How do you get your blocks?

I so enjoyed meeting the people that came through my studio last weekend during Bloomington Open Studios Tour. I will unveil the completed solar flag project in my next blog. This week has been filled with reassembling my house and getting ready for the Columbus Arts Festival. And creating an enormous block of linoleum.

One of the most frequent questions asked last weekend was “Where do you get your blocks?” The following images are my way of explaining just how I create my oversized linoleum blocks.

great big box

I first order the linoleum from either McClain’s or Graphic Chemical. I order three foot wide rolls and can specify how long a roll I would like. Shipping is expensive because linoleum is heavy!

measure twice

When I decide the size block I would like, I cut a piece of linoleum slightly larger than my desired size. I use a box cutter and a metal straight-edge to score through the burlap backing and partially cut the linoleum. After that it folds easily on the seam you have created. Remember to measure twice — linoleum is expensive and you can’t glue pieces together.


The next step involves spraying both the back of the linoleum (with the burlap) and a piece of 1/2 inch medium density fiberboard with #90 spray adhesive. Newsprint is essential around the edges, or you may forever trap your house cats on your sticky floor. This is serious adhesive.

I have to quickly and gracefully slap this heavy linoleum onto the MDF. It really sticks, so there is no second chance. I am working here with a 25 x 40 inch piece of linoleum, and it is quite an athletic event. I then have to hoist the glued linoleum block onto my press, cover it with newsprint, and run it through the press several times to make sure it is as flat as possible.

great big table saw

Finally I have to wrestle this heavy block off the press and into my car. I have access to a huge table saw, and my awesome husband helps me trim the block to its final size. Cutting MDF is a messy job, and he is a dear to help me with this.

So that is the story of how I get my blocks. Look for my new large linocut of clouds to be started soon.

Are there any good stories of how you get your materials?

What takes so long

Like many creative endeavors, preparation for relief printmaking can take a significant amount of time. Unlike the spontaneity of watercolor, where the wet brush can immediately touch the pre-prepared watercolor block, beginning something new in my studio can take days.

THE IDEA: I need to have some idea of what I’m creating before I can begin. My smaller sketchbook drawings are copied and enlarged on a FedEx blueprint machine. A large tracing paper guide is made by tracing and adapting my enlarged drawing with an 8B pencil. There isn’t a way to draw permanently on the block, so this guide will be used to show me where to carve for each color layer.

Graphite & tracing paper_
Heavy layers of 8B graphite mean that I can transfer these marks multiple times onto my block using a wooden spoon and careful alignment marks.

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Navigating through the creative doldrums

I am always relieved and pleased when I finish something. I’m a devoted list maker, and the black ink mark across a task or goal is tremendously satisfying…

The problem comes the next day or week when I am faced with the proverbial blank canvas. In my case, it is a clean studio, surfaces ink-free, drying rack without a mid-way linocut. The process of thinking of the next work, the next project, feels a little like the doldrums. In maritime use, the doldrums are a place without wind, where a sailor could be trapped for some time. We also think of it as a state of inactivity, of low energy or mild depression.

So like the sailor who is trapped without winds, I begin the process of shaking the sails to try to get moving again. While I blithely write “new series” on Monday’s to-do list, the reality is that it takes some time to come up with new ideas. My ideas lately have been circling around global climate change, especially our country’s willingness to harvest our below-ground energy sources like tar sands, rather than increasing our use of renewable energy. I live in a coal-burning state, so even my time on the computer is emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But how to put these noodlings into actual artwork? Sometimes I have to sneak around this problem, so to get my creative brain out of the doldrums, I do experiments.

Layers of leftover inks, provide an interesting starting point for this exploration.
An experiment thinking about layers. The first two layers came from blend rolls of leftover inks. The current layer was a tinted lemon yellow…

Continue reading “Navigating through the creative doldrums”