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10 Tips for the Beginning Printmaker

Huzzah! Month one of The Heartward Project is officially in the books. *happy dance!* Throughout the month I’ve been collecting little tidbits, pieces of advice, that I believe to be 10 helpful tips for the beginning printmaker, and you can find them all right here!

I wish I could kick back and relax to celebrate this small victory, but instead I’m choosing to keep my momentum rolling and lead into the next month full steam ahead! Before moving on, let’s reflect on what I’ve learned and go over my 10 tips for the beginning printmaker.

year month from now you’re going to wish you started today.

This phrase couldn’t ring any truer than it does right now. This month felt super crazy for me, probably because I had just come off of Christmas break, probably because the commitment to my blog became more intense, probably because I started class again after a month and a half off, probably because work is super busy right now… I mean, you all can relate.

And it’s not going to slow down.

A feeling that I’ve sensed previously became crystal clear to me during my first month of The Heartward Project: I want a lifestyle change. This isn’t one of those lifestyle changes where you sell all your things, pack up, and head for the coast (although that does sound great at the moment!), it’s simply altering your use of time with more intentionality.

With no shame, I admit that I love a good TV show (or seven). It’s one of the many ways my husband and I like to relax after a long day, and it’s fun to share in the stories of our Hollywood BFFs. Another reason I don’t mind it is because while I’m sitting there watching–okay, it often becomes just listening to–the show, I’m always crafting or doing something of the sort!

In many ways, The Heartward Project has been a fantastic form of accountability. So many times this month I would have loved to turn off my brain and just sink into the newest episodes of our latest show-of-choice. Instead, I was challenged (by myself…) to build into my routine time for creativity.

It.was.not.easy.

I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I wanted to explore printmaking, so how much of a chore could it really be? Ha. Ha. The truth? Sometimes it felt like homework! Assignment due by Thursday, work required beforehand; sometimes I tried to cram it all in too quickly, and I had to make adjustments as I went.

Though I missed a couple personal deadlines, I’m very proud with how my first month went, and it’s true–if I didn’t have the accountability of the blog, I would not have made such progress.

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It only made sense to conclude my first month with a print of The Heartward Project logo!

C’mon! What are the tips?!

Okay, let’s get to it! In a matter of hours, a new month will begin and with it a new adventure–hand lettering!–but first I would like to share with you my 10 tips for the beginning printmaker.

      1. Buy basic materials. You have to start somewhere, and the basic tools are perfect to get you on your way. The breakdown of my total purchases is below:

  • Starter Kit: $17.99 (because of Michael’s coupon)
    • Lino Block
    • Lino Handle + 3 cutter tips
    • Black Ink
    • Brayer
    • Foam Tray
  • 2 Extra Rubber Carving Blocks: $3.24/each (because more coupons!)
  • 1 Extra Rubber Carving Block: $6.49 (because I’ve been so busy I forgot to use my coupon!)

My purchased materials this month cost a total of $30.96. I used paper I already owned to do the printing and had tools to help make cutting out my prints easier.

      2. Start simple. This is great for a number of reasons. It allows for you to get used to your different cutter tips as well as the materials you’re cutting into.

      3. Your block will print backwards. Another reason to start simple: you will forget to reverse your stamp. How bummer would it be to spend a lot of time carving a stamp that you only find out later that it prints backwards!

      4. Carving words backwards feels awkward. Because a carving tool is held differently than a pen, it helps to think of each letter as a line or shape. Try turning the block upside down to see a shape instead of a letter!

      5. Use the correct ink. Apparently there is a difference between block printing ink and screen printing ink! My block printing ink was always too thick, and screen printing ink was quite thin. I reached out on Instagram, and it was suggested that my block printing ink was being kept in too warm of a place. So… my apartment in the Wisconsin winter!? Perhaps my block printing ink will have better use when temps aren’t as extreme. You may remember this struggle when I printed my elephant prints.

      6. Be patient when carving. Like my typical creative process so far, I always try to rush this phase; I get too excited to see the final print! But, you’ll be happy to slow down as soon as you carve something you weren’t supposed to. (Again, no Ctrl + Z in printmaking.)

      7. Sketch first. Until you get really good at stamping, I’d recommend sketching on paper first. Before committing to your idea, this will help you adjust for more creative angles. For example, can your design be broken into multiple layers to stamp with different colors?

      8. If you’re going to cut deep, wear a glove. It is much easier to cut the very surface of your design before really digging deep and carving it out, as the groove creates a nice guideline for your tool to follow. Otherwise, you may slip and gouge part of your thumb. (Yep, it happened.) Wearing a mitten on my non-carving hand actually prevented more of these silly injuries! Someday, I will learn.

      9. Try different carving blocks. Most of my stamping was done on rubber blocks, but my most intricate pattern was cut on linoleum. There are pros and cons to both, but the biggest difference was how sturdy the linoleum block was while printing.

     10. Experiment different printing methods. There are many variations to the actual printing method itself. Do you lay your paper on the stamp, or press the stamp down onto the paper? I’ve seen people suggest using a spoon to apply pressure evenly. (The rubber blocks had more give and therefore didn’t always print the cleanest.)

     11. BONUS! The more you do, the more you learn. It wasn’t until my very last printing session, The Heartward Logo, that I found a helpful printing method. I don’t have a baren, but I do have a glass candleholder that I wish I had used from the start!

And there you have it! I hope these 10 tips for the beginning printmaker were helpful, or at the very least gave a good insight to how my first month went of The Heartward Project!

I’d love to hear from you!
— How did your first month go?
— Any questions about printmaking?
— What are you taking on for February?

Please leave a comment below!

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