Gift Ideas for the for Beginner Printmaker
When I started posting printmaking tutorials on my youtube channel, I got a flood of emails asking where one could buy a comprehensive starter set to try printmaking without breaking the bank. I’ve searched, and there isn’t a complete set in a box that includes all of the parts I’d recommend to try making a linocut or a woodcut for the first time. But a kit can be assembled a la carte to get you, or your beginner printmaker started on the right foot! Printmaking is a wonderful art-making method that allows the artist to print in multiples. More than that, the sequential steps are very specific, like assembling the ingredients to bake a pie, and the step-by-step instructions can be very meditative and relaxing to folks who enjoy being immersed in a successive process with beautiful results.
Do You Want the Option of Hand Coloring Your Prints?
If you want the option of enhancing your print by adding color in a wet-media, like watercolor, after the ink dries, be sure to get the right printmaking ink. Some water wash-up printmaking inks will re-wet after drying, so if you paint over them with watercolor (like I’ve done on the little landscape woodcut below), or if you’d like to tint the print with alcohol inks, or thinned acrylic, you’ll want a printmaking ink that dries permanently, and doesn’t re-wet. Painting over rewettable printmaking ink leads to lost integrity of the print, and muddy passages of color when the ink bleeds into your paint. Very frustrating. Akua inks (a Speedball Company) will clean up with dish soap and water, and after they dry on paper, they do not re-wet.
Printmaking Inks & Drying Time
Speedball water-soluble printmaking inks dry so fast, you can’t print a large edition without having your ink dry-up on your roll-out surface and your brayer. They also re-wet after they dry. Caligo Safe-Wash inks are oil-based, but they wash up with soap and water, they stay wet on your roll-out surface, and they do not re-wet after they dry, so you can paint over the inks with wet media. Many oil-based printmaking inks don’t re-wet after drying either, but they take much longer to dry, depending on the color (reds and white take up to a week to dry in some cases, depending on the humidity in your art-making space). Clean up of traditional oil-based printmaking inks require either solvents, or a two-step process of vegetable oil to break the ink down, and then dish soap to wash it off your table and brayer and blocks. Both oil-based and some of the water-wash-up relief inks work well if you choose to add watercolor on top of the prints, so either flavor will work. Just be sure to get stuff that dries permanently if you want to hand color your prints.
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. You can also use a baren, but I prefer a good old fashioned spoon. 🙂 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 non-stretch twine will also be handy to hang prints to dry.
I’m listing a selection of gift ideas for the beginning printmaker in your life below – (even if you are the printmaker) especially if the inclination is to try making a linocut. It’s a good place to start, and you can graduate to a woodcut after you get cozy with the process.
Printmaking Supply Options Online
This package contains a brayer, a styrofoam tray (to roll out your ink), a knife handle with a couple of different blades, a small block of linoleum and a tube of ink (water soluble, and will re-wet), 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 or Caligo Safe-Wash 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.
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.
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. 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, 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.
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. This gives the printmaker a sweet itch 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. 🙂
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 to see lots of satisfied testimonials. Using a book in conjunction with online tutorials is an excellent way to pick up tips and tricks that will lead to success, and that will encourage continuing in your printmaking journey.
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.
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.
Printmaking Video Demos and Tutorials
You can also send a link to this playlist of relief printmaking tutorials on my YouTube channel. There are plenty of tips and mini-demos of carving, inking and printing methods to get a beginner printmaker started on their first project, and each video has a list of supplies with links under the video window in the Show More link. Be sure to subscribe to the channel and click the little Bell Icon to be notified when new tutorial video gets posted.
So, that should get you started, eh? If you’re still stumped and looking for some info, leave a comment, and let me know what you’re looking for. In the meantime, I’ll see you in the next post! Thanks for stopping by!
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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