Part I: Tracing and Carving
The materials used for this part were as follows: 6B pencil, printed out owl picture, tracing paper, flat linoleum piece, black permanent marker, and metal carving tools.
The first step in creating our linoleum print was to decide on which animal to print. For me, my choice was an owl, so taking a sheet of tracing paper, I placed it on top of an owl photo and used a 6B pencil to trace it. The actual photo had many minute details that I couldn't possibly carve later on, so in places with these details, I would use creativity to simplify them into my own designs. It was important that we use a 6B or any B pencil with a high number. This was because these pencils had softer graphite, making it easy to smear or transfer them.
After tracing, we would place our linoleum blocks on top of the tracing paper and outline the edges of the linoleum. Then, turning it over so that the linoleum was on the bottom and the tracing paper on the top, we use the tips of our pencils to apply pressure all along the traced image. This would transfer the soft lead onto the linoleum and leave a mirrored image of our animals, or in my case, an owl. It was important to match the traced edges up while doing this so that when we repeated the transferring process to the other side of the linoleum, the image would stay exactly the same.
Now that my traced owl image was on the linoleum, we proceeded to trace and thicken the lines with black permanent marker. On one side of the linoleum, only the outline of the owl would be traced. On the other side, both outline and inside details would be traced. Pencil lead easily rubs off, so tracing with marker had two purposes: The first was to prevent our traced image from rubbing off, and the second was to offer an easier guide for when we began carving. All of the white spaces without marker were to be carved away, so the thicker marker lines would be easier to see and carve around.
Once this tracing with black permanent marker was completed, the carving finally began. Our carving tools were wedge-shaped, and all of the different carving heads were different variations of "U" or "V" shapes. Mr. Laurence warned us that the two basic rules to successful and safe carving were to always carve in the direction away from yourself and to never place your hands in the carving tool's path. Following these rules, we then used the tools to first carve the outline of our animal. I found that the linoleum carved super easily, somewhat like butter, so it really depended on your own control to get the carved lines you wanted. Any space that was carved away would later not show up on the final prints, so it took a while to carve away all of the space surrounding my owl's outline. For these large areas to carve, it was much easier to use a large "V" headed carving tool, allowing you to carve more area easily and deeply. However, it was important to not carve too deep, for there was still a flip side that had to be carved.
Now that the owl's outline had been carved out, the other side had to also be carved. Once again, I began with carving the outline first, then once all the linoleum surrounding it had been carved away, I then proceeded to the details inside. Since these details were smaller and required more precision, I switched my carving tool to a smaller "V" shaped head. I found that it was much easier to carve away larger portions first, then leaving all of the smaller spaces until later. During this process, it was important to not cut into the black marker lines so that they remained when we started printing. To easily carve away spaces that were facing different directions, instead of moving your carving tool, it was also much simpler to adjust the linoleum block's direction.
Some difficulties I faced during this first part was definitely the carving process. While the owl's outline was easy enough to carve out, I found the edges of the linoleum to be a bit challenging. If you approached the edge from inside the linoleum block, it wouldn't clean carve through. Instead, it would only rip around the edges, leaving the edges uncarved. However, I soon discovered that if you carved from the outside edge inwards, you could successfully carve away the edge. Another challenge was carving the tiny details inside my owl. If you carved too deep with a small-headed tool, the tool would get stuck and having trouble "resurfacing". Later, I solved this by not carving so deeply in these detailed areas and made sure to switch my tool sizes according to the spaces that needed carving.
Part II: Inking and Printing
The materials used for this part were as follows: apron, double-sided carved owl print on linoleum block, brayer, barren, plastic palette knives, block printing ink, plastic inking tray, wooden block-printing registration board, printing paper, and a hairdryer.
With our linoleum block already carved, we could now move on to the actual printing. The printing techniques we used with linoleum were actually similar to the process for wood-block printing. The first step was to get an apron on and use palette knives to scoop small amounts of desired ink onto inking trays. The first print we would make would be the silhouette of our animal, so a lighter colored ink would stand out more. I tried out many different ink colors, but the ones I eventually chose to present in this blog post were the ones where I combined two colors into an ombre effect.
Once we selected what color ink to make our animal's silhouette, we would use our brayers to roll out the ink until its texture was consistent and slightly sticky. Then, we used the ink on the brayers to roll the ink onto the silhouette side of our linoleum block, making sure to cover the entire surface with ink. We then placed the linoleum block, inked side facing upwards, onto a wooden block-printing registration board, tucking one side of the block into the board's registration corner. Next we tucked the corner of a piece of printing paper into that same corner and carefully placed it parallel on top of the linoleum. Using a hand to keep the paper in place, the barren was then used to apply pressure in all areas where the ink would go.
At first, I did this in a circular motion, but I soon realized that this created too much unwanted paper movement, smearing the print below. After this, I changed my technique and only applied pressure in one direction away from myself. This proved to be effective, for most of my following prints were solid and smear-free. Once pressure was evenly applied with the barren, you could then lift the printed paper off the linoleum and leave it on the drying rack.
Each time a print was made, you would have to wash your inking tray, brayer, and linoleum block if you wanted to print in another color. This process was repeated several times (I made a total of around ten prints just in case), and these prints were left to dry. The next class, everything was repeated, except with darker ink colors on the detailed animal carving side of the linoleum. In addition, instead of using blank sheets of printing paper, we used the printing paper with our lighter colored animal silhouettes. It was important to keep both the paper and linoleum block registered with the registration board so that the prints wouldn't be too far off each other.
This time, it wasn't as easy to dry the washed linoleum block because of all the carved details. It was important that the blocks were dry before reprinting so that the ink won't smear or run, so we used hairdryers to speed up the drying process. Once again, we placed our printed works onto the drying rack at the end.
Some difficulties I encountered during the printing process included applying the right amount of pressure with the barren and getting the two prints to align with each other. For many of my earlier prints, I found that I hadn't applied enough pressure in different patches around the print. This was because when I applied pressure with the barren, I did so randomly and couldn't remember whether or not I had already one over a patch. To solve this, I would work systematically applying pressure from the left to the right, then right to the left, paying special attention to the edges of my print. This worked, for my later prints were all solidly printed.
The second challenge was aligning my prints. What happened was that when I traced the detailed side of my owl, I had accidentally moved the alignment out of place so that the carved owls were already different. However, I soon realized that the error was small enough that if I carefully registered both block and printing paper exactly the same time during printing, the misalignment would become less obvious. Despite this obvious mistake, it added a special charm to my print, making it look artistically imperfect. That is why, after all of these prints, I believe my final three chosen prints remain very unique.
Selected Owl Print #1: Black ink on red, orange, and yellow background
Selected Owl Print #2: Black ink on bright blue and turquoise-green (from left to right) background
Selected Owl Print #3: Black ink on turquoise-green and bright blue (from left to right) background