It's been a goal of mine to create a Print Your Own Tea Towel Kit. One of my favorite parts about linoleum block printing is how accessible it is: you don't need a lot of big expensive tools, specialized equipment or a large space to get started. I would love to offer a Little Dog Print Shop Tea Towel Kit that contains all the supplies you need as well as a book of step by step instructions for printing a tea towel at home. It seems simple enough, but the task has been more daunting that I initially thought. I thought I would use this blog as a starting point for getting down the step by step instructions that will hopefully one day become part of the kit.
Where better to start than the basics?
Printmaking encompasses a huge variety of skills, techniques, materials tools and artists. You can read an in depth history of printmaking (beginning in China some where around 200BC) here. A paired down version goes like this: Printmaking comes in many forms: from wood carving, to metal engraving, to silk screens, to letterpress to linoleum block prints. It changed the world of art and communication as it became a fast way to reproduce and print multiples. Words and images could be distributed in mass, especially to those who could not afford one of a kind paintings. Today, it is still used as both an important technical and artistic process. It can be as simple as using a potato cut cross wise to print round shapes or as complex as a multilayer/multicolor print that resembles a photograph.
Etching By Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669 Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves: 'The Three Crosses'
Wood cut by Katsushika Hokusai, 1831, The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Silk Screen by Andy Warhol, 1967, Marylin Monroe
Potato Printmaking by LinoCut Boy, 2014, Potato Print Wrapping Paper
Inky Lips Letter Press, 2022
Linoleum Block Print by Me, 2021, Great Blue Heron
My focus has been one color linoleum block prints and will be the kind of printmaking I will focus on for the Print Your Own Tea Towel Kits.
Linoleum block printing is a type of printmaking where you carve into a soft rubber material (linoleum) to create a kind of stamp. It is a great beginner printmaking medium because the soft rubber is easy to manipulate and it is relatively inexpensive.
The important thing to remember when carving a linoleum block print is that you are carving away the white space and what you leave behind will be the colored part of the print. This feels like the opposite of what we are used to. Normally we add lines to a drawing to create a shape. In the case of linoleum block printing, we have to carve around the lines to create the shape.
You can see in this carved block of the great blue heron, I carved away the space around the image (the negative space) and left the lines of the image intact (the positive space).
When I add ink to the block, you can see that the ink is applied to the raised portion of the stamp (the part I did not carve out).
Another important thing to remember about printing with linoleum blocks is that the image will be printed in reverse. This is most important if you are carving letters. You will need to carve out the mirror image of what you want printed. You can see on the tea towel below, the heron is flying to the left, where as in my block above, the heron is flying to the right.
Because I print in one color (often black) I have to rely on shape and textures to create gradient and form. When I design a block I think about which parts will be totally black, which parts will be completely white and which parts will be somewhere in between. For the in between parts, I decide how I want to make that look different. I might use stripes, little tick marks, curves, dots or "x" shapes. Look at the different textures and gradients in the bunny and bat print below. Some parts are solid black or white. Some parts have little tick marks spaced far apart and some parts have little tick marks close together. I also use crossing lines, thin lines and thick lines to differentiate different parts of the image. The different textures add interest to the print and they are a unique and signature aspect of printmaking.
Linoleum block prints are very versatile. You can carve simple shapes or more complex shapes filled with texture. You can work large or small. You can do a one color print (above) or a multi-color print (below).
Multiple color images are created by layering several different stamps on top of each other. Each stamp is inked with one color and then each color is printed on top of the previous layer. In the sewing machine print, I carved a block for the black ink, a block for the red ink, and a block for the green ink. Multicolored prints are more complex because you have to make sure the prints align correctly on top of each other and that each color is printed in the correct space.
The great thing about carving linoleum prints is that once the stamp is complete, you can print and reprint as many times as you want. You can print on different surfaces: paper, fabric, cardboard or wood. Each time you print with your block, you may get a slightly different outcome. I love that about linoleum block printing. You really see the handmade process in the final project. In an automated and ever progressing world where most things are created in mass by machines, we could all use a little handmade imperfection every once in a while.
Check back next week where I will discuss different tools and supplies used for linoleum block printing.