Do you have a set of favorite go-to tools? Are there things in your studio or workshop you just couldn’t live without?
As I gear up for the busy Christmas season — with shows and sales and open studio tours — I am in hyper production mode. That got me thinking that this would be a good time to share some of my favorite tools as I prepare for the season.
Although it is very 1960’s, my second-hand find is a vintage table that rocks! I got the idea from a printmaker in the UK when I saw her studio set up. Before this, I was rolling my inks on a small 8×10-inch tempered piece of glass on top of my drafting table. My retro chrome and glass table gives me a HUGE surface to do printmaking on, and I can roll out several colors at once if I want.
I often get asked what kind of inks I use. I started out (like many printmakers) using the easy-to-find Speedball water-based printmaking inks. I didn’t find they suited me, though, because they dried quickly on my glass and tended to clump up. They were not permanent when they dried either, so would come off on my hands and any bit of water made them run.
Another printmaker recommended Caligo inks, and I have never looked back. I have used these inks for several years and they have always given me a great outcome. They are creamy to roll out, are oil-based so they stay ‘open’ for up to 3 hours, and dry permanent on the paper. I can paint over them with watercolor paint and they don’t smear.
They also wash up with water. I once forgot to clean a roller, found it the next day, gave it a bit of a water soak and cleaned it up easily. The inks are not readily available where I live, but I happily have them shipped from Toronto.
Water spray bottle
Speaking of the glass table and water wash up inks, my spray bottle is all the ‘cleaning solvent’ I need. That wasn’t always the case with printmaking. Some older textbooks I have on the subject have a whole section about working with toxic chemicals. Ugh. Thankfully, due to the Safe Wash Caligo inks I use, water is all I need.
While printmaking, my fingers always get ink all over them. Rags are a durable way to keep my hands clean as I print. Although clean up is relatively easy, and can often be done with paper shop towels, I like to also use rags because they create less waste (I wash them for multiple uses). Plus, the rags started out as t-shirts and towels from our house so they satisfy my kids who chant: “Reuse, reduce, recycle!”
Sometimes I experiment with making my own inks from burnt plate oil and powdered pigment (if you just said, “Huh?” click here for that blog). Or, I have also used a block medium that mixes with oil paints to make printmaking inks. Since the base for these methods is oil, a water wash up will not work. So, I use canola oil, and boy does it work! Although I never thought to clean oil with oil, another printmaker’s tip turned me onto this. Nice.
Vegetable cleaning brush
Every printmaker needs one of these. Seriously! I buy mine from Lee Valley. Although they are intended to gently brush the dirt off mushrooms or potatoes, I find these unbelievable great for cleaning brayers (rollers), glass and even the blocks I reprint often (like my greeting cards). It gets into those little nooks and crannies without damaging my art block. (I typically use linosoft, a rubber-like block, so water doesn’t swell the block like it would with traditional linoleum or wood.)
It gives me a ton of space when I am in high production mode, but retracts back into the wall cover when not in use. I can also add a second line that I got from a camping store that gives me even more drying space (which I do sometimes need).
IKEA drawer storage
But, many are not sold right away and need to be stored flat. I have this lovely IKEA drawer storage system that holds a lot of prints in the wide but not deep drawers. Each print is stored with acid-free tissue paper between them to protect them.
Printmaking Art Books
I am a confirmed book fanatic. Art books? Even worse. I sometimes think I could start my own art bookstore! But, printmaking books are my secret treasure because I am self-taught in printmaking arts. Over the years I have taken a few courses, but have largely learned my craft from reading many excellent books on printmaking and then experimenting in my studio.
Here are a few of my favorite printmaking books:
- HANDMADE PRINTS by Anne Desmet and Jim Anderson
- SIMPLE PRINTMAKING by Gwen Diehn
- THE WOODCUT ARTIST’S HANDBOOK by George Walker
- PRINT WORKSHOP by Christine Schmidt
- 30-MINUTE RUBBER STAMP WORKSHOP by Sandra McCall
- THE PRINTMAKING BIBLE by Ann D’Arcy Hughes & Hebe Vernon-Morris
- PRINTMAKING + MIXED MEDIA by Dorit Elisha
- CREATIVE RUBBER STAMPING TECHNIQUES by MaryJo McGraw
- THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PRINTMAKING TECHNIQUES by Judy Martin
Do you have any studio or creative favorites to share? I would love to hear from you!