Friday, May 26, 2017

Nature-Inspired Relief Printing

Sometimes I wonder why I am such a magpie when it comes to art forms, materials, and techniques. I flit from painting to pen and ink to relief printmaking to figure drawing to colored pencil to Zentangle... And I've mentioned before that whenever I go into the art store I want two of everything.

I wonder when will I settle into a primary focus, if not for good then just for a period of time long enough to create a cohesive body of work? Then the other day I came across this quote by Kandinsky:
"The artist may use any form which his expression demands... A deliberate search for personality and 'style' is not only impossible, but comparatively unimportant."
--Vassily Kandinsky
Kandinsky's statement that "the artist may use any form which his expression demands" is reassuring to me. Rather than unfocused and spoiled for choice, perhaps I'm just stockpiling materials and techniques, so that whenever inspiration hits, I have what I need right at hand.

On that note... I took a second workshop in relief printmaking in April with Leslie Nan Moon and after this fun refresher I finally bought myself some lino blocks and softkut, carving tools, and relief printing inks. Since then I've been working on a collection of nature-inspired designs.

sunset fox linocut relief print art card
Sunset Fox
relief print,  5" x 7", ink on paper

black crow linocut relief print art card
relief print,  5" x 7", ink on paper
These prints begin life as a drawing, either in my sketchbook or directly on the block. Next, I carefully hand-carve the block to remove everything but the design to be printed.

carving lino block relief printmaking tools
carving my fox design into battleship gray linoleum
block using Speedball carving tools

I choose my colors and roll a thin layer of ink onto the block, aligning the paper gently on top. I apply pressure to the back of the paper by hand or with a Japanese bamboo barren to transfer the ink from the plate to the paper. Often I burnish a second time with the back of a metal spoon making sure to catch all the details.

red yellow ink rainbow roll relief printmaking
Here I have rolled out a thin layer of red and yellow ink,
carefully creating a smooth blend that reminds me of a sunset.

ink brayer barren spoon tools for relief printing by hand
tools for relief printing by hand (from left to right):
Japanese bamboo barren, softkut carved block,
spoon, brayer, ink and inking plate
Finally, the magical moment arrives as I peel the paper off the block to reveal the print. Each print is an original work of art. Small variations show the hand of the artist and make each one unique. Then the prints hang to dry for several days, or even a week if it's especially cool or humid.

relief prints hanging to dry
relief prints hanging to dry

I've even found a home for lessons learned from Zentangle by using line and pattern to create texture, like in these ocean waves.

Blue Sky Wave linocut art card
Blue Sky Waves
relief print, 5" x 7", ink on paper
If you'd like to know more about various types of printmaking with and without a press, I've found the videos by Belinda Del Pesco to be a valuable introduction.

You can also see more of photos of my relief prints on Instagram:

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