Woodblocks and Carving a Linoleum Block
This week is just a process post. I'm hoping that my process with this new block I made can be helpful for you. It will also link to my newest and first virtual workshop "Block Printing on Textiles," scheduled to go live Dec. 1st. The workshop block material is soft, easy, and great for beginners. Carving a linoleum block takes more time, is more a little more difficult, but will hold more line detail.
I've had this sketch ready for Years I think. It's joining my other animal mask friends, the donkey, ram, and sheep. My drawings are made from other drawings I found online in an old purchasing catalog from a company in Illinois that catered to men's clubs and societies in 1920s-30s, selling tricks, gags, and costumes. The whole catalog was very strange. Imagining groups of men secretly dressing up in huge papier-mâché animal heads seemed so bazaar and intriguing. The 150+ pages were full of so many other weird parlor tricks, games, and costumes one could purchase from this company. Many of them racist I should mention.
First I had to make my sketch smaller to fit of the linoleum block I had. I'll have to transfer it by tracing over the sketch over a piece of carbon paper. So I scanned it, shrunk it, flipped it, and printed it out. When you are transferring your artwork to a block, know that you will be printing with a mirror image. So if you want your print to face the same direction as your sketch, especially if you are working with text, before you print out what you will trace "flip horizontally."
I tape the sketch to my block so I can flip it up, just in case I need to check I'm doing it right. Then slide the carbon paper in between, darkened side towards the block. Then start to trace. With any marking tool hard enough to press between two layers to block. Don't press so hard you indent the block material. It can be helpful to use a pencil that is a different color then the lines of the print out. Or print your sketch in a color. As your tracing it can get confusing as to which lines you've already gone over.
Start carving once your lines are clear enough for you. Sketch right on the block if certain areas need tp be more defined. Shading areas you plan on carving out can be very helpful, as sometimes you sort of lose yourself in the carving. I use a combination of wood carving tools and the speedball carving tool, but mostly the second.
Shallow skinny lines can be used to mimic shading and small details. Removing whole areas or carving thick lines will leave you with negative space, or no color printed. While leaving areas uncarved and raised will be your positive space, or will leave you with the color printed. It can sometimes be tricky figuring out how to translate a sketch into a print. Even season printers will remove an area they didn't intend to. It can be frustrating and disappointed, but you can still end up with a great print.
When you get to a point where you think you might be done, but not sure if you should carve more, do a sample print! With a hard block you'll need a soft surface to print on. I have an industrial felt piece that I lay on a smooth table, with fabric a top to try it out. My huge yardage table in layered with the same felt and covered with smooth canvas. Roll out some ink with your brayer. I use black so I can see all the detail (or mistakes) clearly. Print. Reapply ink. Print again. Ultimately you should do your sample prints on the same textile you'll be printing on for your final piece. Each textile will pick up different details depending on the weave of the fabric.
Use your test prints to make any edits needed. Carving along you might start to get confused by how your artwork is going. Taking a marker and shading the raised, uncarved, areas can give you a better idea about how your doing.
Traditional blocks are solid wood (or metal in batik) carved right to the edge. So when I'm done carving, I cover the top of the block with a bit of thick paper and painters tape, and jigsaw cut about a 1/4" from the edge of the design. I sand the edges and round the edges with one of the wood carving tools. If you leave the lip on the edge, it will leave ink marks.
Now once you're happy with your block, get printing! I printed over a stitch resist, anti dye olive green linen I dyed a month or so back.