Carving & Inking Mountains

I am by no means an expert. I've never taken a class in printmaking and only took it up a little over a year ago. That said, I get a lot of questions via Instagram and email, and I wanted to take some time to document my typical tools and process. I'll start with tools, as the number one question I'm asked is, "What is that pink stuff?" 


For blocks, I either use Speedball's Speedy Carve (pink) or Blick's generic battleship grey (grey). Both are available through Blick.

My carving tools are Speedball's basic set, but I daydream about Pfeil tools. I have two handles, so that I can have my most used carving heads always available (large and small V), rather than having to change out constantly.

The paper I use varies based on the project, but most often I use heavy cardstock (tans and greys are my favorite), watercolor or cotton papers (white), or Papersource's fine papers (pretty metallic designs).

Again, ink can vary based on the project. I generally use some kind of Speedball ink, either the water-based archival quality "Printmaster" line or their oil-based ink (needs days to dry). I usually use black, but sharp eyes might notice on Instagram that I mix blue in with it. I do this because I feel it gives the black a deeper richness. Just a personal preference!

I have two brayers, one is a 2" and the other is a 4". I obviously use the smaller one for smaller projects, but I also sometimes use it for larger ones when I want the ink to really hit the small details. 


I either draw a general guide directly onto the block or sketch on a paper, which I then place against the block and transfer. The key is to remember the image will be mirrored when transferring from a separate sheet.

Carving is pretty self-explanatory. It's a slow, rhythmic process that I find really relaxing, and is actually why I recommend anyone take it up, whether you think you're "artistic" or not. It's like meditation, in that you're focused on one very simple thing and you don't want your mind to wander (or you might hurt yourself or ruin the piece). 

I'd like to note that every teacher or instructional text will tell you NEVER CARVE TOWARD YOURSELF. I will wholeheartedly echo this great advice, but I totally carve toward myself sometimes, as I feel it gives me more control for some small details. Sooo, please don't use my bad habits as a proper technique, but understand you have to do what works best for you. Just always be careful and safe!

After I mix my black and blue ink, rolling the brayer in many directions on the plate (I use a simple clear plastic plate I got cheaply at Home Depot), I carefully ink up the plate. It's important to get good ink coverage on the whole thing, but especially where there will be large solid places, as it'll be very noticeable if the ink is thin there. If I get any on the table (or in this case notebook), I usually will just place a post-it over the spot to avoid it getting on the paper.

If you're wondering why I place my blocks on either a notebook or sheet or paper, it's because it makes it easier to line up the paper I'm using. I hand-press every sheet and that's just the easiest way for me to center the image. I recently bought a baren and I highly recommend it the meager investment (it's not even $20), as it is so much easier to ensure proper inking. I usually start with hands only, just to make sure everything is pressed down before using the baren for firmer pressure. 

When I pull my print, I'm sure to go at a nice even speed to avoid smudging or uneven inking. Also, make sure you have clean hands! Clean hands mean clean prints. 

And voilà! 

I hope this post answered some of the most common questions. Please don't hesitate to leave a comment or send me a message if you have further questions.

I plan to make a better effort to post on this blog, particularly around process and inspiration. Since my accident a few years ago, writing has become a tedious task, so I've been avoiding it. I really need to make a better effort to practice and this is a great place! 

Aftyn Shah