Hi! I’m Charlie Brandon-King and I work as an illustrator and print-maker in Bristol, so I absolutely jumped at the chance to write a printmaking tutorial for Little Button Diaries.
I work across various printmaking disciplines, but for my most recent project, the children’s book ‘A Cat Called Panda’, I used block-printing, so I thought a black and white, cat-themed project would be a great place to start.
Block, or relief printing traditionally uses wood-blocks, but also lino, a soft, easily carved medium. By cutting away the parts of a design you don’t want to be printed, and then applying ink across the surface, you can achieve a whole range of wonderful results, no matter how simple the design might be.
What you’ll need:
- Sheet of lino
- Lino cutter with assorted blades
- Grey board or similar
- Block printing ink
- Printing roller
- Sheet of Perspex or glass
There are various types of lino you can buy. Here, I’m using soft-cut lino as its rubbery texture makes it easier to cut. Lino cutters have a selection of different shaped blades, each used for different details on the design. They are extremely sharp, so please take care when changing the blades and when cutting – the process of running the blade along a line on the lino can lead to slips, so always cut away from yourself and make sure fingers are out of the way. You can buy hand guards and wooden blocks that hook onto the table to keep the lino secure too.
There are various ways of using lino, but here, I’m going to create a stamp, as I think they have so much scope for craft projects.
Lino can easily be drawn or traced onto, but remember that with a relief print, it will print back to front from the design, so make sure you trace and cut its mirror image into the lino, especially with text.
I’ve designed a cat paw print, traced it onto tracing paper, then rubbed it onto the lino. I want the pencil lines to also be the inked lines, so I cut around the pencil using a combination of the thinnest angled blade and then replace it for a larger scoop blade to take out the bigger sections. You might want to keep the design a little more simple though – just the paw pads for example.
Once I’ve completed the main part of a cut, I often use an inking pad to check it. They’re quick and washable, so you can check the design and change it quickly and easily.
Now to turn it into an actual stamp! A good thickness of grey board or thinner MDF board is perfect as a backer for the stamp. They’re thick enough to ensure an even pressure and give you something to hold onto when printing.
Inks, like everything else, also come in different varieties. More traditional block-printing inks are oil-based; they have a slow drying time, great tack and in my opinion, a far better texture. However, they are not water-soluble, so involve a bigger clean-up, and also will take a few days to dry compared to water-soluble inks. I prefer a good linseed oil-based ink. They’re lovely to use, I don’t have to rush my process and they can be cleaned up easily by good old-fashioned vegetable oil!
A little ink goes a long way, so on a shiny flat surface, like Perspex, a mirror, or thick glass, pop a splodge at the top and then using the roller, pick a little bit up and roll the roller along the glass. Roll up and down, then lift before putting it down to roll back and forward again. The action of rolling and lifting, means the roller should turn as it’s brought off the glass, so by repeating this process you get a nice even coverage.
Gently roll along the stamp, keeping the action as even as possible so you get a print with no roller marks. Also, with stamps where you are pushing onto the paper, put something behind the paper that has a bit of ‘give’; this way the stamp has some space to push the ink down into the fibres properly.
Once you’re comfortable with the amount of ink and the technique of stamping you can experiment with all kinds of surfaces and designs. Greeting cards, stationery and wrapping paper for example. And don’t worry about the little lines and edges that might sneak into each print – these imperfections are what make block printing so unique and individual!
I’ve had a bit of calico fabric lying around for ages, so I decided to print this and turn it into a cushion for our cat Bungle (who insists on sleeping on our pillows!).
A Cat Called Panda is available to buy now from Amazon.