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Rise + Wander | Blog

Creating a Beginner's Printmaking Kit

Aftyn Shah

Are you interested in getting started with printmaking? Or maybe you have an artist in your life who is? The following is a collection of recommendations intended entirely for beginners! 

In the beginning, I think it's important to maximize experience while minimizing investment, so the goal here is to get you printing quickly and with an eye on being very wallet-friendly (particularly the first section). Once you've decided you enjoy it and want to continue, then spending a little more money to buy higher quality tools makes sense. If you're looking for those kinds of recommendations, I'll share that in another post or you can visit my Resources pages to get more information.

The Quick, Cheap, & Easy Start to Printmaking

The first and easiest option is to buy a ready-made kit and purchase a block (or a few).

 

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The Speedball Block Printing Starter Kit includes a handle with interchangeable gouges, black ink, a brayer, and a simple instruction booklet for just over $17. Add in the 5"x7" linoleum block, and you can get started at just around $21! You can buy blank cards to print on or a variety of papers, depending on your goals.

Easy, am I right?

À la Carte Option for a Starter Printing Kit

If you're interested in trying out different things and buying items separately to create your own kit, you have some options.

I would buy this set of two handles, but there is also a single handle available. When I first started, I used a Speedball cutter and found it a hassle to change out the gouges, so I bought a second handle. I had no idea this double set was available at the time! 

I tend to prefer black prints myself, and there's certainly black ink available by itself, but I also think it could be fun to have a variety, especially when getting started.

A 4" brayer is a great starting size, because it's small enough to work with small blocks and big enough to cover the larger ones without too much effort.

These three above all make great starter options: the tan linoleum, "pink stuff" rubber, and soft Moo Carve. You can find many other options from art specialty stores, like Blick, and each will have its own pros and cons. Battleship Grey Linoleum is likely the cheapest you'll find, but it also tends to be a little difficult for many beginners (especially kids), which is something to keep in mind.

Your paper choice really depends on what you want to do with your printmaking. You can, of course, just buy a pad of printmaking paper. But you can also experiment with a variety of different types of papers, playing with color and texture. Don't feel like you have to stick with JUST the paper labeled Printmaking! You can also buy blank cards and make stationery or rolls of kraft paper to make wrapping paper, among so many other options. printmaking really lends itself well to a variety of creations.

Packaging the Gift for Your Printmaker

Given the season, you might very well be buying this as a gift for your budding printmaker, so I want to include a note about presentation! Whether you chose to go simple or buy several items, you can always put it in a holiday box or bag and be done. That said, I think it can be a lot of fun to include a nice wooden box to keep art supplies. Many craft stores sell them, and you can either decorate it or leave it plain. You can arrange everything inside, maybe toss in something decorative or a card, and it really makes a great gift.

But another option that I think lends some fun is to repurpose an old wooden cigar box. While I've never smoked a single cigar myself, I absolutely adore the decorative touches on cigar boxes, and some are large enough to house the above supplies. You can ring your local tobacco shop and ask if they sell the discarded boxes. I bought a handful when I was living in DC, paying $1 or $2 for each.

Other Options

There are, of course, thousands of other options. Other brands, other types of tools, many different materials. I stuck with Speedball products because that's how I started out, and I think they make solid products, especially for someone who isn't sure they want to make a large financial investment. 

To be clear, this post is in NO way sponsored and all opinions are my own. I received nothing for free or a discount. I started printmaking by using Speedball products, so that's my natural recommendation. That said, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program through Amazon.com.

An Espresso Machine for Our Home

Aftyn Shah

An Everyday Espresso Habit

If you're anything like me, espresso drinks are a comforting treat in cool weather. My drink of choice alternates between a cappuccino and a latte, and people-watching in a busy coffee shop makes for a lovely morning. Unfortunately, the cost adds up over the week ($4 or more for each drink!) and mornings outside the home can be tricky with a toddler and an infant, even at our very friendly local shop.

So, what's a caffeine-dependent mama working at home to do? Espresso machines have always seemed quite intimidating, a bias I developed as a child in Italy where my father purchased a La Pavoni machine. It was an elegant brass and copper staple in our kitchen, but rather loud and complicated. So, I assumed I was stuck with my French press and hand-frothed warm milk. Not exactly authentic.

Except, as I've come to find out, there is a whole slew of entry-level espresso machines, and some are quite capable of producing delicious drinks! I wanted to share my experience to inspire those of you out there who have an interest, but might still be a bit intimidated. Also, this would make a great gift for a coffee-lover!

Our Entry-Level Espresso Machine, De'Longhi

After reading many reviews, we ultimately chose the De'Longhi ECP3420 15" Bar Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine (link goes to Amazon). I'm someone who can take weeks, even months, to read reviews and still have trouble making a decision, but what I realized is that at this level every single option was going to have some nay-sayers. I had multiple close friends who have had some variation of this De'Longhi for a while with good results. And I'm here to tell you that we've had it for going on a month, and have made... way too many drinks, each coming out wonderfully!

This machine is at an excellent price-point ($110), at around the cost of 25 drinks out at a coffee shop. Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but that's only a couple weeks' worth of drinks in our house!

It's fairly compact, at 12" high, 9" deep, and just over 7" across, fitting nicely under our upper cabinets and not taking up too much room. It's not exactly the copper and brass beauty that my parents have, but it has a simple and unassuming design.

The machine is also extremely easy to use, coming with a handy little instruction booklet with pictures. This is a set of instructions you can truly glance at and then get started right away!

In the end, we wanted something that would help us get started with little investment, so we can decide if we really like making our espresso drinks at home. Right now, we are each having one or two drinks a day, averaging three in total. If we find we're still making them regularly in a year, then we'll likely upgrade - or I'll abscond with my parents' machine after a visit!

Choosing the Right Coffee

I am not a coffee connoisseur, but I was pretty excited about the idea of trying different espresso beans... until I realized my hand-grinder was not going to be convenient and I didn't want to invest in an automatic grinder just yet. I asked friends for recommendations and queried the hive mind of Instagram. Lavazza repeatedly came up, and it's a brand I recognized well from my childhood. Done and done!

Otherwise, I received many great specific recommendations, but the piece of advice that came up again and again was to buy locally and have them grind it in the shop. It's preferable to grind it at home, so it's as fresh as possible to really take advantage of the oils released, but having the shop grind it is the next best thing! We picked up a bag from Feine, our favorite shop in Conshohocken.

Making Lattes at Home

Having the right tools is great, but I'm sure you're wondering how easy it really is? Well, honestly, there was a bit of a learning curve - in the form of two mediocre drinks. Yep, that's it, folks, just two. After that, we had it figured out pretty well and I've even found myself thinking "I wish I'd just made one at home" when I buy one at a shop sometimes.

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The hardest part (and I want to stress that it's not even hard) is properly pressing the espresso into the holder with the appropriate amount of weight (30lbs). It comes with a single or a double-shot holder, which you fill with the ground espresso beans and then tamp down. (I bought a separate staineless steel tamper after reading reviews that the plastic one can bend.) You pop that in, turn it on, and, once the water is hot and you get a green light (literally), you brew!

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If you want to make a drink with milk, rather than simply drink the espresso, there is a little arm on the side for steaming. (I bought a little stainless steel pitcher, but that was partly for aesthetics, if I'm really honest.) After the espresso has brewed (I let mine go about 30 seconds, watching the color of the streams to know when to turn it off), you switch the dial to the steamer. After a few seconds, you'll get another green light, and you can steam/foam your milk. I've tried both cow's milk and almond milk with great results!

Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of this part, as it requires two hands. But it's very easy, and what's really convenient is that you'll learn your exact preferences and be able to match them. I find I like a little less steamed milk and more foam.

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Great Gift for Coffee Lovers!

With Rise + Wander not taking orders through the holiday, I thought this was a great time to write this post - in case you still need to buy a gift for the coffee-lover in your life! This was an early Christmas present for my husband and me (from ourselves, ha!), and we're absolutely thrilled with it.

To be clear, this post is in NO way sponsored and all opinions are my own. I received nothing for free or a discount. I just love learning to do new things, and it's been a lot of fun for us here at home. I hope you enjoy it, too! That said, though the links above are the actual items I purchased myself, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program through Amazon.com.

Have a great day!

 

Our CSA Experience

Aftyn Shah

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my countless Instagram Stories that revolve around vegetables and fruits - specifically the ones I get from our local CSA. Whenever I post something, I actually get quite a few questions about it (What's a CSA? Why did you sign up?) and some surprise at my extreme veggie love, so I thought I"d put together a post to explain a little. 

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What is a CSA crop share?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is a business model that closely connects farmers to their local consumers within the community. Members of the community sign up for "crop shares" from the farm, typically weekly or bi-weekly, by paying an up-front cost for the upcoming season(s). Then, during that season, people either visit the farm to pick up their produce, pick it up from a designated spot, or have it delivered directly to their home (rare). 

Sometimes this gives the farm initial capital that can help off-set the costs of doing business, and it also invests the community in the well-being and goings-on of the farm.

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Why sign up for a crop share?

I receive many questions from people about why we chose to sign up for a crop share, most citing that it seems like a hassle and/or they assume it's expensive (especially because ours is from an organic farm). There are actually a handful of reasons, all of them very important to my family.

Fresh Produce

When you buy produce from a grocery store, you're generally buying something that was harvested a week or two ago (sometimes more). Meanwhile, we pick up our crop share on a Tuesday and it was usually harvested on Monday, the day before. We're receiving our food at its peak freshness, meaning it's full of high-quality nutrients and the best flavor. First and foremost, we subscribed to the CSA to feed our family the best possible fruits and vegetables!

And, trust me, when your toddler reaches for the veggies on his own and loves them, you know they're tasty.

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Supporting Local

Maybe it's because I grew up in Naples, Italy and then Columbiana, Ohio, but supporting local farmers is extremely important to me. In Italy, our house was directly beside a massive expanse of fruit orchards (I admit, I snuck over the wall now and then as a young kid). That fruit was harvested and sold at the Thursday farmer's market down the street. We had direct interaction with the families growing our fresh food, and I didn't realize until later how rare that is.

Later, living in a rural and very agricultural area in Ohio, where some of my family and friends count themselves as farmers (or grew up as farmers), I learned the significance of supporting this industry. When you buy from a local farmer, your money is going to a hard-working family, and then likely right back into the community. I personally consider it vital that smaller and independent farms continue operating within our communities.

Environmental Benefits

By supporting local, we are also cutting down on the carbon footprint of the food we eat. It's not traveling great distances, wasting natural resources and adding unnecessary pollution to the air. We are also supporting a farm that is invested in sustainability (it's their land AND their livelihood).

Cost

It's funny that so many people comment on how expensive the program must be, when it has actually cut down on our weekly grocery bill! The cost will vary based on your area and what's included, but we receive quite the bounty (huge box containing a variety of vegetables, a separate box of fruit, and eggs every other week) for under $50/week. As a result, we only supplement with a few odds and ends, some dried goods, and our additional protein. 

Not only is it very reasonably priced (for organic!), but the produce stays fresh and tasty all week, which means we don't waste it.

Variety

Finally, an added perk is that we're all trying new things. Each share includes what's currently in season at the time, which means the contents change from week to week, and you might be treated to something you've never tried before. For instance, one of my new favorite veggies is chard. I'd heard of it previously, but I had never (knowingly) eaten it. We got it one week and I cooked it using one of the supplied recipes (recipes are included in many CSA programs!), and it is now a major favorite that I occasionally buy from the store.

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Our Crawford Organics Experience

Living in the Philadelphia suburbs, we had our choice of several different crop share programs, but ultimately decided on Crawford Organics, out in Lancaster. I love that it's a family-run farm and that they're organic, and I can't say enough wonderful things about the experience we've had.

First, the logistics are really well thought out. They recycle/re-use all the packaging, so the boxes are either sturdy waxed cardboard or small wooden crates. I pick our share up from a local coffee shop (win!) during other errands, and they have a huge number of drop-off sites, so there are many convenient options for everyone in our community.

Second, and most important, the produce is amazing. I've honestly never tasted anything quite as good as a truly fresh watermelon (heaven!) or sweet, melt-in-your-mouth blackberries. And, as I said above, even our toddler raves about the vegetables. We eat a largely plant-based diet (not vegans/vegetarians, just love vegetables and fruits!), so being able to include so many different items that genuinely taste amazing is quite a treat.

And third, Crawford Organics sends out a weekly newsletter that includes our list for the upcoming week, but also a good bit of information about the process behind our food. I love learning about the details, and I also love showing my son the pictures to help him understand where and how his food is grown. On that note, too, the farm welcomed visitors earlier this summer, so that people could see everything up-close and learn.

Final Note

If you're able, logistically and financially, I highly encourage you to consider signing up for a CSA program near you. If you're in the Philadelphia area, you absolutely must check out Crawford Organics!

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A Wandering Disposition and Available Prints!

Aftyn Shah

This past weekend, I visited Austin, TX for the opening reception of Art on 5th's exhibition, "A Wandering Disposition," which runs January 21st to February 15th. I created three pieces (five, if you count each panel of the triptych independently) specifically for the show, so it was a really neat experience seeing them framed and hanging alongside the work of fantastic and generally more established artists. I also loved the opportunity to hear people's responses first-hand and chat.

The obligatory photo with the exhibition info!

The obligatory photo with the exhibition info!

The artwork is, of course, print-based, but I experimented with more color than my usual works. I hand-colored the triptych and Dead Man's Cove with watercolors, while I used multiple blocks for Burlington. Because of the unique and time-intensive nature, each is part of a limited edition run.

I generally operate on an open-edition basis, in that I create my print blocks with the intention to print as many as are desired by customers for as long as the block lasts (in fact, I often print on demand). I love the accessibility (and affordability) this provides. I myself grew up unable to afford original art (Heck! It's often STILL out of my price range!), so I really love the idea of giving someone the opportunity to have original artwork they enjoy in their home or office.

That said, these pieces are more time-intensive, and it's unrealistic to think I can hand-color prints over and over. As such, they are numbered prints, with Art on Fifth having the first print of each edition (I'm currently not selling the rest just yet). I wanted to go through this difference to explain to my customers why the pricing is higher in this instance.  

These are currently available through Art on Fifth, already framed by their in-house framing studio. If you're seriously interested, please reach out to me and I'll put you in touch with the right person at the gallery. I can also send larger or additional photographs, if necessary.

And now, without further ado, the art and info!

"Yosemite Tunnel View," 1/5, 12"x12" (each) Hand-Colored Blockprint, $550

"Yosemite Tunnel View," 1/5, 12"x12" (each) Hand-Colored Blockprint, $550

"Dead Man's Cove," 1/10, 9"x11" Hand-Colored Blockprint, $300

"Dead Man's Cove," 1/10, 9"x11" Hand-Colored Blockprint, $300

"Night at Lake Champlain," 1/10, 12"x18" Multi-Color Blockprint, $400

"Night at Lake Champlain," 1/10, 12"x18" Multi-Color Blockprint, $400

Again, they're available through Art on Fifth, even if you're not in the Austin area. Just send me an email if you're seriously interested. 

Rise + Wander Shirt Pre-Sale!

Aftyn Shah

Shirts!

A lot of you have asked about putting R+W designs on shirts, and after a couple months of research and experimentation they’re finally here!

Well, actually, no, they’re not HERE, but the pre-sale is! What does that mean? Read on, my friend.

Why a Presale?

As I’m a small business (we’re talkin’ tiny, one-woman show), I’m not in a position to maintain large quantities of inventory to accommodate the colors and sizes I want to offer. To solve this, I’ve decided to host a pre-sale for a little over a week, during which you can order your shirt(s) for a discounted price. Once the pre-sale is closed, I will place the blank shirt order and start printing like a mad woman once they arrive. Orders will ship as soon as they’re ready, but no later than November 18th.

Pre-Sale Details

The pre-sale will run from October 14th through the 23rd.  Once the pre-sale closes, shirts will not be available for sale again until around early December.  Ordinarily, short-sleeve shirts will be $28, but the pre-sale price will be $25.

Shirt Details

After researching various options, I settled on American Apparel fine jersey crewneck unisex t-shirts. I appreciate their fair labor practices and that they manufacture (and create jobs) here at home in the United States. Their shirts are also incredibly soft and comfortable to wear, and take screenprint beautifully.

The four colors available are navy blue (white ink), olive green (white ink), ash grey seafoam (black ink), and heather grey (black ink).

The Screenprint Process

I'm known for creating blockprints, so you might wonder why I chose to screenprint these shirts instead. I originally planned to blockprint, just like I would an art print, but ultimately decided to screenprint because of the solid and even color the technique provides. It took some time (and mistakes!), but I figured out the process and developed my own best practices, and I’ve really enjoyed learning something new.

Rest assured, the designs are taken directly from the block! In order to maintain the integrity of the original blockprint, I decided to actually print on a transparency (just like I would paper) to then transfer to the screen via the photo-emulsion method. It would probably have been easier to print digitally, but I think it’s pretty neat that I can say the design is that much closer to being an actual blockprint.

Once the shirts are printed with fabric ink, they’re heat treated and washed, so they’ll be ready to wear when you get them!

Shirt Care

While the design is screenprinted with ink that’s intended to stand up to garment washing, there are steps you can take to lengthen the life of your shirt. Cold water, mild detergent, and turning your shirt inside-out during washes will all help keep the image looking sharp. If your dryer is like mine and the temperature is hot-hot-hot even on low, then maybe pick a delicate setting.

Returns

I completely understand that ordering a shirt online can be tricky, but please review the description and size chart in each listing carefully. If you receive your shirt and find it is the wrong size, please contact me and return it within 30 days and I will gladly exchange it if I have your size available in your color preference. If an exchange isn't an option, I will issue a refund minus the cost of shipping.

What now?

Take advantage of the pre-sale and go buy a shirt!