I was recently asked to share advice for beginners in printmaking by John in the UK. I feel like it is not that long ago that I created my first Christmas card in my garage studio.
Although I have largely learned the art of printmaking by studying books, I have also had the pleasure of studying with a couple of printmakers learning tips and tricks that have saved me loads of time and grief.
So, now that I have almost 10 years of printmaking experience under my belt, here are the tips I would pass along to someone just starting out in their own printmaking practice. John, this one’s for you — and for any one else who loves this way of creating.
Although it’s tempting to try to start with a big ambitious project, I believe that by starting small (think: single color, 4″x6″ or 5″x7″) you can create without the pressure or (perceived) risk of not having something go your way after you’ve spent untold hours on creating a piece of artwork. Starting small allows you to get a few successful pieces under your belt and build your confidence.
One of the first pieces I started with was carving the alphabet to make name plates for my young sons. It was great to get my head around carving backwards, and the linocuts were only about 3″ x 4″. Each one was printed in a single color. I learned so much with that series!
Keep it simple
I had a woman who wanted to mentor with me in my studio and wanted to begin by creating a linocut Christmas card. When she arrived, she had a four color photograph, and wanted to reproduce that. After discussing that something of this kind would take many dozens of hours to produce, she agreed to try something in two colors instead.
It’s not that you can’t tackle something complex the first few times with the medium, but it’s good to remember that printmaking is a medium where simplicity and bold line work can net amazing results. Make peace with the fact that your art may not be representational, and that’s the beauty of it!
Start with a single color, and see where that takes you. If you’re really drawn to something complex and multi-colored, by all means dig in, just be prepared to spend lots of time getting that done (and quite possibly making lots of mistakes along the way).
Master your tools
Like any art form, it’s critical to get to know how the different tools will impact the outcome of your artwork. When something goes wrong in printmaking, it can have to do with several things, or even a combination of things. In fact, it’s a complex web of which base material you’ve chosen, which carving tools you’ve used, the type of ink you’ve selected, and the paper you are creating on. Change any one of these things and the outcome can be vastly different.
My best advice? Experiment! Try different types of carvers (the inexpensive Speedball lino carvers, or beautiful hand carving tools that can also be used for wood carving). Use a variety of base materials (traditional ‘hard’ linoleum, soft linoleum, grey unmounted ‘battelship’ linoleum, etc.) and see which speaks to you and the way you are printing (by hand or with a press). Try water-based inks that dry quickly, or oil-based inks that take longer to dry but are more permanent. Buy a selection of paper: traditional thicker printmaking paper like BFK Rives, light Japanese rice papers, mulberry stock and/or watercolor paper. Try a paper that is smooth, and one that is rougher to see how that changes the outcome of your print.
There is no one right way to create … it all depends on what you like.
Reach out to community
If you know another artist interested in printmaking, or its close cousins gelli printing or mixed media, get together and have a play date!
Or, if you don’t know someone personally, take advantage of social media and find your tribe! Printmakers around the world connect with one another through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Search the hashtags “printmaking”, “printmaker”, “linocut” to find and follow other printmakers to see how they create, and what tools they are using. Find and follow groups on Facebook (like ‘Linocut Friends‘ or ‘Printmaking Non-Toxic International‘). These groups are fabulous learning forums to ask and share information about this art form.
There are tons of great books on printmaking, linocuts and block printing, and many include lots of great information and ideas about how to make art through your own printmaking projects.
One of my recent favorites is Andrea Lauren’s book ‘Block Print‘ – which I also happen to be featured in as part of the gallery of International Printmakers!
Here are a few other printmaking books I love: ‘The Woodcut Artist’s Handbook‘ by George Walker; ‘The Printmaking Bible‘ by Ann dArcy Hughes & Hebe Vernon-Morris; and ‘Printmaking & Mixed Media‘ by Dorit Elisha.
Classes are also an amazing opportunity, if they are available in your area. There is nothing like learning from a teacher in a classroom situation. I’ve taken several printmaking courses, and always leave with something I didn’t know before.
Check out online blogs where printmakers share inspiration and techniques. Since you are here, have a good look around mine … I have shared a TON of start-to-finish blogs on how I create my art! Other blogs I love are ‘Brush & Baren‘ by printmaker Sherrie York; ‘Linocut Boy Blog‘ by printmaker Nick Morley; and mixed media artist Belinda Del Pesco.
Make sure you also check out YouTube: a search of ‘printmaking’ or ‘linocut’ brings up literally thousands of results in these categories. Printmaking an be hard to explain and understand, and seeing the process first-hand is magical. While you are there, have a look at my YouTube channel, and subscribe if you like what you see!
Trust your voice
Printmaking – like any art form – offers an incredible range of techniques. The possibilities with this medium are endless! I love printmaking for the constant growth and learning it affords, and I know that no matter how long I spend at it, there will always be something new to discover.
At first, you may feel that you are all over the place with printmaking – and that is part of the learning! Trust that – over time – your voice will emerge and you will find that your art has something special that no one but YOU can create. Learn from others, then use your talents to fly! But, most of all: have fun!