I had a birthday recently. It wasn’t a momentous one, but pretty close. As I work on my latest large linocut, I am increasingly aware of how much wear and tear printmaking can have on my body. Blocks are heavy, and need to be slid from the table to the press rather than lifted over shoulder height. Large blocks mean large areas to cover with ink using brayers. This motion can put a great deal of stress on my hands and wrists. Luckily I learned a few years ago that good rollers can save your wrists.
Brayers work well for small blocks
Relief printmakers use rollers and brayers to put ink onto the block in even layers. Brayers (with one handle) are more typically used because they are much less expensive. Those tan speedball rollers populate every high school printmaking studio, and work well for introductory printmakers. Longer brayers allow ink to cover the block more easily with fewer lap marks — lines that appear when the initial inking runs out. I have two rubber brayers from McClains (a 6-1/2″ and an 8-1/4″) that work well for many of my blocks.
The problem with smaller brayers — in length and in width — is that it takes much longer to evenly cover the block. Plus I tend to turn my right wrist this way and that as I apply the ink. Lots of turning and lots of inking passes translates into wrist pain. Enter the Takach roller…
Rollers make large blocks easier to ink
Rollers like the one I have (4.75″ in diameter and almost 15″ long) are expensive. I was able to purchase mine in 2013 as part of a grant I received from the Indiana Individual Artist Grant Program. Instead of using only my right hand and wrist, this roller requires two hands, and more equally distributes the weight and pressure on both wrists. To roll out the ink, my wrists remain in a relatively straight position. Plus I can use more of my core muscles to control the roller, rather than just my right wrist.
Time to put on the (cycling) gloves
The only problem with this roller is that the handles are stationary. With some tools that rotate, there might be some ball bearings that allow the roller to roll freely while you grip the handles. With this roller, that doesn’t happen. You must allow the handles to rotate in the palms of your hands which can quickly lead to blisters. Luckily, we had plenty of fingerless gloves from cycling and canoeing at our house. A pair now has layers and layers of ink on its edges, while its leather palms protect my hands. Printmaking bliss.
I think I have two layers of my latest linocut to go. As I carve away more of the block, my wider roller helps me keep the ink on top of the block where the linoleum has not been carved away. Smaller brayers can slip down and get ink on the beige “carved away” areas, which can sometimes offset ink onto your paper in places you do not want ink.
Like mattresses, hiking boots and other important necessities of life, rollers are worth spending some money on to get a tool that will protect your body for years to come. They are much cheaper than either physical therapy or orthopedic surgery. I’m looking forward to my “big birthday” next year, and intend to be in the best printmaking shape possible. Because I am addicted to large linocuts. There, I said it.