Block (Printing) Party

This is one of the more complicated crafts I’ve tackled on DIY Not?, only because it involves investing in a few supplies and a small element of danger.  I’m kind of not kidding about the danger — there are sharp tools in the mix!  But don’t be intimidated–block printing is a really fun technique to learn, and carving the block is pretty cathartic.  Once it’s done, you have a one-of-a-kind little piece of art that you can use and reuse on all kinds of things — kitchen towels, cards, t-shirts, wall art, etc.  “Oh,” you’ll say casually, when someone compliments you on the card you sent them, “I printed it myself, and carved the image too.” “Who ARE you?” they’ll say, and you’ll just smile mysteriously, because you are an enigma.

What you need:
lino cutting tool with various blades
lino block (available at art supply stores — I use the gray kind mounted on wood)
bench hook
cheap picture frame
if you’re stamping on fabric: fabric paint or fabric screenprinting ink
if you’re stamping on paper or wood: block printing ink
graphite paper (optional)

Before you get started: This kit has almost everything you need and it’s a great deal.  If you’re not up for the challenge of creating your own block carving, you can use the same printing technique with a regular store-bought stamp … but it won’t be as fun.  This is not intended as a complete beginner’s tutorial to block cutting — it’s just a simple demonstration to encourage you to get into block printing.  Google block cutting tutorials for more detailed advice about cutting techniques and how to do more complicated designs!

1. Trace the outline of the block onto a piece paper so that you know exactly how much space you’re working with, then draw an image inside using a pencil.  Or if you’re good at drawing, you can draw right onto the block! In either case, keep in mind that the image will be reversed when you print it.  As you can see, I am not a naturally gifted artist … but it’s better to use a simple design for your first few blocks anyway!

2. Use graphite paper to transfer to the lino block; if you don’t have any, you can flip the design over and scribble over the back to rub your drawing onto the block. Again, think about which way the image will print before proceeding.

3. Start with a v-shaped tool to carve an outline around the whole image.  Yes, you can mess this up–just work slowly and you’ll be OK!

4. Use a scoop-shaped cutter to remove the blank spaces.  You want to make sure nothing outside the image sticks up, or it will pick up ink and show up when you try to print.

5. When you’re done carving, inspect the block for anything that may interfere with a good clean image — any high spots or anything sticking up.  Wipe off with a damp paper towel.

5. Squeeze some ink or paint onto the glass/plexiglass of your picture frame.  Thin it a bit with a few drops of water and blend with a toothpick.  You don’t want it to be runny, so err on the side of caution and just add a few drips of water at a time.  If it’s too thick, you’ll be able to tell when you do a test print.  Roll the brayer through and cover evenly; if you have too much paint/ink on there, just roll it on a piece of scrap paper.

6. Roll onto the block and make sure everything is covered evenly; if you got anything outside the image, or got too much paint/ink in any of the crevices of the design, just wipe them off.

7. Test on a scrap of fabric or paper to make sure it’s going to print as expected.  In this case, I spotted a blob of paint on the left that I didn’t notice was there — when I re-rolled the block with paint, I made sure to wipe that spot off before printing onto the final piece.  You may also see a high spot that needs to be carved away.

8. Time for the real deal — print on your final piece. Carefully center and press down evenly. It’s a bit nerve-wracking but don’t worry if it’s not perfect.  Getting an imperfect print is part of the beauty of this technique!  Let it dry and enjoy your handiwork. Don’t forget to clean off your block and whatever you used to hold your paint/ink!

And here’s an example of the same block printed on paper and wood …