Getting Started

Photo Jan 30, 10 56 11 AM.jpg

Ready to blockprint?

Okay, here’s your pep talk!

I absolutely love hearing when others are inspired by my Instagram feed to explore printmaking! It's honestly less about my ego (I promise), and more that I really think picking up a new creative outlet is beneficial to anyone's mental health. I personally started specifically for art therapy, and loved it so much that it has become my daily meditation of sorts.

I also think there are so many potential ways to use what you make, from creating smaller blocks for stationery or printing on fabric to the larger ones for art pieces. It's just really a lot of fun to experiment.

But now you're wondering what you really need to get started!

I’ll never claim to be an expert, as I'm entirely self-taught and am always learning, but I wanted to share a quick list of tools I purchased to get started, all pictured above. The big takeaway here is that it shouldn't be intimidating OR expensive to kick off your first project.  

As a new mom in a new city with a whole load of anxiety from a bad car accident and resulting brain injury (as I said, art therapy!), I wandered into a Michael's craft store* on a whim and purchased almost everything I needed. If I could do it in that state of mind, you're totally ready to start!

*ALWAYS USE COUPONS. Seriously. Michael's is constantly offering 40-50% Off coupons, so there is no need to pay full price. 

1. Gouges - Speedball set with interchangeable gouges.

2. Brayer - Speedball hard rubber in 4.5".

3. Ink - A small tube of Speedball black. Are you noticing a trend? It's the only brand that Michael's carried for printmaking.

4. Linoleum Blocks - Blick's Battleship Grey, mounted and unmounted. The one thing that Michael's didn't have in stock, so I turned to Blick (so glad I did, as it's been a love affair ever since). But you can usually find the rubber blocks at most craft stores.

For everything else, I improvised. I used a flat-bottomed Pyrex dish for rolling out my ink; some random cardstock I had from a previous project; and just my hands to do the actual pressing.

So, after my love of coupons, everything above cost me around $25, if I remember correctly - and the most expensive items (gouges and brayer) are ones you're going to use again and again! See? Not intimidating!

Now that you have your list (or maybe have even already purchased your items), you're ready to get started. My best advice?

Just. Get. Started.

If you bought the cheap linoleum blocks (which I really do recommend to start), you shouldn't feel guilty about using one to simply experiment and test the different gouges with varying pressure and depth. Once you've done that, you'll likely have a better idea of what you're comfortable carving (fine lines, bold shapes, curves, letters...).

Many people like to sketch on a paper, and then transfer to a block using carbon paper or the tried and true method of rubbing a pencil on the back of the sheet. I personally like to draw directly on the block. It allows me to have a better sense of the space and shape, and it also appeases my occasional laziness (one less step, am I right?). Whatever you do, be sure to outline the final image in a permanent marker, as you'll likely lose your lines otherwise. And always remember it’s going to be printed in reverse to what’s on your block.

Go slowly and always carve away from yourself. I've seen many, many comments from folks about stabbing their hands or fingers. It's important to focus on what you're doing.

When you're ready to print, squeeze out a dollop of ink and roll it out until you hear that pleasant velcro-like sound. You don't want too much ink, because it'll leave you with a flooded image, but too little means you'll have patches. This is a part in the process you really need to practice. 

When you're ready to press, many people use the back of a wooden spoon. I could never get that to work well for me, and have always found my best tool to be my hands. Well, hands and a bit of muscle. I go over each part multiple times with firm pressure, being sure to hit all the edges for full coverage. A baren can certainly help, but isn't necessary.

Pull the paper away slowly, avoiding any slipping that might smudge your image, and voilà! There you have it. 

Hopefully, you're pleased with your print, but if you're not, please don't give up! If you look at the two blocks pictured above, they are riddled with mistakes and were entirely forgettable images. But they were great practice! Keep experimenting.