Carving & Inking Mountains by Aftyn Shah

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?" 

Tools

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. 

Process

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! 

R+W Monthly Feature: Special Olympics Missouri by Aftyn Shah

The motto of Special Olympics is about finding the courage to give it all you’ve got. “Giving it all you’ve got,” may be going to an event for the 1st time, swimming across a pool, running to 2nd base, or having the courage to ask a friend to dance at the State games. Special Olympics nurtures athletes & shows them there’s an abundance of caring coaches & other volunteers who will support & challenge them in their efforts to give it all.
— Isabel Hodge, 2014

Before meeting my husband, I was peripherally aware of Special Olympics, but had no sense of connection or even need to learn more. My husband, on the other hand, had been volunteering with them and taking the Polar Plunge to raise donations since high school. When he encouraged me to join him and a few of our colleagues through company-sponsored volunteerism, I mostly agreed for the opportunity to network. I never expected the experience to change my life or open my eyes to an amazing group of people (I hadn't realized I'd closed myself off, to begin with!).

The athletes themselves are incredibly enthusiastic and warm, and the volunteers and coaches are just the same. The first time I volunteered at FanQuest in McLean, VA, I didn't want the evening to end. The basketball game, the dance, the cheering, the races... it was all incredibly fun and I experienced the genuine connection and enrichment. I even ran a race partnered with one of the athletes, and he was bubbling with competitive enthusiasm as we strategized beforehand, but was wonderfully gracious when I kind of ruined it for us (I totally fell in front of thousands of people - I really wish I had a picture to share).

All this to say, this organization is amazing and really changing lives. If it could open my eyes and heart and give me such a wonderful experience, I can only imagine how endlessly beneficial it is to the actual athletes and their families and communities. 

I chose the Special Olympics motto to carve and print because it's a great reminder for all of us to give it our all every day, no matter the obstacles. I will be donating 100% of the profit from the print and 10% of general revenue to Special Olympics Missouri at the end of the month. I also encourage you to look up your local events, whether it's volunteering at games or taking the Polar Plunge. You won't regret it!

If you are interested in learning more or donating directly, please visit  Special Olympics or Special Olympics Missouri.

R+W Monthly Feature: STL County Parks Foundation by Aftyn Shah

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After moving out of my parents' home in rural Ohio, I spent years living in the urban neighborhoods of Chicago, DC, and Northern Virginia, and now live in the suburbs of St. Louis with my little family. I often feel a physical ache for wide open spaces and an itch for impromptu adventures. I love being outside, no matter the season. I enjoy sitting in trees, climbing up dirt and rock hills, and trying not to fall in rivers. I have the heart (and sometimes skinned knees and palms) of a 9-year-old explorer, which I hope to pass onto my son. Even though he's not yet two, he has become my little wandering sidekick, and we spend quite a few muddy hours going on off-path hikes and finding treasures (acorns and twigs, oh my!).

We are incredibly fortunate that St. Louis County has a network of 71 parks with about 12,720 acres of land for us to explore. In addition to contributing to the ecological and economic well-being of St. Louis, this green space has been invaluable to my sanity. For that reason, Rise + Wander has three prints inspired by the St. Louis County Parks Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the beautiful park system we have here. For the lifetime of the designs, 10% of the revenue generated from these three prints will be donated to the Foundation. Additionally, until early February, 10% of all R+W sales will be donated to the Foundation.

If you would like to learn more about the St. Louis County Parks Foundation, please click here.