For some background on this project, I was invited to a baby shower/blessingway for a friend of mine and received this in the mail.
The instructions were that each person coming to the baby shower would create a prayer flag, which would be strung together to help my friend during labor and birthing. Traditionally, Tibetan prayer flags are hung outside with prayers that are carried on the wind to God, or the gods, or the universe. Prayers for peace and the end of suffering. The flag is supposed to wear away, remain open to the elements, meaning your prayer would be answered when the flag is gone. For this blessingway, the idea is to write a prayer, positive message, and/or a loving powerful image for the pregnant woman to use as strength and love for birth. Each person does one to surround her with love and positive images. I loved the idea and immediately began thinking about what to do for her.
I've been thinking about labyrinths a great deal lately. I wrote about it on my other blog recently. In a birthing class I took while pregnant with Beezus, we drew labyrinths as a kind of power image to use during birth. Labor is like a labyrinth, we were told. You go in and though it is a long, winding, seemingly arduous path, you always find a way to the center and back out again. Though it seems to be a maze, you aren't tricked, there is no cleverness, you will get to the end.
I decided to do a labyrinth for my prayer flag. I am really drawn to the Native American labyrinth pattern, which has a more organic and less geometric look to it. Labyrinths are in cultures all over the world, so there are many different designs.
I drew this. Then I decided, as I was turning it around and around that it might look cool as a block print. And then as I was staring at it and thinking it looked like a brain, I thought I might transform it into a heart-shaped labyrinth, since labor is an arduous journey of love.
Creating a linoleum block print is really easy, but does require some equipment. All very reasonably priced and long lasting, so a little investment for a long pay-off. If you are so inclined. Linoleum block printing is one way to make a print. I did watch a Martha Stewart one morning where she did a print on a potato, then stamped it in fabric paint and made cool onesies. So, once you buy the stamp/block cutting tools, you can basically carve anything. I choose linoleum because it lasts a hell of a lot longer than a potato and I can make multiple prints, wash the linoleum in water, and use another color.
First thing to know is that printing is a reverse process, so if you are doing letters, mirror flip them. I drew my design right on my block. First in watercolor pencil, so I could erase with water, then I went over it in sharpie.
The drawing is the guideline. I am going to take the linoleum off the entire block EXCEPT my design. I am making a stamp, basically. This one is 8.5" x 5". My husband used a table saw to trim my block (later in the process). You can buy the tools to remove the linoleum at Michael's or AC Moore, both of which have printing materials, including blocks and ink and all the equipment. Speedball makes a cheap, totally fine, lino block tool set for ten bucks. Blocks vary in price, but are about five to ten bucks a piece. Again, you can cut them to suit your needs.
The block cutting tools I use are made my Speedball. And have different sizes of blade, which are stored in the handle. They are hella sharp, and I have cut myself a number of times. Practice before doing an intricate design. It isn't terribly difficult, but it does take a certain understanding of how much pressure and counter pressure to use and where to put your other hand. I have slipped, especially early on and skidded across my block and into my hand. It wasn't pleasant. Some people use a vice, but I like to move my block around.
I always start by creating the edge of my print first. Then the long, large areas.I do that for a number of reasons. One is that if I do slip and skid across my project, you usually stop at a gutter. Usually. Not always, but usually. I generally leave a huge field to cut around my project only so I can reorient myself to cutting the linoleum before I get into my design. Many people trim all block but the design. That is a good way to do it.
This is a very meditative process. Cutting and drinking coffee/tea. Cutting and drinking coffee. I also listen to music I can sing to.