Linocut: Thistle (& gift ideas for beginner printmakers)


Thistle 4×6 Linocut with watercolor (in my Etsy Shop)

Which Printmaking Supplies Should You Buy?

As soon as I started posting printmaking tutorials on my youtube channel, I received an avalanche of emails asking where one could buy a comprehensive starter set to try printmaking without breaking the bank. As far as I know, there isn’t a complete set that includes all of the parts I’d recommend to try making a linocut for the first time. (I’ve written to Speedball about this, but so far, they don’t have a complete, affordable set I’d recommend.)


Preparing to carve the block for “Thistle” with a speedball carving knife, and popcorn snacks! 🙂

What’s NOT on the Ink Label

This is especially so if you want the option of enhancing the print by adding wet-media, like watercolor, over the image after it dries, without re-wetting the printmaking ink. Most water based printmaking inks out there will re-wet after drying, if you try to paint over them, which leads to lost integrity of the print, and muddy passages. Very frustrating. That’s one of the things I admire about Akua inks (a Speedball Company); they clean up with dish soap and water, but once they dry on paper, they do not re-wet, unlike many other water-clean-up printmaking inks. (Oil-based printmaking inks don’t re-wet after drying either, but the clean up requires either solvents, or a two-step process of vegetable oil and then dish soap.)

adding watercolor to a woodcut

Adding watercolor to a woodcut print titled “Grange”.

Make a List of What you Need

A first-time printmaker needs a block to carve, a knife with a few, assorted blades, a brayer, some ink, a bench hook, and good printmaking paper with a spoon (either wood or metal) to transfer the image. A decent book on the art of relief prints is helpful too, for both the guidance, and the inspirational survey of other artists’ printmaking examples. A few clothes pins or spring clamps and a length of twine might also be handy to hang prints to dry. In this 5th post of my gift guide series, I’m listing a selection of gift ideas for the beginning printmaker in your life – (even if you are the printmaker) especially if the inclination is to try making a linocut. (In previous posts, you can check out the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th art-related gift guides too.)

Printmaking Supply Options Online

Speedball Super Value Block Printing Starter Kit

This package contains a brayer, a styrofoam tray (to roll out ink), a knife handle with a couple of different blades, a small block of linoleum and a tube of ink, which is almost everything you need to make a linocut, but not quite. The price is right for a starter kit, so I’d recommend this as a gift for someone interested in giving printmaking a go. But I’d also recommend purchasing a bench hook, and paper, as well as a little Akua ink, especially if the artist wants the option to add water-based media to the prints after the ink is dry without re-wetting the printmaking ink and ending up with muddy art. (see below for those items)

Speedball Bench Hook and Inking Plate for Block Printing

This bench hook (also called an S-Brace) has two uses; it will hold the block steady while carving when it’s nestled against the curb on the upper side of the metal plate, and the lower curb will stay hooked against the table-edge to keep the block from sliding forward while you’re carving. It makes a big difference, and prevents the carver from holding the block with one hand while pushing the knife with the other, which often leads to stab wounds in the holding hand. (Never put your hand in the path of the carving tool, ever.) [I use a wooden bench hook a friend made for me, which is explained in this video on my youtube channel.] The metal version bench hook featured here can also be used as a flat surface for rolling out ink with a brayer, so it’s got two uses, both of which are pretty important for the ease of learning this fun printmaking method.

Speedball 9-Inch-by-12-Inch Fine Printmaking Paper, 25 Sheets Pack

Paper choice makes has a big impact on a the success or failure of a printmaker’s first time experience, especially when the print is transferred by hand (as opposed to the using a press).  Rubbing the back of paper against a carved and inked block takes time, and if the paper is too stiff, or has a bit too much texture or “tooth” to bond with the intricate line work of the inked block, entire passages of the image will not transfer to the paper, or they’ll be too faint and ghosty. Paper has to be thin enough to press into the ink with pressure applied from the curve of a spoon (or a baren), so a printmaking paper with flexibility and strength is important. In this packet of 25 sheets, if the block is small, each sheet can be torn in half to 9×6 or even quarters (4.5 x 6) to increase the amount of prints to 100.

Speedball Linoleum Block, 4 X 6

It would be swell to have a handful of these blocks to try a variety of printmaking methods. The kit featured above supplies just one block to carve, but once you get started, it’s kind of addicting, and the practice reveals ideas for improvements and even better designs, so the printmaker starts itching to make another print before the first one is dry. If this sounds like you, order a few of these, so they’re at-the-ready for your next Big Idea. 🙂

Akua Black Relief Ink
If your printmaker is likely to add a little mixed media to the first print they make, and any of it is water-based (watercolor, acrylic, inks, etc.) then Akua ink would be a swell addition to their printmaking starter pack. The speedball ink included in the super value starter kit above will re-wet and bleed black ink if you apply water-based pigments to it, but this ink, by Akua (now owned by Speedball) will not re-wet after it dries, and it still cleans up with soap and water.

Block Printing: Techniques for Linoleum and Wood

This is a great art-reference book for beginning printmakers, especially at just under $20. It’s emphasis is on the mechanics of printmaking and the author covers materials, tools, paper, inks, transferring drawings to the block, cleaning and caring for tools, and a variety of methods for printing both linocut and wood blocks. Check out the reviews on this one.

Making an Impression: Designing & Creating Artful Stamps

If carving linoleum sounds like it could be too hard on tender fingers, arthritic hands or weak wrists, carving rubber stamps might be easier, and it’s just as much fun as linocut. This book is designed beautifully, and the colors, graphic layout, ideas and lessons are full of inspiration.  I’ve followed Geninne’s beautiful work for years, and she is much loved (and often imitated by those who love her unique style). Grab a handful of rubber stamps, some ink pads and a carving tool to make your own set of whimsical embellishments for envelopes, notecards and fabric.

Speedball 4-Inch-by- 6-Inch Speedy-Carve Carving Block

This soft, rubbery block is the same consistency as a gum eraser; very flexible and easy to cut, so this is great material for rubber stamp carving. If you get the book by Geninne above, and a carving knife and ink pad, be sure to try this carving block too. It can be cut down into even smaller blocks if you want to make tiny prints, or place an order for a larger piece, and cut that down to save dollars.


So, that should get you started, eh? If you’re still stumped and looking for some info, shoot me an email, and let me know what you’re thinking. In the meantime, I’ll see you in the next post! Thanks for stopping by!


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Art Quote
Every Autumn we spent together, the routine was the same: breakfast at 7:30, afterwards work literally all day till the light faded. At rare intervals, an excursion – if very hot, a siesta after the midday meal, but work was the order of the day. After dinner, piano duets & chess, and early to bed.

~Eliza Wedgewood, on accompanying John Singer Sargent around Europe during the 1900’s

how to title your art

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5 Responses to Linocut: Thistle (& gift ideas for beginner printmakers)

  1. Joana Carvalho December 24, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    Hi Belinda, I just got the Speedball printmaking starter kit and I’m loving it!

    You were right, linocut can become addicting. Your videos are a great source of inspiration.

    Merry Christmas to you and all the best for 2016!

    I hope you continue posting videos on youtube 🙂

  2. Louise December 14, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    My wish for 2016 is more of your wonderful printmaking videos! I use (and love) Akua inks, too.

    A book I’d recommend, especially for anyone just starting out in printmaking or if carving lino is too hard on the hands, is Foam Is Where the Art Is: New Ways to Print by Annette W. Mitchell. Creative Catalyst in Oregon (http://ccpvideos.com/) carries both the book and a terrific dvd on using polystyrene foam trays (the kind take-out sushi comes on). Detailed and sophisticated prints can be created by “carving” into the foam with something as simple as a pencil and then printing with nothing more than hand pressure.

    • Belinda DelPesco December 15, 2015 at 6:33 am #

      Hi Louise, I’ll be posting more printmaking videos in 2016, I promise! Thanks for the encouragement! And Thanks for the book and DVD recommendation too! I’ve seen and experimented with foam plate printmaking, but I wasn’t familiar with Annette’s work till I watched the intro to her video on your link, and it looks excellent!

  3. seamustheone December 14, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    Where is the quote from? Pretty please

    • Belinda DelPesco December 14, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

      Hi seamustheone – I think it’s from the book by Carl Little – The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent. I have it somewhere, but I’m not unpacked and fully moved into my new space yet, so I can’t be sure. Eliza was a close friend of JSS’ sister Emily, so she traveled and got to hang out with them often. Lucky duckling.

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