Printing blocks and repeating patterns
A printing block is simply another form of printing plate. They tend to be made from more durable material so that you can clean them thoroughly to use again and again. Wood and lino are favourite materials of print artists to make their printing blocks for precisely those reasons. As I’ve never done a wood block, wood cut or wood engraving, I’ll not be covering that for a while. The principle is the same though for how to use a wood block.
However, in my guide to novices to printing this week, as I don’t want you to waste money on expensive materials until you’re sure that printing is for you, I’m also not using lino today, I’ll be covering that tomorrow. I’ve choosen two methods the uses foam sheets. Specifically the sort that has a sticky back to it which you can find readily available online, in most well stocked craft shops and among the goodies in some toy shops. Ordinary foam sheets will do but you will need some glue to stick them to a board.
The advantage over lino is not just cost but it’s far quicker too. The disadvantage is it won’t be easy to achieve really fine details because of the spongy property that foam has, but you can add fine detail using a cardboard plate after you print gas dried. For the finest details even linocut artists often switch to wood and other methods which I’ll mention at the end of this week.
There are several ways to make your block using foam sheets. You can cut them with a pair of scissor and space them out slightly. Or cut out the shapes you require before sticking the to your board but you might want to draw your design on the board first so that you can place them exactly in the right position. You can stick the foam onto your block and then draw your design and cut it out with a sharp craft knife or you can draw your design on the back of your foam cut out the pieces one by one, peel the backing off and stick the pieces down.
If you want to get two for the price of one to get two blocks made from the same design, then using tracing paper make two copies of it onto two pieces of paper or thin card – you can flip your tracing paper if you like for the second copy. You don’t have to do any of this but it helps you to position the cut pieces more accurately as to you cut each piece out. Now just stick your paper design on two pieces of wood with your design showing.
The foam sheets as described above you can, if you are very careful with your cutting, make two printing blocks for the price of one. One will be a positive plate the other will be a negative plate see below. (I recommend a simple design for your first attempt with very little detail.)
So, back with your foam sheet. Cut your design out carefully. As each piece is cut free, peel the backing off it and stick those pieces onto the blocks you prepared. And piece by piece you stick the waste from one on one of your blocks for the negative block and the rest on the positive block. Use the roller to apply the ink, slap a piece of paper on. Rub or roll the back of it with a clean roller and hey presto, you’ve just done your first block print. If you cut your whole design out first… Good luck matching where they need to go as you now have two jigsaws on your hands with all the pieces of both mixed up, but if you can’t take a joke then perhaps you shouldn’t be following me.
If you find you don’t want to do two block from one design then save any pieces you’re not using anyway as shapes to make a new design.
The nice thing about these foam sheets is you can always replace any pieces that fall off or get damaged with new a new piece which you simply cannot do with linocuts.
Remember those thick cardboard printing plates from yesterday? Stick them on a block of wood and you’ve turned them into a printing block. If you only used thin paper and card to make your printing plate, oil based ink is best to use but you can always add more layers and fine details with more paper, sewing thread, lace, thin netting etc.
Remember those prints which haven’t worked out but either had too much ink, too little or were just texture or colourful…sifft through them for those you want to use as backgrounds and save the rest for another day. They’re useful for all sorts of projects not just print.
Tomorrow I will be using some lino prints I did years ago to expand on how to get even more from your block prints. On Sunday I’ll share the results of my attempt’s of this week’s experiments as a sort of finale in a gallery.
Here’s a few more ideas for you to consider trying. You can use a printing block to produce a repeat pattern or as an element to make a new pattern either by making several blocks and overlaying each one or by turning your block 90 or a 180 degrees away from you last impression. This second method is easier than the first because aligning your block to something you can already see fully as you position it generally is.
By such means fabrics, wallpaper and many other thing besides came into existed many centuries ago. At the beginning it was a labour intensive process that required steadily required increasing skill as designs became ever more elaborate. Some designs instead of repeating by align the next row exactly above the last moved the block half way along just as bricks are laid.
Then someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting the design on a roller which was a much easier way to do a repeating pattern. Firmly stick a piece of string to an old rolling pin and voila! You’re away. The bigger the diameter of your roller the bigger your pattern could be and the larger the gap before it repeats. From there just about everything that was being printed them got mechanised, the skill and craftsmanship and delightful little quirks from mishaps soon disappeared as mass production took over to enable everyone to get the same product to the same standard everywhere they went. Nice in one way, but dull in another.
One of the properties of foam sheets is that you can bend it easily, so if you want to make a roller use an old bottle, tin can, used paint tin from decorating your home and… I think you can work out the rest. For more ideas take a look at my Artists that Inspire page at Edward Bawden. I’ll be adding a few more print artists later this week.
Will be adding more to this post a bit later. I had a very late night last night, not just printing, but clearing up, sorting and preparing to make more print blocks. It’s always best to keep plate and block making well away from wet ink as bits can easily end up in the ink, on your prints and get lost.