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.

THE BLOCK: Now that I know the size, and I can prep the block. I purchase unmounted linoleum in three foot rolls. I cut a piece roughly the size I need and mount it to 1/2 inch MDF with spray adhesive. I try to use materials and time efficiently, so I prep more than one block at a time. I hoist the large piece of MDF with multiple pieces of linoleum glued to it onto the press bed and roll it through several times to remove air bubbles. A trip to a nearby workshop with a large table saw helps me cut everything into the correct sizes.

New lino blocks
Three newly mounted and sized linoleum blocks are ready for carving and printing. Perhaps only printmakers find this beautiful.

SANDING: I used to think I could just print with the linoleum I received, but I was wrong. There are always stray marks or pesky patterns that need to be removed. I do this slowly using 150 grit wet/dry sandpaper, working the wet surface into a paste. About 20 minutes later a smooth surface emerges. I let the block dry in the sun with my studio cats as supervisors.

sanding the lino
Sanding a linoleum block takes a while. You might be able to see the patterns I am trying to remove at the lower right edge of the block.

THE RIGHT TOOLS: For textured areas I turn to my Foredom drill with engraving bits. Even though the all of the bits I’m using are small, different bits are needed for each image. Yesterday two trips to the hardware store were needed before I was satisfied with the mark making. In this tiny video you can see why this process takes a long time to complete, especially with a large block.

Only after all of these issues are resolved can I get to the fun part of making the first marks on a fresh block of linoleum. Long awaited, but heavenly.


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