Block printing—also called linocut and lino printing—looks complicated. (You’re making a stamp from scratch. How does that even happen?) But with a few tools and a little practice, you can create designs from simple patterns to layered illustrations. Hallmark Designer Marisol B. designed a workshop to teach our artists block printing basics and some of her favorite techniques.
Block printing basics: Getting started
I use linocuts (because the design is cut in a block of linoleum) for different patterns and different illustrations. If I want a design to be graphic but feel like it’s painted, linocuts give you something very organic. There are little mistakes, and you learn to embrace the happy accidents.
SUPPLIES FOR BLOCK PRINTING
- LINOLEUM BLOCKS (GET SOFT CUT LINOLEUM OR SPEEDBALL “SPEEDY CARVE”), 2″ x 2″ and larger, if you’d like
- RUBBER BRAYER
- WATER SOLUBLE BLOCK PRINTING INK
- RUBBER STAMP CARVING TOOLS
- OR SPEEDBALL BLOCK PRINTING STARTER KIT (AN EASY WAY TO GET ALL OF THE ABOVE)
- PALETTE PAPER
- PAPER OR FABRIC TO PRINT ON
- TRACING PAPER
For the first half of the workshop, we designed 2″ x 2″ repeating patterns. It’s kind of like cutting paper snowflakes—you cut one design, and then see how the shapes play together when it unfolds. The repeating patterns make something completely different.
How to cut your linoleum block
First, come up with a simple design for your 2″ x 2″ square. Sketch out a few ideas in pencil on tracing paper. Don’t be too intentional—let accidents happen. A few things to think about as you make your linocut design:
- Play with organic and geometric lines and shapes.
- Make sure lines and shapes go of the sides of the square—if you keep them contained in the box, they won’t join to make new shapes.
- Remember your design will be a mix of solid and empty spaces, depending on the parts you decided to cut or leave.
- Keep it simple.
Once you’re happy with your sketch, flip it over and place it upside down on the linoleum block. Rub over the lines with a pencil so the lead on the other side transfers to the rubber.
Now you’ll use the cutting tools to remove some of the rubber.
Pro tips: When you’ve decided which spots to hollow out, draw outlines a teeny bit outside of the shapes you’re not going to cut. Use larger cutting tools to cut around those outlines, then use the smallest cutting tools you have to get close to the shapes you’re going to leave. That way you don’t accidentally cut into the edges.
Lino printing a repeating pattern
To prepare, lay out your printing paper or fabric on your workspace.
Now squeeze a little bit of ink onto your palette paper. Using the brayer, roll out the ink so there are no blobs or bubbles. Then get a thin, smooth layer of ink on the brayer, and roll it across the cut side of your printing block.
To print, place your block on the paper or fabric, ink side down, and press. Cinchy, right?
Now the super-fun part: Once you’ve printed one block, re-ink your stamp and rotate it clockwise. That means you’ll use the lower-right corner of your original print as a “pivot” and print a new block to the right of the first. Then rotate the lino block clockwise again, pivoting around the same corner, and add a new square below that one. Finish up with another pivot and a final square on the bottom left.
LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE THERE.
One you’ve got the basic repeating pattern down, you can play with borders or more squares, using different corners as pivot points.
More lino cutting techniques to try
For the second half of the block printing basics workshop, the artists could do whatever they wanted. They’d researched block printing on Pinterest, and came with techniques to try for work and side projects.
Some experimented with other pattern-making techniques, like with creating simple, self-contained designs to repeat all over a piece of paper or fabric.
Others created illustrations layer by layer.
Or tried different ways of applying ink to the brayers and stamps.
Lynn G. printed shapes on to a painted background and a cut paper collage.
Another artist loved the idea of linocutting letters and making a whole alphabet to create a new font. Your options are endless!
Pro-tip: Remember your design will print backwards—especially important when you’re drawing letters.