Tag Archives: block printing

Luscious Leftovers

27 Feb

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Had a full day at Swansea Print Workshop running a session on making miniature prints, to encourage artists to enter the Leftovers IV print exchange organised by the fabulous Wingtip Press in Boise, Idaho, USA. We’ve been saving our scraps of leftover papers – gorgeous, luscious printmaking papers. I demonstrated two techniques: block (relief) printing using offcuts of signwriter’s foam board. The other technique, drypoint intaglio printing with paper drypoint plates – so cheap and easy to use and so much quicker than copperplate etching. Here are some artists getting down and dirty in the print studio. In the foreground is the most complicated cutting tool we use for these two techniques – a four inch screw with some masking tape wrapped around it :).

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Here are some of the drypoint prints done today………

………. and some artists even managed to do an edition to enter for Leftovers IV. Result!

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Block Block Block

17 Nov


Someone asked me about the difference in the final prints made by blocks in different materials so here are three I did earlier :). This top one is hacked from a piece of plywood. It’s very rough and choppy because the wood splinters when you attack it with the cutting tools and it also tends to split along the grain. Solid areas also show the grain when they’re inked up so it’s hard to get a solid black. Some expert printmakers, however, scratch the surface of the wood instead of cutting and gouging. This gives a very refined and delicate tonal quality – here’s a link to an accomplished Chinese printmaker, Xiang Sl, who does amazing huge portraits in this technique.

The next block print is one I did with PVC foamboard, used by signwriters. In Britain, it’s called Foamex. Signwriters usually give away their offcuts, so it’s free and recycled. Bargain. It doesn’t like being cut and blunts tools after a couple of gouges, but it loves being incised with the point of a nail or screw, the tip of a screwdriver or even a ballpoint pen, pressed hard. The solid white areas in this print are cut with conventional cutting tools, the fine lines incised with the point of a 4inch screw held against a steel rule and the dots were made with a crosshead screwdriver jabbed into the surface. It gets rid of a lot of stress. It gives very good blacks and you can do very fine linear detail, much more so than with softwood or lino.

Finally, here’s a reduction print in lino. I find it’s the easiest of the three to cut and the tools love it – they take ages to blunt. It’s great for getting lovely flowing lines, it’s like drawing with blades and you can be very free when you’re cutting into it, especially if you warm it gently before you start. Hhowever, you can’t get the very fine detail possible with PVC foamboard, because it squishes slightly in the printing press and finely cut lines can close up under the pressure.

Phew – that’s very geeky 😀

ps block printing is also known as relief printing.

Another Block Bites The Dust

1 Oct

And here’s another one in my series of block prints ‘Voyeur’. Here it is inked up just before printing, using Daler-Rowney block printing medium and Georgian lamp black oil paint, ratio two thirds to a third, taken with a bamboo Japanese baren onto Fabriano Accademica 120 gsm.


13 Sep

I spent the early part of the week cutting blocks and today I started to take proof prints. The proof is a trial print to see that the block [or plate or screen] is the way you want it to be and it gives you a chance to make alterations, like a bit of recutting. This is Voyeur #4 and I don’t think I’ll do any more work on it. The picture shows the block inked up, before I took the print.

Spying Scribbling Cutting Printing

19 Jan

I often think of artists as voyeurs, spying on and recording what’s around us. We had a lovely sunny day in the middle of last week and I opened one of the big windows in my new studio and looked down at the pavement three floors below. Suddenly, someone walked past beneath me and I noticed what an odd shape they made. Then a couple of people stood almost directly below me. Again, really odd shapes. I grabbed my digital camera and snapped away for the next 15 minutes or so and downloaded the photos onto my laptop. Nobody noticed me snapping them – my camera is quiet and people rarely look up for no good reason.

drawing, tracing, redrawing....

I spent a bit of time over the next few days converting the images to black and white and simplifying them by cranking up the contrast [in Adobe Photoshop] then I drew a series of them onto tracing paper using some good quality Derwent pencils in B, 2B and 4B. I cut some 15 x 15 cm blocks from an offcut of polycarbonate [signwriters] foam. I turned the drawings over and placed each onto a piece of foamblock. Using a 4H sharpened pencil, I drew over the lines, transferring the drawing onto the surface of the block. Then I picked around the outline with a small sable brush and black Indian ink. Finally I worked into the image with Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens [sizes S and F] and a little grey inkwash. I still have some more drawing to do on this image. Once I’m satisfied, the next stage will be to cut it and then, hopefully this Saturday, I’ll print it down at Swansea Print Workshop. There’s a lot to printmaking!





Snatched Sketch And Exercises In Anatomy

16 Jan

Sketch in biro.

We went into the new studio over the weekend and completely re-arranged the space because I wasn’t comfortable working in it last week. Today was so much better. I finally settled back into some drawing after the Xmas break and the studio move. Husb came over at lunchtime and brought some meatball and melted cheese sandwiches, home made in the lovely little café opposite with their own chilli sauce – HOT! He had a catnap in the chair and so I grabbed my sketchbook – never miss an opportunity. Great chance to get a rare up-the-nose angle. The sketch is in biro, which I’m really getting into at the moment, into my recycled, leather-bound A6 Artbox sketchbook.

Chalk and charcoal drawing: dark man.

I spent the rest of my time there working through some exercises from Sarah Simlett’s book, ‘Anatomy for the Artist’. I’m planning to do a small series of editioned block prints, probably lino, over the next few weeks – bit tired of monotypes at the moment- and I needed some inspiration. I find it often comes if I do some technical studies and after a couple of pages of hand studies, I started drawing one of the figures into my black A5 Paperchase, spiral-bound sketchbook. I restricted myself to white chalk and black compressed charcoal, which gives a different black to the background paper and I minimised the detail, emphasising the outline. I think I’m heading in the right direction; it needs to be a pared-down design for a block print.



Homage To Women Veterans.

11 Nov

Block print with chine colle: WW2 W.R.E.N.


A couple of years ago, my dear friend and neighbout died. She was in her ’90’s and was a veteran of World War Two, leaving her quiet village in West Wales to enlist in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the W.R.E.Ns. After a posting to the Isle of Man, she was stationed in Swansea where, as a despatch rider, she learned how to strip and reassemble a motorbike on her kitchen table and ride her bike through the potholed city enduring night after night of bombing throughout the Blitz. An injury became seriously infected and she nearly died, but returned to duty as soon as she was on her feet.

British women of that generation threw their collective weight into the war effort, joining the Forces, becoming farmers, riveters, engineers, factory workers. Leaving their previous domestic lives behind them, they not only helped to defeat the Third Reich, they forged a new world for their daughters and granddaughters. They were feminists before feminism and sometimes I wonder if we realise how much we owe them.

I developed this block print after my friend died, as an homage to her and her generation. It was developed from a photograph of her as a young W.R.E.N and cut into polycarbonate foamboard. I printed a small edition onto Zercoll 145gsm paper using black litho/relief ink. I used a red hand-made Indian paper as chine colle for the poppy .

I don’t advocate war, but sometimes people have to step up and act out of duty for a wider good and that’s what her generation did. It’s now over seventy years since the War began and most of the veterans are dead. I miss them, their stoicism, their duty and their committment to making the future a better place.

Enter Rocky The Dragon and The Suicide Method.

5 Oct

Reduction Lino Print: Rocky The Bearded Dragon.


This is a very geeky blog today. I was chatting to some printmakers on LinkedIn earlier about the ‘suicide’ method of block printing [we love talking technique], where you produce a multi-coloured print using the same block, by progressively cutting away each colour. You end up totally destroying the block, so there’s little room for error and there’s no chance of ever doing a reprinted edition. I started this reduction lino block of family pet Rocky, a bearded dragon, by putting a digital photo through the Artistic: Cutout filter on Adobe Photoshop and printing out an image to the size of the block I was using. I also reversed the image and after transferring it, cut out the fragments of white and printed a pale orangey-yellow. Next I removed the orangey-yellow areas and overprinted in a Rhodamine Red mixed with white to give a rich pink. I use Intaglio Printmakers Oil Relief inks. I printed wet on wet to get a slightly ‘fizzy’ surface texture and to encourage some slight colour mixing. Then I removed the pink areaas and printed a rich brown, then grey and finally black. Lots of work! I ended up with an edition of 18 perfect prints, each about 15cms x 10cms.  He’s a real cuteypie.

Things to Do With a Four Inch Screw

17 Sep

Instead of lino or wood for making block prints, I use offcuts of ‘Foamex’ signwriters’ foam board, which local firms throw out, so it’s free AND recycled. It isn’t easy to cut with conventional cutting tools as the blades need frequent sharpening, which I do with a leather Slip Strop, but it’s very easy to press and incise using old biros, nails, screwdrivers and chisels. I made my own specialist tool with a four-inch screw with a bit of masking tape wrapped around it – low tech and very cheap. I like this method.

I can incise very straight, fine lines with the four-inch screw and a steel ruler. Most soft woodblocks would split and fray at the edges with such fine lines, and lines in lino would probably distort when going through a press but this method gives lovely crisp lines. The screw also makes a fine dotted texture if you just jab it in repeatedly.  I also like to use a cross-head screwdriver to punch textures into the surface – it’s very therapeutic! Flat head screwdrivers and small chisels can be tapped onto the surface with a tiny toffee hammer. Biros give a lovely scribbly texture but are a bit hard on the hand as it takes a fair bit of pressure. I think this method involves far more mark making and is much nearer to drawing than using lino or wood.


Foam block ready to print.

This is a foamblock ready to print. It’s a portrait based on a drawing I made from a photograph I took during a trip to Pakistan a few years ago. I used conventional cutting tools for part of it, along with my four-inch screw to do the lines and dots and a cross-head screwdriver to do the decoration on the hat. The photo was taken after I’d cleaned it up after a printing session.

Block print: Islamabad Man #1.


This is the block printed up. I did an edition of 20, printed in Intaglio Printmakers black litho/relief ink onto Zercoll 145gsm paper, using a Colombian press which was made in 1855. I love it – there’s a carved brass plate on it and a large cast-iron gryphon that rises up when you pull the handle. Class!







Mixing It: Print, Drawing, Collage

17 Aug

Mixed media: Elders.


I was editioning a block print of a head of an elderly man developed from a drawing from my trip to Pakistan a few years ago and had a bit of printers ink left over so I tried printing the block onto odd bits of paper I had around the place. I had a sheet of very nice hand-made Japanese paper, pale green with bits of dried bamboo leaves embedded into it, so I did a print on it which was a bit disappointing at the time because it wasn’t a good rich black. I put it in a draw in my plans chest and forgot about it for a couple of years. It ended up in a folder of papers I took to life drawing; I often re-use old prints and work over them with drawings because the paper is too good to waste and I’m mean!


The male model that evening was quite elderly and I liked the idea of combining the two elders, one Western and one Eastern, so I started by drawing our model, John, alongside the Islamabad man using Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens and black conté crayon. Then I took a Pritt stick and stuck the Japanese paper down onto a larger sheet of black cartridge and continued the drawing over the edge of the Japanese paper onto the black using white oil pastel. Finally I collaged torn pieces of handmade patterned paper which I’d previously screenprinted with text.


I know artists who chuck out work that isn’t 100% what they want but I think that’s a waste, because after a while you can look at it in new ways and find a different use for it.


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