Friday, March 2, 2012

Stop Whining and Start Learning: Adventures in Printmaking

I'm back, everyone! I was cranky and solitary for a while there, but I'm starting to get the hang of this whole "getting-my-shit-together-during-the-recession" full-time/part-time schedule. Having finally settled into my weird and varied routine, I've decided to really commit to setting aside time for my art (and not just talk about, think about, or daydream about setting aside time for it). This week, I took my brand new printmaking supplies for a spin.

I looked at a few tutorials online before I began, but I'm not really an "instructions" kind of gal--besides which, I had a few ideas floating around in my head and I was anxious to get them onto the carving block. I decided to dive right in, drawing directly onto the block with my trusty Sharpie.

Sketched image, tools at the ready!
I used an easy-carve rubber block rather than a linoleum or wood block, since they're a little more forgiving for beginners like myself. Once I was happy with the sketch, I took a few minutes to decide whether the white or black segments should be carved away. It was a great exercise in focusing on negative space, since the image produced on the paper would be the opposite of whatever I carved away. I finally settled on carving away the white pieces, with the exception of the sky (I thought it'd be a waste of Sharpie ink to color that segment fully).

Block carving in progress.

The carving process proved to be very tedious, because every mark I made had to be deliberate. With my oil paintings, I've been very loose and spontaneous--and if I make a mistake, I can always re-work the paint until I'm happy with the result. Since re-working the block wasn't really an option, I had to be hyper-aware of my choices. I tried to use the thickness and direction of my lines to create shadows, highlights, and depth of field. I made a conscious decision with each mark as to whether or not I wanted that particular segment to be inked.

The fully carved block.

Now, you may think that the inking part is the easy part (I know I did), but you'd be wrong (I know I was). If I used too much ink, the details of the image were completely lost. If I used too little, it created an interesting texture but the image was not well defined. The best image I made had just the right amount of ink, and I had applied just the right amount of pressure with the baren (that also took some practice).

Too heavy! Goofy blocky clouds, and no highlights at all on those trees.
Too light! Great texture, though. 

Just about right.
In all, I'm really glad that I'm giving printmaking a shot. I've seen some really incredible artists make some jaw-dropping block prints, and I've always been curious about this process. Throughout this session, I kept thinking how nice it would be to have a professor or an experienced friend checking in and critiquing what I was doing, just because this is so new and so different from anything I've ever done. It's so hard to tell if I'm on the right track. Any advice, tips or tricks from experienced printmakers would be greatly appreciated!!

But really, how am I doing?
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  1. I went to college for printmaking (and photography), and this is a fantastic first attempt! You are definitely on the right track. It was smart going with the rubber block first to get use to the tools, because the linoleum and wood are much harder to carve into. I definitely suggest once you're comfortable with the process to play around with the different materials, they all have their own unique attributions to the final product.

    1. Thanks, Chris!! It must have been so much fun majoring in printmaking (and photography, too!). I'm sure you put a lot of long hours into your work, but I can already relate to how rewarding it must feel when your prints turn out the way you intended. I think I'll give the lino a shot next, and then maybe wood after that. Wood seems like it'd be the hardest to work with, is that true?

    2. wood is definitely the hardest, and the hardness of the wood will depend of course on the type of wood you are using. Though different woods create different grain texture in the final print which can be fun to experiment with. Good luck with your future projects! Can't wait to see your progress. :)

  2. This project is very hard to do. You're doing great! It's easier to start out with an image with less detail and work your way up, adding more as you get more comfortable. I can't believe this is your first attempt, it's awesome!! :D mine needed a LOT of work lol. Silicone is a lot easier to work with than linoleum, be careful of your fingers when you decide to try that material. It doesn't carve nearly as smoothly. Great job!!

    1. Thanks Christina! :) I am definitely the kind of artist who tries to start simple, but gets so caught up in the details that I wind up with a complicated image anyway. I'm sure the carving process took me a lot longer than it would have for a more experienced printer, starting with a sketch like this! Thank you for the advice, I will definitely have to watch my fingers when I move on to linoleum. I will have my band-aids at the ready!

  3. Couple of tips - if you are going to be doing lino cuts, use a bench hook. There are lots of tutorials online for making them. This will save your hands and fingers a lot of pain, and it will hold your block in place. Also, I find that heating the linoleum as I'm cutting helps a lot. I take a wet rag and place it on the lino and then iron it to heat it up. This makes for smoother cutting.

    1. Thanks so much Katie, I really appreciate the advice! I hadn't thought of warming the block at all, but that makes perfect sense. I'll also have to check my local craft/art/hardware store for a bench hook, it seems like the investment would be worth it in the long run.