Create your own printmaking base art

I love collecting wooden printmaking letters. Their well-used, rustic nature makes them so beautiful. I have tried to print from them a couple of times. Unfortunately, I don’t own a press, nor do I have easy access to one, so pulling a good hand print of these hard wooden letters isn’t very easy.

Linda Cote-printers letters groupI had an idea some time ago about making a casting out of clay, then printing with that. I already had Super Sculpey moldable clay (made by Polyform) sitting in my studio and decided it was finally time to give this a try.

I quickly discovered that — of course — I could not use the wooden letters because a casting of them would create a reverse of the letters, meaning that when I went to print them, the image would actually be backwards and unreadable.

Then I remembered that I had a couple of sets of children’s alphabet blocks in my studio, and that was it! I would cast them, and see if my idea would work.

LINDA COTE-wooden letters

First I set out to create the Sculpey base art. Molding the clay in my hand until it was soft, I then used my marble roller to roll it flat. I positioned the roller between two magazines on each side so that the rolled-out clay would be flat and even, and about a 1/4-inch thick.

LINDA COTE-rolling clay

Once the clay was nicely rolled, I picked out the word “LOVE” in blocks, and pressed each block into the Sculpey clay (reversed left to right so the print would show the correct way around).

LINDA COTE-letters clay

Next, I cut a border around the letters to make a square shape (using a X-Acto knife) to follow the design I had in mind for the card I would create.

LINDA COTE-letters clay2I carefully lifted the pliable clay and took it home. To turn the Sculpey clay into a base that I could print from, it needed to bake for 10 minutes in a 275-degree-Celcius oven to harden the clay.

LINDA COTE-letters inkOnce I had the hardened base art, I brought the piece back to the studio to print. Rolling it with red ink, I followed the printing technique I use for all my prints: I laid the card stock on the block and burnished the back. The printed word LOVE turned out fabulous! Kind of gritty and incomplete-looking, but I loved it. I enjoy trying something new because you never quite know how it will turn out. These are always the best surprises!
LINDA COTE-letters ink print

The cards went up on my line to dry for about a week — good thing I was planning ahead because the red ink I use really seems to take its time drying.

LINDA COTE-letters print dryThe next step to complete the card was to add my two love birds. I carved a silhouette of two birds facing each other so that the negative space between them formed a heart shape. This part of the base art was carved out of a piece of soft linoleum I had in my studio (never throw out your scraps!).

LINDA COTE-love birdsOnce inked, I stamped the birds directly onto my printed LOVE cards. Typically when I do printmaking, I leave the inked block face-up on the table, then place the paper down on the block … but because I had to line the birds up directly over the printed word, I needed to see the printed card art.

LINDA COTE-love birds print

LINDA COTE-love birds print2

With the love birds on, the cards go back on the line to wait for drying and signing.

LINDA COTE-card dry“Love Birds” is one of two new cards created this year for Valentine’s Day.


The other card “Just Us Two” is a one-color print carved from a linoleum base. It also features birds and hearts (a bit of a theme going here!).

LINDA COTE-Just Us TwoThese cards (and my other Valentine’s cards) are now available to purchase on my online Etsy shop for $7 each.

I’m sure I will find more uses for my alphabet blocks. Printing these letters — with the help of Sculpey clay — is just too much fun!


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