9
Nov

Woodcut: Carnelian (& gift ideas for the beginner printmaker)

A woodcut of a red headed woman looking down with hair over her eyes

Carnelian 4×4 framed Reduction Woodcut with Watercolor and Colored Pencil – Available in my Etsy Shop

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.

A wood block with a carving of a woman's face

What remains of the wood block used to create Carnelian above.

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.

adding watercolor to a woodcut

Adding watercolor to a woodcut print titled “Grange”.

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.

Two Color reduction woodcut print, ready for added color with watercolor and colored pencil

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.

Prints drying on a closetmaid shelf with wooden clothes pins. You can suspend a length of twine and attach the clothes pins to that with your prints, just like clean laundry hanging in the fresh air. 🙂

Printmaking Supply Options Online

Speedball Super Value Block Printing Starter Kit

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.

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.

My wooden bench hook, made as a gift from a neighbor with a woodshop in his garage. I use a slab of plexiglass to roll out ink. Whether you make one from wood, or buy a metal version, I think this is a must have for anyone who carves blocks and wants to avoid accidental jabs and cuts to the fingers.

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.  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.

a block of linoleum being carved on a wooden bench hook

In this photo, you can see how a bench hook (with an extra bracing block and a bit of non-skid shelf-liner) leaves my hands free to carve. If I held the block with one hand, and carved with the other, I run the risk of slipping and stabbing the bracing hand. Use a bench hook.

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. 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. 🙂

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 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.

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.

pulling a linoleum block after transferring ink to paper on a press

Pulling a print from a piece of unmounted linoleum you can Purchase in rolls and cut down to various sizes.

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!

Belinda

P.S. You can subscribe to get these posts as an email (it’s free) by signing up here.

a block in process and a knife nearby with the flexcut logo on the handle

My favorite carving knives for both lino and wood are made by Flexcut. I have a set of the Micro Palm knives, and they are amazing.


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

Click the kitty to see more about this short-but-impactful online course to help you title your art without that blink-and-stare wonder, and you’ll never be dependant on your pets to name your art again!

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8 Responses to Woodcut: Carnelian (& gift ideas for the beginner printmaker)

  1. Sonia November 9, 2018 at 9:00 am #

    A timely post Belinda. I’ve been tasked with pricing up suitable lino-printing equipment for one of our art society’s “taster” workshops next year. I had made a list, but this will help make sure I’ve covered everything needed, as well as the most suitable products. Thank you.

    • Belinda DelPesco November 11, 2018 at 12:40 pm #

      Hi Sonia – Well, how about that! A Taster Workshop? Is that like a mini introduction to a particular art-form? If so, it sounds fabulous! I hope you find everything you need, at a reasonable price, and your workshop attendees become printmakers for life!

  2. 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.

    I hope you continue posting videos on youtube 🙂

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

    My wish for this season 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, 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!

  4. 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. Eliza was a close friend of JSS’ sister Emily, so she traveled and got to hang out with them often. Lucky duckling.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Watercolor -Wine at Mandola Rosa - and Gift Ideas for Artists - Belinda Del Pesco - November 17, 2018

    […] If you are adamantly *not* an artist, but you have a creative friend or family member that would love an art-related gift, I’m here to help!  My own family is sprinkled with engineers, mechanical wizards, construction titans, internet security bosses, firefighters and nutrition and fitness gurus. If I set them loose in a Dick Blick art supply store, and said “Please buy me an art-flavored gift?”, they’d be utterly perplexed. They all love art, and they’re totally supportive of my artistic endeavors, but that would be akin to sending a art historian out to buy buy circuit board assembly parts.  A little direction would be peachy. If you’ve got an artsy friend or family member on your gift list who plays with watercolor, here are a few  ideas to inspire your gift-giving mojo. (A printmaking gift list is over here.) […]

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