Tuesday, February 21, 2012

heart labyrinth

Since I started this blog, I think I have only ever really done one linoleum block print for a Day of the Dead swap. I just paint more and do other crafting. But block printing, like stamp cutting, is something that is easy, versatile and fun. So, I thought I would show you the process with this project I did today.

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.

 After finishing the entire surrounding area, I hunker down for the intricate design of the inside heart. I am cutting out everything but the black marker.

 This part is the difficult part. It takes patience, rather. It isn't difficult, but it is easy to slip and cut straight through the rest of your design, which would be bad. No repairing the gone linoleum. Here is my design, you can see the linoleum bits in a pile behind the block. As you can see, by this cross section above, linoleum block is a wood block with a relatively thin piece of linoleum on top. You can buy just the linoleum. And if you are so inclined, you can do this same exact thing on wood. Wood does come off differently because of grain and nooks and crannies, so it takes a lot more skill than I possess. Linoleum doesn't seem thin when you are carving, but then you hit wood here and there, and it feels thin. Pressure is important. Deep cuts will absorb less ink. Shallow cuts will pool your ink and make your print look muddy. But it is a way to create shadowing and detail by playing with cutting depth. This project was very straightforward for what was cut and what wasn't.

 Next step is to ink the bad boy. I use block printing ink for block printing. It seems like a no-brainer, but I have tried paint. It doesn't work. This is water soluble, and comes off easily. That is why I choose it. I think a brayer is an essential piece of equipment in an artist studio. It is so immensely useful for creating texture, background, printmaking, and all kinds of stuff. I use mine often. Very often. I used this little sushi dish to spread ink today, but usually I use a butcher pan I inherited from my step father. After spreading the ink evenly over your brayer, you then ink your block print. Try to roll evenly and do a number of rolls to cover all the parts of your design. This is why cutting depth is so important. As you can see in my picture, all the parts that are red are ink, so in the field, there is some reds. That is the high points of my cuts. I like that look. It gives a cool design element. Block prints want some of that, but too much and it looks sloppy.

The difference in stamp making and print making is that you move the stamp and with block printing, you move the paper. There are machine to help you print, but I use me. I am La Machina. But it takes a steady, delicate, yet strong touch. After inking, you place the paper on top. It is important to make sure you know where you want the image on your paper first, line it up, and lay it evenly. You cannot drag your paper into place after you lay it on top of the block, obviously, or paint will drag across your paper. Also resist the urge to jiggle it into place. Just place it and step away. Now grab your barren.

That is the barren, the thing on top of the white paper. It helps give you a nice even pressure on your design. When you use your fingers, you can easily press your paper into the crannies of your design, giving it ink where ink ain't supposed to be. Each print will be different. There is no helping it. Now, when you lift your paper, lift is straight up. Don't drag. Don't touch. Don't pull it. I actually pull at opposite corners in.

 Practicing with the print, I made these cards. While I like the design, the red ink makes it look a little placental, which is just not my style. So I tried mixing blue, green, yellow, and silver inks to create a cool new color of teal-ish sparkly goodness.

 This is how it turned out on the prayer flag.

 And this is the shitload of prints I did tonight on different papers, like origami paper, cardstock, watercolor paper, marker paper and just plain old colored stock.

 Hope you liked this tutorial, and if you think the design is too weird, tell me. I have a few weeks before the shower!


Mother Henna said...


Anonymous said...

love it - but then I am a fan of labyrinths - might have to give this a go!

Curls O Fred said...

Love labyrinths. And love this. I had never heard of the prayer flags, but it is an absolutely beautiful idea. Thank you for sharing!

HereWeGoAJen said...

I love it! It couldn't be more perfect.

Hope's Mama said...

Love this! And it sort of looks like an idea I have in my head for a new tattoo. I should get you to draw it for me! That would be special.

Anonymous said...

Fuck, I love this! (Also the fact that you too use words like "shitloads") Another blogpost of yours that leaves me eager to start a new project - if it wasn't for the fact that my newest project is a rescued table. But I have plenty of linoleum snippets (from samples book for flooring) which would be perfect to try it out. btw.. I love singing while crafting too.

Thanks for this. xo