There is more than one way to do just about everything. Linoleum block printing is no exception. I am not an expert in all of the tools and techniques, but I wanted to share the supplies I have found essential to my own block printing practice. I find that I use everything below every time I print. They are reliable and affordable and if you are interested in starting your own printmaking practice, I would recommend starting to accumulate some of the following supplies.
The first thing you'll need is a good space for printing. It doesn't need to be fancy or a dedicated space. You just need a sturdy table. Mine is relatively small, about 48" by 30" inches and it does the trick. It should be clear of clutter so you have space to manipulate the fabric. If it is a precious surface like a dinning room table, you'll want to cover it in butcher paper to protect it. I like to raise my table up so I can stand while I print and not have to bend over into an awkward position. I use plastic bed risers that I've lugged around since college.
Basic Drawing Supplies:
You don't need anything fancy from the art store for creating your initial drawing. You likely have most of these things around your house already. I use a sharp, light pencil (Number 2 will work) to draw the image I will eventually carve into my block. A nice eraser is always helpful. I typically draw my sketches on copy paper. You need a paper that isn't too thick and that can be easily cut out. You could draw in a sketchbook, but remember you will need to cut out the final drawing when you are ready to transfer it to your block. I always use an exacto blade for cutting my paper drawing and also trimming my linoelum block to size. A basic ball point pin is the perfect tool for transferring your graphite drawing onto your block for cutting. A good metal ruler is an essential for every art room. It will last a lifetime, I've been using this one for at least 15 years!
I always recommend having a visual aid when you are drawing. You can look at something in real life (a vase of flowers, your pet) or you can find any image you can imagine online. I love having a few reference books around the house. A bird guide is filled with drawings that you can use as references when drawing images for your linoleum block prints. It's amazing how your drawings improve when looking at a reference.
Linoleum rubber is one of those products that comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. It can be overwhelming for a beginner. Just know that there is really no wrong material to use for printmaking. I have even used styrofoam trays you get at the grocery store for printing. In my experience, I really love using the pink, Speedball Speedy-Carve Linoleum. There are two main types of linoleum. The first kind (pictured above) is Easy-Cut Linoleum which is typically softer and thicker providing a smooth surface to carve. It doesn't require heat or excess pressure for carving. It can be a little more expensive than other types. It is excellent for beginners. Because of its soft surface, the final carved product often will not hold up to very heavy, extended use. It is excellent for printing on fabric because of its depth. The second kind of linoleum is gray linoleum. It is typically thinner, less flexible and can be bought mounted on wooden blocks or unmounted. Because gray linoleum is harder, it typically will last a long time and hold sharp, fine detail. It is difficult to carve, requires extra pressure and often heat. It is often a cheaper alternative.
I buy Speedball Speedy Carve linoleum because I know it to be a reliable, high quality brand. I have bought cheaper easy cut alternatives before, but have found that other brands don't hold up as long, dry out quickly and don't hold as much detail when cutting. I also love that Speedball is an NC based business. I normally buy my easy cut in 12" x 6" sheets. I can usually get 3 or 4 stamps out of it and cut them to the shape I want. You can buy bigger or smaller, totally up to you.
Another Speedball product I am a fan of is the Speedball Linoleum Cutting Tool. It is an affordable option for beginners. It comes with 3-5 differently shaped nibs for carving different sizes and shapes into blocks. The handle of the tool opens up to store the extra nibs so you always have them within reach. They offer affordable replacement nibs for when yours get dull. It is small for easy storage but also fits nicely in your hand.
There are many high quality cutting tools available that come in different shapes and sizes according to your preference. I was recently gifted a set of Japanese cutting tools at Christmas. They are beautiful and offer a lot of options as well as come with a sharpening stone. I will say that it takes practice to get used to a new set of tools.
Now its time to get printing! Again I'm using speedball products (I guess I am loyal) for inking my blocks. There are many kinds of inks out there you can explore and practice with. There are both water based and oil based ink. I like to use water based ink because it feels less toxic and I don't need to buy special clean up supplies. Speedball makes a water based ink specifically for fabric that cleans up with soap and warm water. It stays permanently in fabric after 7 days of drying plus heat setting. I have had good success with this ink (in the white tube above: "Speedball Block Printing Ink for Fabric"). It comes in many colors and sizes of tubes. You can get a starter pack with 6 primary colors in 2.5 oz tubes. I am a big fan of black ink for its boldness and consistency. Speedball also makes block printing ink for paper (black tube above). While you can use the fabric ink to print on both paper and fabric, I find that I get better prints if I use the regular paper ink on paper.
The roller is called a brayer. I use Speedball Soft Rubber Brayers. You'll want to get one that is close to the size of the block you are using. If you are printing a very large block, it will be helpful to have a longer brayer. I usually print blocks that are about 4" x 6" and I have a 3" and 4" brayer.
A baren is a hard flat object that you use to press the paper or fabric into the inked block to achieve a solid and consistent print. I use a speedball hard plastic baren, though you can also get a soft version. I don't have much experience with the soft version, but I am curious to experiment. However, if you are looking to save some money, you can use many things you may have around the house has a baren. Wooden or metal spoons of varying sizes work well. You may also try a curved paper weight or a flat bottom glass.
Finally you'll need a tray for rolling out the ink. This is another place you don't need to be fancy. As long as the surface is smooth, you're golden. You can use a melamine tray, a baking sheet, a paint tray, a tupperware or a flat plastic lid to a swiffer wet container. Whatever you use, you'll want to make sure you can dedicate it to printmaking: you won't want to use it for food after you've used it to roll out ink.
You'll also need a scrap paper to put under your block when you are inking it and two pieces of hard chipboard, plastic or thin wood for sandwiching your block during printing.
Now here is the fun part. You need something to put your print on!! You can print on just about anything" paper, cardboard, newsprint, magazines, junkmail, cereal boxes, fabric scraps, old t-shirts. You'll need a lot of things to practice on, so make sure to find some items that aren't precious. It definitely takes practice to get a good print on a new surface.
Tea Towel Fabric:
For your tea towel fabric, you can either buy plain finished tea towels or yardage of fabric. I use yardage of fabric because it gives me more control over the fabric content and colors. You'll want to search for soft fabric that is absorbent and not too textured. I like to buy fabric from StyleMaker Fabric Online and also my local fabric store, Mulberry Silks. I like to buy 100% cotton or 100% linen fabric. I usually buy "crinkle cotton" or "washed linen" because I like the soft, broken in feel of these fabrics. I buy a yard of fabric and cut them into quarters that are about 29" x 18", depending on the width of the fabric. I finish the edges with a serger to prevent fraying with washing and manipulation, but you could cut the edges with pinking shears for the same effect. Alway prewash your fabric before printing to removing anything that may be on the surface of your fabric.
Other Odds and Ends:
- Transparent Tape
- Needle and Thread
- Dish Soap
- 3" twill tape
I love to buy things locally when I can, but of course it's not always possible. Head to your local art supply store and local fabric store first. Browse the shelves to get familiar with the items. Buy what you can at your local stores. Durham has a great recycling and re-use store, the Scrap Exchange, where I can always find fabric and paper for test printing. If you can't find what you need locally, check out dickblick.com and stylemakerfabric.com to accumulate the rest of your supplies. One day, I hope you'll be able to buy a complete tea towel printing kit from littledogprintshop.com with a set of written instruction and follow along videos!