Art Stuff for Dummies: BLOCK PRINTING

Written By: Liana

Have you ever been curious about trying a new art form, but don’t have much idea of where to start?  Look no further, because I’m here to teach you some “Art Stuff for Dummies”!  Every month I’ll be taking on a new art form that I’m interested in, and I’ll be working though the process of teaching myself how to do it, so that you can try it, too. This month I’m going to try block printing!

Making art is a great source of stress-relief, but art has a tendency to feel intimidating. There are a lot of things that I wish I could try but I often convince myself that they require a higher level of artistic know-how than I’m capable of. But that’s ridiculous! Because some random person a long time ago made all this art stuff up until it started to look cool… right? Sometimes it’ll turn out great, and sometimes it’ll turn out not-so-great, but this is about me learning a new skill that hopefully you learn too, or at least you’ll learn that learning new stuff isn’t as intimidating as you thought!

STEP 1: What on Earth is a Lino?

Since I know nothing about this, I figured I should do what a student does best: research. Wait. No, I meant procrastinate on Instagram! So that’s exactly what I did. And in the process I found the account ‘sowiesowie’ – they make adorable prints. I’m talking prints cute-enough-to-sell-online adorable. There’s this one of a dog wearing a Christmas sweater that is really long. I think it adequately distils the essence of everyone’s Christmas sweater goals.

Some of their older videos are very illustrative of the carving/inking/stamping processes. A big thing I took away from this is: what you carve away will be white, and what you leave on the block will be black. This sounds obvious, but I learnt later that you’d be surprised at how easy it is to forget this simple fact while you’re carving.

Short answer: Lino is short for linoleum; a common flooring material, but it’s also the stuff you’re going to be carving.


STEP 2: I bought a block printing kit.

This one was a ‘Speedball’ kit, which I actually got at the YorkU bookstore. I found that it had everything I needed to make something print. If this goes well and I want to try again, I only have to buy more carving block because the kit comes with black ink, ink roller (which I have learnt is called a ‘brayer’), lino handle (thing you hold while carving) and the attachable cutters in #1, #2, #5 (which go in the handle to make your carving instrument.) I have also learnt that the #s of the cutters correspond to how big they are, which gives you an idea of their respective ability to gouge stuff when it comes to carving your block.

I thought since this was my first try and there was a very high chance that I could mess up, I would cut my carving block in half first. Then I traced my half-block onto a piece of paper and attempted to coax out some hidden ability to draw.


STEP 3: Draw something cool to print.

After a few attempts, I got this.


STEP 4: Transfer your image to the carving block.

The instructions (which otherwise are pretty non-existent) said to use an iron to transfer printed images or to draw the picture directly onto the block. Alas, I do not have an iron (shout out to that #StudentLife!) and I didn’t know if I could use an eraser on the block print because the block print kind of felt like a massive, flat eraser already – so I tried something else. I put the carving block on the table and the paper on top, with my design facing down on the block. I coloured the other side of the paper so that the pencil markings from my design would transfer onto the block. (Yes. I am still a child.) But it worked!

Keep in mind, though, that this puts the opposite of your design onto the carving block. But also keep in mind that when you print it later, it will be the opposite of what it looks like on the carving block, too.  So it kind of cancels itself out.


STEP 5: Carve the thing!

After once again reminding myself of what would be black and what would be white, I started carving the block! I started off with the smallest #1 cutter because it seemed the least likely to encourage my clumsy hands to damage the print. Be warned: this made the process take eons. I spent almost 4 hours in G Ross Lord Park just… carving.

It also made me realize that I included a LOT more lines in my design than I had originally thought. I eventually worked my way up to one of the bigger cutters, which I used to get rid of what would be the plain white ‘background’ of my drawing. I ended up with a real stamp-looking printing block!


STEP 6: Break out the ink

This next step seemed self-explanatory enough, but there weren’t any explicit directions on how to do it ‘properly’. This is where my Instagram videos came in handy! I squeezed some of the ink onto a scrap piece of paper and used the brayer to roll the ink around until I had a relatively even distribution of ink on the roller.

Then I rolled the ink onto the carved block until it seemed like the ink was evenly covering that as well. I was careful not to put too much ink on; otherwise it would seep into the holes, and ink would be in what was supposed to be the negative (or ‘white’) spaces on the final print.

I flipped the carved block onto a new piece of paper, ink facing down, and pushed against the surface to make sure all the ink transferred. Then I peeled off the print, and this is what I got!

I am really happy with the result! The stem area of the flower was very thin so it moved when I pressed down. I would recommend being careful when you apply pressure to areas that you think are prone to move. Also, it’s a handmade process so there will always be small inconsistencies in ink distribution, but I think that adds to the beauty of the work!

Obviously the art of block printing is a bit more nuanced than this, and there are several things about it that I haven’t fully explored yet, but I’m proud that I even got this far. If I can do it, then you can, too!

Good luck with your own processes, and happy printing!