Sunday, January 10, 2010
Polar Bear and Linocut Mysteries Resolved
Polar Bear, available at Etsy
Thought it was about time to scratch together another ‘how-to’ post; this time regarding my linocuts. Lately I’m been printing onto both papers and fabric in the form of T-shirts. The larger size (5”x7” block) and new medium (jersy-knit) presented a few new challenges. In the past, I only carved aceo-sized blocks which actually turned out to be great practice in efficiency in detail and composition for the larger blocks. But, for the small stuff, I could get away with printing stamp style. IE. placing the inked block face down on the page and pressing from the back with my thumbs.
This does not work for a t-shirt, but a solution was found (you’ll see) and now I do all my larger ‘hand-pulled’ prints this way.
Step 1: Not literally step one, as first is concept and design. This one began as a little art card for my 365 Art Card Project. I had the idea, drew it in ink, but without reference the mom bear looked like an aardvark. So then there was research, books and jpg’s to get the proportions right, scale the whole thing up and finally draw it in soft black pencil onto tracing paper. Tracing paper allowed me to refine the drawing several steps from the 1st sketch. Here it’s ready, and the pencil drawing is face down on the lino block. I use something called ‘softoleum’ that is thick, rich and buttery (hungry yet?) and carves like a dream.
I learned the hard way, so I’ll tell you now—do not tape your image down. When I lifted the tape, it pulled up the surface of the softoleum, so the remainder of the block is permanently damaged.
The photo above shows me rubbing the drawing from the back, gently with a stick. It’s a bamboo chopstick I carved into a tool. This step transfers the image onto the block.
Here’s my handy speedball carving tool. It holds extra nibs in the body. Shown here is the ‘fine v’ nib—good for small stuff. Also shown is the lovely mess of rubber all over the place, and of course, the transferred outline of my drawing.
I lost track of steps. Oh well. Here’s the block ready for a test print, in print makers lingo, it’s called a ‘proof’. I know I need to carve more, but I want to see it on paper. It lets me know what ‘white’ (aka negative) parts still need more carving, which ridges and bumps need to be removed, and sometimes, which ones don’t.
After the proof, I realized I had a lot more work to do, so did much more carving, and a few more proofs, and washing up between each printing (I’m using water-based inks for paper and proofs so it’s soap, water and an old toothbrush in a basement sink). And now we are ready to roll.
What’s this??? You may well ask.
Well, here is the mystery resolved (and yes, I know there’s a hole in pants). My linocut prints are what are called ‘original hand-pulled prints’. That means the image was inked and pressed by hand, not spit out of a machine in the new-fangled manner. In my case, you may also called it ‘foot-stomped’. When I got to printing on fabric, I had trouble getting a good impression with hand pressure only, so now I lay out the paper (or fabric) on top of a sheet of melamine (which I found in the woods, talk about the 3-r’s at work), and then place the freshly inked block on top. A couple of old t’s are laid over the block to even out the pressure, then a block of plywood, and then, well, me. Here I am putting all those extra pounds gained over the years to very good use. I won’t tell you how many pounds per square inch gets applied per foot-stomped print; let’s just say it’s enough to make a good impression ;-)