The Basics of Block Printing

 

Block printing has been around for centuries. Woodblock printing dates back to the second century, one of the oldest forms of printing. Linoleum block printing (also called linocuts) emerged in the early 1900s.

It's an art form that ranges from laughably simple (see below!) to exceptionally complex, all depending on the artist.

 
 

Whether you want to carve simple shapes for a pattern or you plan to learn Picasso's reduction method of printing, linocuts are a great introduction to the world of printmaking.


Pick and prepare your carving tool

First, you need a linoleum cutter. I have this one from Speedball. I quite like that all of the blades fit in the handle - no worrying about accidentally stabbing yourself when you go digging for a new blade.

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

Finalize your stamp design

For your very first stamp, I recommend a simple, symmetrical shape. That way you don't have to worry about reversing your design or carving within other shapes. I did a hexagon because of course I did.

There are plenty of different types of blocks for printmaking - I used Speedy-Carve by Speedball. Speedy-Carve is good about not chipping or crumbling, and carves really cleanly. (Also, it's apparently latex-free, for those of you with allergies!)

Generally, I draw my design first in pencil, and then I go over it with an ultra-thin Sharpie.

Hold your carving tool a bit like a pencil, but push, don't pull. You don't want to slip and end up cutting yourself. (If you really feel like pulling would work better for you, use these blades instead.)

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

Carve around your design

Start with one of the smaller, sharp-angled carving blades and work your way around the immediate outline of your shape. Be careful not to cut all the way through. You're just trying to lower the overall surface height in the negative space around your shape.

Switch to one of the wider blades to carve a little further out. At this point, you can either carve all the way to the edge, or you can cut away the unneeded block. (I used an x-acto knife to cut away what I didn't need.)

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

Prep for stamping

Once you have carved your design, it's time to stamp! But first, a test print. Before we go printing on anything important.

There are multiple ways to apply ink (or paint) to your stamp. You can brush it on, that will give you a more organic and, well, brushstroke-y feel. Or you can use a brayer, which will apply the ink or paint in a more even manner.

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

Once you've applied the ink (I actually used acryl gouache, which are absolutely not made for printmaking... but I already had them, and, c'mon, metallic gold. But I can vouch for the water-based ink as well, I have a few tubes of that. Just not in gold.), it's time for a test print! You can use whatever scratch paper you have around.

You can stamp from the top - stamp on top, paper on bottom - or bottom - paper on top, stamp on bottom - whichever feels more comfortable to you. Just be sure to apply steady, even pressure.

Once you have your test print done, make sure there are no spots that need further carving. If there are, carve away!

Stamp!

I stamped a set of Kraft Moleskine journals. Stamp whatever makes you happy!

Again, coat the stamp in your ink/paint and apply steady, even pressure.

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

It doesn't have to be perfect. Usually I'm very meticulous about lining things up, but for this one I just eyeballed it. And I love it. Even if it is a bit wonky in places.

Apply frisket + stamp

To take this project just another step forward, I used frisket to block the paint from stamping where I wanted the words to go.

I actually didn't clean my stamp or brayer before doing the peacock blue hexagons, so they have little flecks of gold in them. On very rare occasions, lazy pays off.

 
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
HowtoCarveaStamp.jpg
 

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. If you make your own stamp, tag me on Twitter or Instagram and let me know!

Have you ever made your own stamp? Do you want to try?