Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LINOLEUM PRINTS: the beginning of an epic adventure

Let's talk about linoleum printing.

First, I'll admit: I really had no idea what I was getting into with linoleum printing at all. All I really knew was that I had come across some really cool limited edition art prints (like this one and this one) and thought, "Hey! Those look really cool! I should do that!" One can, of course, reproduce similar effects using Photoshop, but for someone like me who is still more or less a novice in the illustration world, the easiest way to get nice textures is to . . . use real materials.

If you clicked through to the links, you'll note that neither of the two prints I was inspired by were actually linoleum prints -- the first was a letterpress print, and the second was a screenprint. I really like both of those styles and hope later to be able to make prints that way, but a letterpress requires an actual wooden press (thus the name) which would require either a lot of money or time to construct. As far as screenprinting goes . . . essentially you use a light-exposure technique to create a stencil of your design on a cloth screen. For reasons best known to myself (ha), I decided to start with something I had done (sort of) in middle school art class instead (hey, we carved little 2"x2" stamps out of rubber), because the principle was more straightforward and I was more confident in myself not to screw it up. I watched the Dick Blick videos (yeah, I know) here and here and decided that I could handle a process that was more or less making a giant stamp.

There were a few things I did not bargain on; one is that it's much harder to transfer an image exactly with linocut, because you are drawing it twice, more or less -- once with pen on the block, and once with the lino cutter as you chisel out the unwanted pieces. I also found that it's sort of a bad idea to draw the image on a different piece of paper, because the level and type of detail one gets with a pencil are not the same as the equivalent with the cutter. At some point I will probably learn to screenprint as well, in no small part because I also didn't figure on this:
This is a linoleum cutter, sketched very handily with my new tablet (heh, I'm learning new artsy things all over.) What it also represents is a tool that will make you lose feeling in your hands if used excessively, which I most certainly did in the first few days of experimentation. Screenprinting, I think, is less likely to cause muscle strain. The little cheap Blick-brand cutter I bought for $7 came with five blades; so far I've use mainly the deep V cutter (enough that I ordered another box of them rather than risk the one I have getting too dull to use) and the deep U cutter. I also decided to use Blick blockprinting ink, the main attraction of which is its relatively low price. I think at some point I will switch to oil-based rather than water-based ink, because this ink dries extremely quickly (meaning that I waste a lot by the time I get it spread out), and smudges very easily if I try to add other paints or color on top of the print.

Here are some photos from my first print, which was sort of cute but in several ways was moderately disastrous. Note: Do not attempt to make a heavily detailed two-color print on the first go. It's just not a great idea.

One of Mom's old pan lids got commissioned into service as a linoleum shred catcher/inking plate. I bought a bench hook, but have not really used it a lot yet. This was the second color. . .

And here is me trying (somewhat hopelessly) to line up the second color with the first. It was a miracle it worked as well as it did, but it still came out . . . kind of goofy. This print series ended after about three.

So given how not-fun that print was, I decided to scale back and try a relatively simple one-color print. I did what I always do (well, nearly always) when I am a bit stuck: I turned to someone I love for inspiration. In this case, that was Mr. Stubbs.

Thus, after 8 hours of furious carving or so, I ended up with 20 prints of "A Very Fine Fellow."

For more pictures and to purchase one of these excellent dudes (printed on heavy white cardstock), you can head over to the blogshop.

Funny dogs seemed to be the linoleum way to go, so the next print I sketched out was another dapper canine fellow: 

A French bulldog! This time he is not only a fine fellow, he is A French Gentleman. I want to improve my witty cartooning skills, so I have been trying to realize more of the humorous little thoughts I have during the day. (Say it with me: Oh dear.) He has a teapot and tea cups because when I think of Gentlemen, I think of tea time. Admittedly, I am not so sure that lots of French Gentlemen are tea-drinkers, but I did see plenty of "salons de thé" in Paris.

Here he is mid-carving.

And here's the finished block!

As someone commented to me, linoleum printing is always a bit of a surprise the first time you set ink to paper . . . I thought his eyes turned out a big goofy. I thought color would help, but after very briefly thinking back on my two-color print fiasco, I decided that watercoloring each print was the way to go.

Color most certainly DID help. And voila, my limited edition series of French Gentlemen prints! There are 20 altogether, each is hand-colored with watercolors, dated, signed, and numbered by me, and no two are quite alike! 

If cheery French bulldog cards are more your speed, I made those too. :P


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