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?

You can’t always get what you want

Dry midwestern lake bed. Would you put this on your wall?

Every artist blog needs an image. So when a print you have poured yourself into for weeks does not turn out, it is difficult to know what to do. It is heartbreaking, and a bit embarrassing as well.

During the summer, a nearby lake was drained to repair a leak in the dam. A severe drought helped the process, and by August you could walk on the lake bed and take pictures of these interesting patterns.

I really wanted to use this pattern, but as dry earth, it only conveys lack, desperation and death. Not really the type of image I work with. So I tried to turn it on its head and imagine evaporation, perhaps with some tasty Mediterranean sea salt as a by-product.

The print that shall not be named (detail).

To try to get the idea of crystallization, I turned to etching for some interesting textures. I have now remembered why I prefer the dryness of relief printmaking. In this detail, you can see some of the areas that were etched. I actually etched the block three times, and found it to be a very random process. The changeable autumn weather played havoc with the experiment as well. Sometimes the etch dried quickly, and other times it stayed hydrated and ran off the block — and under the tape I had applied to protect the MDF (medium density fiberboard) block.

Pulling out all the stops in the studio.

As I was cleaning off the block the last time, the MDF was beginning to expand and decompose. I knew this was the last time I could print with this block, and there were still many problems to be solved. So I pulled out all the stops — a frisket for some details, and two different gradations. I gently eased the block back and forth from press to table, but in the end there were perspective problems that had been there from the beginning, and couldn’t be solved with another layer of color.

I thought long and hard about whether to put the whole print on the blog, and decided against it. Once it is here, it has a life of its own. At my house, it glares at me as it dries in the studio. We need some time apart, this print and I.

Time to head to Starbucks for a ridiculously expense coffee, sketchbook in hand, to try to regain my artist inspiration. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you can stuff it in a bottom drawer.