Saturday, September 17, 2011

Geek Indulgence #3: Geeking Out (and more on printmaking)

I went so far as to buy vintage chem textbooks for pictures like this.
As far as I can tell, geeking out seems to be fairly common among geeks. That is, you find a new hobby/interest/obsession, then spend as much time as possible reading about it, researching, adding to one's knowledge/skills compendium, and possibly spending a lot of money on it (as budgets allow). This is what happened to me with sewing, with Dungeons and Dragons, with drawing manga, even with teaching chemistry. And it looks like the same thing is happening to me with linocuts, as I type.

After trying potato printing and realizing that it is amazing to be able to make the same image appear over and over, I decided I wanted to do something a little more permanent. After a couple days in the fridge, even tightly plastic-wrapped, my potato stamps were looking a little worse for wear, so I started poking around the web to figure out what the next level of obsession step up in fabric-printing is. Turns out it's linocuts, which I had actually done before for letterpressing. It's been a while, though, since I used my linocutting tools, so I had to dig around all my art boxes to find everything. I cut up the two blocks I had leftover, and the whole thing was so therapeutic that I immediately rushed out to the nearest Utrecht art store and bought a whole bunch of new blocks. And spend two days carving them all. And spend two evenings reading all about printing with them. And spent two nights dreaming about making new blocks. Kind of crazy, but it was so fun and actually very typical of me. Anyway, here are the results of the last three days of work!
A bacteriophage, an amoeba, and a squid.
A beaker, a distilling flask, and an Erlenmeyer flask.
A jumping/flying cat, fungi, and a sitting cat.
I have yet to make any prints with these blocks, but that's because I was waiting for my husband to put money on my laundry card (as a spouse of, and not an actual UCLA student, I can't do it myself, which is kind of annoying) so that I could wash the sheets I picked up at the thrift store for printing. But hopefully I'll get to that soon! In the meantime, here's how I cut these blocks.

1. Start with a linoleum block. They come in all different sizes, mounted and unmounted, and are pretty inexpensive (this tiny 2"x3" one was just a dollar!). I've seen them at Dick Blick and at Utrecht, but (at least here) they're cheaper at Utrecht. You'll also need a linocutting tool; I have this set from Speedball that has a handle with interchangeable tips.
Blank canvas and some ideas, sketched on fluorescent pink post-its.

The linocutting handle and tips.

2. Sketch your drawing onto the block in pencil, or if it's a more complicated design you can print it out and use carbon paper to transfer it. Just remember that the image will print backwards. Since all of my drawings are just pictures, and not words, it didn't really matter to me; all of mine were just drawn straight onto the block.
Pencil erases (and smudges) pretty well on these blocks.

3. If the linoleum is the really stiff kind, you'll need to warm it up before cutting into it.* Since it's still really warm in SoCal, I just put mine on the windowsill. I've also heard my letterpressing teacher say that she's put them in her car to bake, or just sat on them.
Like this, but the blocks are much sharper at the corners.

4. Start cutting! I like to use the tiniest tip to carve grooves right around the lines I want, then I use progressively larger tips to remove excess material.
Be careful as you're cutting -- if the lino's not warm enough, it's easy for the tool to slip and you can give yourself a nasty cut. Not that I would know...
Scraps from one block. I did a lot of vaccuumming with my tiny dustbuster.
5. After cleaning up all the scraps and brushing all the little flecks from my blocks, I tested them with a stamp pad. Note that the stiff linoleum isn't really meant to be used with a cheap little dollar store rubber stamp pad, so these prints are more just to see if the image is more or less right; it shows where you need to carve away more material to make the empty spaces or which lines are too thick.
*Note that the squid is carved in EasyCut linoleum, which is much softer and floppier, more like a rubber stamp. It is much easier to carve and doesn't require warming, but it is also much harder to do details and much easier to accidentally cut off bits you didn't mean to cut.
Next week: I promise I will actually make prints. On real fabric.


  1. <3 excting!! I love how one craft always leads to another ^.^ can't wait to see what you print!

  2. Oh wow! I remember making rubber stamps back in middle school art class. This post brought back some memories. :) I love the cat stamps and the chemistry flask ones too! They all turned out real nicely.

  3. @GeekySweetheart That's always what seems to happen, isn't it? Like rabbit trails, but...craft trails.

    @Sarah Thank you! Hopefully once I print them up for real they'll look awesome!

  4. I don't know how I ended up here (I think it was awesomesauce beaker pouch?), but I'm happy I did! Once here, your flickr thingy kept staring at me and I'd see a flying kitty pop up so I had to search for it. Great post! I've wanted to try linocutting for quite some time. Totally inspiring! I'm going to geek-out over it now!!

  5. OMG can you please please please make a customized Deck family stamp?!?!! I know it would be cute as all get-out. (I remember the sunburn on toast test. There is NOTHING you cannot make cute.)

  6. @heartsy I'm sorry if my staring Flickr thingy made you feel creeped out ;) You should definitely give linocutting a try,'s super easy and kind of addicting!

    @Sam What would you want on your Deck family stamp? Maybe if it's not too complicated...


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