Above: The last carving of Dottie made while she was alive and I still had the opportunity to make frequent comparisons between the sketch and the life model. 4 x 6 inches on Folio (pre-2000 batch; this paper changed after between 2000-2001 and is an entirely different "animal").
This is part 5 in a 5 part series. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, for additional information on the process, from selecting your artwork and tools to transferring your image to your block to carving it. Visit my pre-New Year's Day post to read about my carving habits, the post that started the series.
One can say a lot or a little about printing. Printing from an eraser carving or linoleum block is pretty much the same deal, you can use the same printing inks, or you can use stamping inks on the eraser carving. Paper choice is endless and will be influenced by the final look you want your print to have. Here are a few pointers, followed by some book recommendations.
Tips on Making a Print
If you have followed the advice in the earlier segments of this series you have a block with a nice even top. You can proceed in the following ways:
Inking Your Block
1. Use an extra large rubberstamp ink pad and press the carving into the pad to ink it up. Test the impression on waste paper, ink again and make an actual print on your good paper. (Once the block has ink on it in a uniform fashion you don't have to make a test print.)
2. Use a small rubberstamp ink pad. Position the block face up on a table and push/pat the pad along the printing surface of the block to ink the surface. You need to work quickly and you need to be aware of leaving “edges” from the pad edges. Any of these marks will show in the final printing on large areas of color. Practice by printing on waste paper to get the idea of how fast you need to be and how you move the pad across the surface to eliminate these lines.
3. Use rubberstamp reinkers. Spread the ink on a piece of acetate, acrylic sheeting/framing material, or a glass palette by depositing a line of ink on the inking surface and rolling it out with a brayer. Roll the brayer across the surface of your block and print. This only works well with thicker, pigmented inks like Brilliance inks. I haven’t tried it with Color Box inks but I bet they would work. The benefit of this method is that if you use a brayer that is larger than your block you won’t have any ink lines showing the edge of your pad (as you did in item 2) or brayer.
4. Use linoleum block printing inks (Daniel Smith watersoluble ones are recommended). Spread the ink on a piece of acetate, acrylic sheeting/framing material, a glass palette, or a bench hook by depositing a line of ink on the inking surface and rolling it out with a brayer. Roll the brayer across the surface of your block and print.
5. Use heavy body acrylic paints. Spread the paint as explained in items 3 and 4. Roll the brayer across the surface of your block and print. You must work QUICKLY as acrylic paints dry fast. If you are doing a print run of any size you will probably have to rinse off your block periodically to ensure that the fine lines don’t get clogged with dry paint—you don’t want to get to that state because cleaning is very difficult without damaging the block. I will use acrylic paints when stamping carvings as pattern details into the backgrounds of my paintings. Otherwise I don’t use this paint as clean up is too difficult.
With items 3-5 note that you need to roll the ink on your ink “plate” until the ink is evenly distributed across the brayer’s surface.
With linoleum block printing inks make sure that if you use oil based inks the clean up materials you use will not injure your block. (You’ll have to research this as I don’t work with solvents.)
Making an Impression with Your Inked Block
Depending on the size of your block you can do one or more of the following:
1. Ink the block, flip it over and press it into your paper as you would a rubber stamp, regardless of the ink you’re using. This works well with any small sized blocks. For medium sized blocks you can still do this technique but once the block is face down on the paper you need to press it all over the back of the paper with the flat of your hand, making sure you exert smooth even pressure everywhere, moving your hand, but not the block or the paper, as needed. You want to avoid pushing too hard in “blank” areas or you will deform the block and those areas will print. Also, pushing too hard will cause distortion in your fine details. Practice on bond paper until you get the hang of it.
2. Ink the block, leaving it face up. Lay your printing paper on top of the block. Burnish the backside of the paper with a Baren (a tool made specifically for this purpose; see my discussion of tools earlier in the series) or the back of the bowl portion of a wooden spoon. (You can also purchase specialty spoons for this purpose—try McClain’s.)
3. Ink the block. Place the block FACE SIDE UP in a small Speedball press (discussed in the tools essay). Lay your paper down onto the block. Push the press plate down onto the paper, into the block. Lift and remove the paper.
4. You can try to print using other types of presses but I have found they all stretch the block too much because of the pressure they exert while the press is moving. If you like to fuss with stuff you can build up a tray for a proofing press. By getting the height of your block just right in the tray, the pressure of the roller moving across the top of the block and paper can be controlled. It’s fussy but once you get it set up you’ll be able to repeat it. Useful if you are doing large print runs.
With any printing method be prepared for the paper to stick to the block a bit when you pull it away at the end of the printing process. You want to pull in a clean and even movement so that none of the paper falls back and touches any of the block. If you are using the block as a "stamp" you also want to be aware of this so you don't smear your print.
Selecting Paper for Printmaking
There are tons of papers that are suitable for making a print from your eraser carving. Your choice of paper will depend on your budget and the ink choice (some inks will be too wet or heavy for some papers).
Another factor to consider is the texture of the paper. Smooth papers will yield the cleanest, clearest prints. Your fine details will show up nicely on smooth paper. Papers with texture will break up the large areas of color in your design and show the texture of the paper (linen weave, laid, or simply the toothiness of the paper). Capturing the texture in your prints can be a wonderful enhancement, especially if you have a bold style with lots of large color areas. Heavily textured papers should be avoided if you want to hold your fine details.
Look at my comments about papers for journaling for some ideas on papers you might use to print with. Daniel Smith sells printmaking paper samplers which are a great way to try out a number of papers and find the ones you really enjoy printing on. I love printing on the OLD Folio (which is no longer available, but I have some pieces left), the post-2001 Folio is a good paper too. My second favorite paper to print on was Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. Hot Press Watercolor paper, but the paper has changed and I don’t know that I’ll be using it much in the future. Rives BFK is an excellent paper to print on. While I don’t like Stonehenge for drawing it takes a good impression. There is also a whole world of Japanese printmaking papers to explore.
Start a printmaking log and keep track of the papers and inks you use and what you like or don’t like about them so that the next time you print you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
It is customary for printmakers to issue an “edition” of a certain image. These prints are all printed at the same time, signed and numbered. By making an edition you are signaling to buyers of your art that you won’t be making additional prints. This scarcity works for you in keeping your prices constant (or high if you’re a well-known artist). It is customary to also label the first prints as Artist’s Proofs (AP). If you are creating an edition you would write the following at the base of your print for an AP:
Title of the work, AP, signature, ©year
The numbered pieces are signed this way:
Title of the work, 25/200, signature, ©year
The number indicates that this is print number 25 out of the 200 that were made for the edition.
Most print artists make these signature lines with pencil, in the white space of the paper at the base of the print. (Window mats are cut to allow breathing space around the entire print and this signature shows when framed.)
If you intend to make an opened ended total of prints you can simply sign them.
Some Books on Printmaking
Over the past couple weeks in this series on erasure carving I’ve mentioned many things that will work for linoleum block printing and even pointed you towards woodblock prints with mention of Barry Moser. For people who have been taken with the printmaking bug I would like to point you to the following three books:
Wood Engraving: The Art of Wood Engraving and Relief Engraving, by Barry Moser
Earlier in this series I wrote a sub-article on Moser and his idea of learning one’s craft. Moser is a master and his engravings are stunning and inspirational. If you work in this medium you need to look at this book. It is illustrated throughout with photos and art examples. There are discussions on tools, sharpening, mark making, and philosophy. “Talent is as common as house dust and kudzu vine in Alabama and just about as valuable as teats on a boar. Nothing is as valuable as the habit of work, and work must become a habit. Or as Blake said, “Execution is the chariot of genius.”
The Woodcut Artist’s Handbook: Techniques and Tools for Relief Printmaking, by George A. Walker (with a foreword by Barry Moser!)
Besides containing a wealth of stunning print examples from Walker and other artists this book is heavily illustrated with crisp line drawings and photos showing tools and techniques. (His section on tool care is worth the price of the book because he even shows images of poorly sharpened tools so you can see what is wrong!) I knew I would love this book the moment I saw the diagram on setting up a printing station. I love people who organize their work tables for production. (I have a particular arrangement I use when binding.) Too many reasons to get this book. No reasons not to.
Japanese Woodblock Printing, by Rebecca Salter
The tradition of Japanese woodblock printing involves different inks, papers, and in some instances techniques than those used in Western printmaking. The biggest difference is the waterbased inks. But anyone who has ever seen a Hiroshige print (to name just one of the great Japanese printmaking masters) will know there is something magical and beautiful in the process. Salter’s book walks you through that entire process from tools and inks and papers to printing. It’s chock full of color photos showing you what you need to know. If you are interested in this artform as an artist or collector I recommend this book.
Wrapping It All Up
I’ve had my say about making eraser carvings. I’ve given you tips to make the process easier and less prone to disaster. I hope that you apply this information in your artmaking to give eraser carving a try. It’s a great way to start on a printmaking path. After you have a couple eraser prints under your belt you might decide to try linoleum blocks, and then it’s possible that you’ll feel so excited that you’ll move on to woodblocks. Printmaking allows you to be hands on with tools and inks and paper, yet also affords the luxury of multiples at the end of the process. It’s a great combination. I hope you try it out and let me know how the adventure goes for you.