Drawing for Printmaking: How to Block Print Your Own Tea Towel

Drawing for Printmaking: How to Block Print Your Own Tea Towel

I wanted to take some time to talk about drawing for printmaking.  A good print starts with the right kind of drawing.  I say the right kind of drawing because the way you naturally draw may not coordinate perfectly to carving a block for printing. Understanding certain principles about printmaking will help you create a successful drawing for your block.  

1) What you carve into your linoleum with your cutting tool will be white on the final print.  This is the opposite from drawing. When we draw a line, we are putting down color.  When we cut away a line in a linoleum block, we are removing color.

2) Gradient is created using varying textures spaced closely together or father apart.  When drawing, you can use different pressure to create lighter or darker shades.  In printmaking, we have to do this with various thickness of line and changing textures.

3) You cannot erase once you cut into a block.  Unlike drawing with a pencil, what we cut into our block cannot be removed.  Make sure you have a precise drawing to start with, so there are no questions when you start carving. You can always cut away more, but you cannot put linoleum back. Always carve less to start, then cut away more if needed. 

4) What you carve into your block will be printed in reverse.  Keep this in mind if direction is important or if you are carving words.

5) Variation and contrast add interest to your print.  Draw out details the way they will be cut out of your block. Think about your different sizes of cutting tools and how they can add variety to your print.

Let's look at some examples of different drawings and how they translate into a block.

Here is a very simple drawing of an acorn.  I can use this drawing to carve a linoleum block for a print. 


If I carve out the lines that I drew, I will get a block and a print that look like this:

In this print, I carved along the lines of my original drawing and I am left with a simple black acorn print. This is the result most people get when they first start printmaking.  It is what happens when you carve the same way you draw.  

I could also use the same initial drawing but I could carve AROUND the lines that I drew. 

In this print, I still used the same basic drawing, but I left the lines intact and carved everything out around them, resulting in a white acorn with black illustrative lines.  This kind of carving makes your brain work in a slightly different way.  We are leaving what we want printed intact and removing what we don't want printed.

Now, what if we want to add some more interest to the print.  A former art teacher once told me that a successful design is 50% white and 50% black.  I could add some detail to my drawing, coloring in the spaces that I will leave intact and keeping white the spaces I will carve away.


Using this drawing to go by,  I ended up with the following block and print:

This time, I added some texture to the acorn's hat by carving out all the white parts of my drawing.  I left a polka dot effect on the top and a striping effect on the bottom.  

Finally, I can use a very similar drawing to make one last print. 

For this print, I am still carving away the white space, but I'm letting my carving tool create the texture.  So the spots on the acorn's hat become white and are created by gouging out part of the linoleum with my #2 cutting nib. 

I removed more linoleum from the bottom half of the acorn to create a contrast to the top.  I was careful to leave some thin stripes of linoleum in place to create the black stripes. 

Here are all four of the prints together. You can see what different results you can achieve depending on your approach.

Below are all four prints with their coorresponding blocks.  Each acorn is printed as a mirror image of the block.  You can see how a detailed and precise drawing corresponds to an interesting print.

The best way to get a feel for drawing for printmaking is practice.  It really is a different way of thinking about drawing but after carving a few blocks, your brain will start thinking in a different way. 

Here are some of the drawings I've use for blocks in the past:

Sometimes I get into trouble when I don't draw what I want printed as black and leave white what I want to carve out.  

For example, in the rabbit drawing below, I drew hairs that I actually ended up cutting out.  This can get tricky, so it would have been better if I had colored in the rabbit in my drawing and left the hairs white so I would know to carve them out. Do as I say, not as I do. ;)  

Here are a couple more initial drawings and what they look like as a linoleum block print:

In the owl, I think I did a good job drawing what would be black in the print and leaving white what I would carve away.  It resulted in one of my favorite prints.

One final tip, I always draw on loose leaf copy paper so that I can easily transfer my drawing to my block for carving, which I will talk more about in my next blog post! Happy drawing!


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