Tag Archives: woodblock

London Rowan

London Rowan - Arches 1

There are half a dozen rowan trees along my road; they’re something I used to see a lot back in Wales, and not a tree you’d expect to find here. I’ve been taking photographs of them over the last year or so, and recently I took one of them—from last February or so—and commenced some messing around, snipping out a small portion of the branches and using GIMP to clean it up and convert it to black & white. The image-manipulation took about an hour overall, including using Inkscape to convert it to SVG (which in itself smooths out some awkward corners) and then to the DXF format the laser cutter can import.

Design for a stencil (Rowan tree) 1 Here’s the cleaned-up image, with a frame added. (As always, click through to Flickr for full-sized versions of all these images.) I was originally planning on using it for stencilling, but the initial tests showed I’d have to scale it up to about A3 if much of the detail was going to survive, and I’ve no real use for anything that size.

IMAG0837 Here, it’s laser-engraved onto birch plywood at around A4 size. That’s vector engraving, because with a design this complex the laser cutter software just couldn’t handle the necessary calculations to reduce the white areas and make a printmaking block right out of the box.

With that test done, I could choose a suitable piece of reclaimed hardwood (I think it used to be part of a floorboard) and burn the design onto that. (Just for completeness & my own records: 50% laser power, speed 150, worked perfectly and had the job done in 15 minutes.) That gave me the design transferred to the surface, and since the lines were a millimetre or two deep I could go straight to the komasuki (U-section gouge, more or less) rather than starting with the outlining tools.

IMAG1003 Here I’ve already carved out some of the larger areas, but you can see most of the original surface. This method of transferring the design feels like cheating, but it’s Traditional to use a transfer method (laser paper and peppermint oil, or just pasting the original design down to cut through – that’s how they did it back in the Floating World) so I try to convince myself I’m just taking advantage of modern technology.

Rowan tree printmaking block Here’s the finished block. I was worried I hadn’t carved it out deeply enough, but then I usually am, and the depth you need depends a lot on the width of the open area, the size of your brayer, and the stiffness of the paper. The carving took around eight hours’ worth of work in total, spread over three or four proper sessions and a lot of five-minutes-as-I’m-passing work. IMAG1224 Here’s the block inked up and ready to print. This isn’t the nerve-wracking stage, because once the ink’s on there’s nothing to do except drop a sheet of paper on it and start rubbing; the nerve-wracking stage was deciding it was Done and I should start pulling prints. So this is the first proof, done on some random hard white paper I had in the pile. The one at the top is the 5th from this set, on Arches Velin. They’re all still drying, and will be for a few days, so you’ll have to make do with my cameraphone pictures till then, I’m afraid!

London Rowan - first proof

Curves & grids

Woodblock with curves - Tiziano brown 1

I wanted another design to use on cards, and I have a pile of wooden blocks the right size, so I went back to those for it. It’s always hard adapting to carving wood again after doing a few projects in lino or vinyl, and the tools slipped a few times, but part of the reason I do printmaking is to deal with my inherent control-freak perfectionist tendencies. I love the way the medium both benefits from them and subverts them.

Woodblock with curves WIP 2 Here’s the initial design (click through to Flickr for a larger version); you can see some of the changes that happened as a result of “rescue” carving after my sankakuto slipped.

Woodblock with curves WIP 6 Here’s the block carved and ready to print, and below you’ll see another print from it on white paper. (Arches Velin, which is incredibly tactile stuff, and can give wonderful surface effects. The one at the top is on Fabriano Tiziano pastel paper, which I find works really well for relief printmaking.)

Woodblock with curves - Arches white 1 I’m going to have to experiment more with this particular mix of curves and connecting bars, I think, but probably on lino rather than wood. Since I started printmaking, I’ve been doing bordered designs much more often than open ones, which has been a bit of a surprise to me. I’d like to speculate on unconscious artistic or philosophical reasons for that, but I suspect it’s because when I’m planning a design it’s easier to work inwards than outwards.

Golden gridwork

I carved this block quite a while ago, but was disappointed with the effect just using printer’s ink. When I decided to try the gold I’d mixed up, though, it looked much better – the texture and gleam give the design much more depth. Of course, I’m also using heavily textured handmade paper here, so that makes a difference too. This is some rather nice khadi paper – it’s not even slightly lightfast, sadly, but I don’t think that makes a difference here.

Golden gridwork


I’d been vaguely aware of the existence of monotyping before, but until I found an old copy of The Painterly Print in a Notting Hill second-hand bookshop I hadn’t really considered trying it out. It’s a good way to use up the leftover ink I dollop out onto my glass plate after doing a batch of prints from something else (in this case, a set of 20 woodblock printed cards – they’ll be up online when they’re dry enough to scan) and it’s great fun.

The printmaking process I’ve been using so far doesn’t give much latitude for Messing Around with the ink – roll it on thinly and evenly and start smoothing away with the baren, and that’s it. What I did with the leftover ink, after doing 20 A6 cards, was to roll it out evenly across the glass plate, smear it around in wide curves with a piece of kitchen roll, mess it around a lot with a brush (artificial bristle, no. 8 or so) and then scrape a lot of loops and whorls with the stump end of the same brush.

Because there was just so much ink left over, I could press really lightly with the baren, and get a vivid black/white contrast I hadn’t expected. Black ink on glass over even a quite light surface (one of the inner pages of the Waltham Forest News) doesn’t show up much of a contrast between thick and nearly-cleared layers, so the looping white and pale grey lines I got were a pleasant surprise.

I managed to take three cognates from the plate as well as the print itself, though the fourth is mostly cloudy tones rather than noticeable lines.

T-shirt printing

I’ve been experimenting today with block printing directly onto fabric, and it’s come out pretty well. I used my cartouche block, with the same printer’s ink (incidentally, using a 1lb tin and a spatula instead of a squeezy metal tube makes things quite a lot easier) and a metal spoon to make sure the ink penetrated right the way through the fabric.

This stuff has proved far too tenacious to wash out of paper once it’s dried in, so I’m hoping it’ll be the same in a normal wash – obviously, I’ll do a test wash first rather than putting it in with my good shirts!

The only problem with the setup I was using is the difficulty of keeping the fabric away from the block once I’ve done the transfer and started to peel it off. The way I set it up was to turn the T-shirt inside out, lay it on my worktable with the label facing down, lift up the top (front) side, and slip the pre-inked block in before letting the fabric down slowly and smoothing it out as I went. That part worked out pretty well, though next time I’ll probably use some artist’s tape to stiffen the fabric around the printing area first.

Another way to do it would be to lay the block down first as normal, then lower the fabric onto it with something inside the garment to stiffen it up and stop the ink from transferring right through. Rubbing it through both layers probably wouldn’t work well, but given that the ink glues the substrate down very effectively it would be extremely easy to turn the T-shirt inside out around the block.

A third way, of course, would be to lay the T-shirt down right-side-out and front-up, and then lower a vinyl block onto it. Whilst I haven’t tried printing this way yet, the vinyl is flexible enough that it should be entirely possible to rub from the back of the plate rather than the back of the substrate.

It did turn out that I could have done with a couple of extra hands when peeling the fabric off the block, but stiffening it up (ideally I’d use a tapestry frame, but finding one large enough to give enough clear space inside but small enough to fit inside a T-shirt and get a decent grip all around might be problematic) should deal with that one too.

Cartouche network

I did this as a substrate for mixed-media pieces – specifically, I wanted one to put on the cover of my laptop. It’s done from katsura onto some rather nice Indian paper (this piece has cornflower petals – I also did plain white, grey, and medium grey-blue, and haven’t decided which I’ll use yet) without dampening it.

Originally, I was intending the network to be much more vine-like, but I’m not unhappy with the way it turned out.

Cartouche network on cornflower paper

Printmaking – woodblock experiment 1

Woodblock 1 black 1

Woodblock 1 black 2

Lessons learned from this one – firstly, that printing from wood really isn’t the same as printing from lino. Having a solid block rather than a flexible piece of lino to work on is good, but it also leaves me open to edge effects. I also need to use quite a bit more ink than I think I do.

Second, if I’m going to leave a gutter and a non-printing area at the edge, I need to make the gutter quite a bit larger. The square frame above was intended that way, but didn’t work out.