what parts of the design will be printed in color.
Do you want the lines of your drawing to be in white, or printed in color?
Do you want the majority of your block to be white, or in color?
Consider how the block is going to print! This is how you decide what to carve, and how.
Step 4: Carving the Linoleum Block
a. Never cut towards your hand or towards you body! Always cut away from yourself! Keep your hands out of the path of the blade!
To secure the block so that it does not slip or slide, use a bench hook, it attaches to the end of your desk or work space and helps to keep your block nice and secure while carving.
To attach the blades to the lino handle, simply unscrew the top of the tool, there will be a slot to insert the blade into. After the blade is completely in, screw the top of the tool back, making sure it is very tight so that the blade doesn't slip or fall out while you are carving.
Start by using a V shaped tool, a smaller, fine tipped tool, like the one shown that I am using, to carve out fine lines and to outline of the design. You can use other blades that will come with the lino handle to cut different amounts of linoleum. To remove more of the linoleum for bigger lines or larger areas of block, use a U shaped tool, much like the V shaped tool, but the blade is a bit wider and flatter. Use a flat chisel to remove large amounts of linoleum.
a. Remember: Once you make a cut, it is not easy to fix, and sometimes it is impossible to fix. So choose the right tool, make sure the tools are sharp, and go slow! Block printing, particularly the carving, is a slow process that requires a lot of patience. Take your time!
b. If you are finding it difficult to carve the linoleum, you can warm it up for easier cutting. To do so, place a towel down and then place a heating pad on low to medium heat on the towel. Now place another towel on top of the pad. Place the linoleum block on top of the towel, linoleum side down to get it to warm. This will make it easier to cut, and it will help make more precise lines.
Step 5: Printing
After you have proofed, you can go back and carve out the parts of the design that didn't print the way you might have liked. Try to proof your block every time that you make new cuts to make sure you are satisfied with the way that the block is printing.
To print you will need:
• Printer’s Ink (NOTE: Oil ink is permanent, so be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and consider wearing rubber gloves to keep your hands clean.)
• Carved block
• Ink roller (brayer)
• Smooth surface (glass plate or glass baking pan)
• Spoon (or Baren)
Be sure to first clean your block off so that there are no stray shavings because they will mess up your print.
Begin by squeezing ink onto your glass plate or pan, I simply used my bench hook as a flat surface for my ink. Do not use too much ink, if you need more you can add on later.
Use a paint knife or just a flat utensil like regular knife or even simply a Popsicle stick to spread the ink onto the surface of the plate.
Now, roll your brayer (roller) in the ink until it is evenly coated. Do not get too much or too little ink on the roller. When you have the right amount of ink on the roller, it should make a sound like ripping Velcro when you roll the brayer back and forth.
Now taker your roller and roll it back and forth across your linoleum block, making sure you cover the entire thing evenly.
Make sure your hands are clean!
Take your paper and position it in the block, now take your wooden spoon and rub, using the backside, curved side, to transfer the image. Go in even circles with the spoon and be sure to rub the entire area.
Lift the paper slowly and carefully, and lay it somewhere to dry for three to four days. Hanging prints is an easy way to dry them. You can do this by hanging a string and use clothespins to hang the prints.
After every print you need to re-ink the block.
Step 6: Conclusion
There are endless possibilities when it comes to linoleum block printing, so keep exploring, experimenting and printing!