CRAFT 101: LINOCUTS & WOODBLOCKS

Roughly twenty years ago I was introduced to the technique of relief printmaking in high school which has had a transformational impact on my art style and overall creative palette ever since. So what is relief printmaking you ask? Well, in short relief printing can be defined as a printing process by which a carved or otherwise created three-dimensional master is used to make duplicates of an image. Woodblock, linocuts and wood engraving are all common relief print methods. In woodblock and linocut printmaking, the parts of the block that are not to appear on the print are removed from the block by cutting them away with a knife or other tool. For printing, the raised parts of the block are inked and the paper is pressed on it by hand or by a press. Printmaking originated in China where both fabrics and books were printed using wooden blocks at an early stage. Woodblock printing had reached Europe by the 14th century and was much used for producing broadsheets and printing books.

Over the past two decades I’ve produced two mixed linocut and woodblock print collections Sirius Art Collection I and The Frustrated Artist Series. In this post, I will provide an abbreviated and simple description of each phase in the process of linocut relief printmaking. I hope that you find this ancient art technique as intriguing as I have and are inspired to create your very own linocut or woodblock print. Please share your work on your social media outlets using hash tag #CraftBrandTheory.

Okay, let’s get started.

Big Band Theory hand sketch

The Image
Almost all engravings will start with a drawing. I often start with sketchbook drawings. The main thing to remember is that the image you cut on the block is the reverse of the final print. I often make my preparatory drawings in sketchbooks or scrap papers. Most of my ideas are generated from personal experiences and photographed images that I have taking personally and/or collected from another source.

The Block
The wood engraving block is cut across the end grain of the block. The traditional wood used for wood engraving is boxwood. The wood has to be capable of coping with the finely detailed work of some engravers. I enjoy using linoleum because of the softness of the texture, which makes it easier to carve and make very detailed engravings.

Preparing the Block for Engraving

In this stage, the method used for preparing the block for engraving may vary according to each engraver’s preferences. I draw in ink or pencil on the natural wood surface of the block. Sometimes I square up the block to transfer the drawing accurately. Occasionally I use tracing film to place the main elements of the design and then add the rest freehand. I will often work freehand throughout. I often make very detailed marks on the block. I find that this helps me make a more lively engraving. Now we need some tools.

Printmaking Tool Kit

The Engraving Tools
Wood Engraving tool developed from metal engraving tools. I use about six different tools in all, but for most of my work I stick to four favorites. The SPITSTICKER is my main drawing tool, especially for curved lines. I have two widths, narrow and medium. I also use them for stippling – making small round marks. The SCORPER cuts straight lines and is good for clearing out areas of white. The TINT TOOL is good for cutting thin parallel lines. The LOZENGE GRAVER cuts lines on varying width.

The handle sits neatly into the palm of the hand and the ‘blade’ is held between thumb and forefinger. The tool is held at a very low angle to the block when the cut is made. It is very easy for the tool to slip and make a mistaken mark that is nearly impossible to deal with so part of the ‘free’ hand (which is actually holding the block) can be used as a ‘stop’ to prevent this. It is important that each mark is a deliberate and considered cut. As with many forms of art, it is difficult to know exactly when to stop. You can always go back and engrave more but you can’t go back if you have cut too much!

Ink Rolller

Inking the Block and taking a Proof
In this stage I typically use a 64mm treothene roller, with a wooden handle and metal frame. I use a black linseed oil-based ink, which I spread across a glass slab. This is then rolled out thinly until it has a velvet look.

Printmaking Process at a glance

At this point, I take the roller and roll ink onto the block from several directions. A lot of this is trial and error and you have to experiment to get it right. If you use too much ink it will clog up the fine lines and not enough ink gives an unsatisfactory print. I then take a piece of thin paper and place it over the block. I take a smooth wooden tool and carefully but firmly rub it until the design has been transferred to the paper. The sheet is carefully pulled from the block and the print is seen for the first time. I like to use an expensive rice paper to achieve the highest level of print quality.

Now that you’ve completed your linocut relief print don’t forget to share your masterpiece using hash tag #CraftBrandTheory. I can’t wait to see your work.

We must create,

Karim

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