Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Lino Prints

I've had some requests recently to show my linocut process, so I've been documenting what I do as I've been producing a new series of prints.  

I've started with this photograph, taken on my iphone.  As I may have previously mentioned (!!) I really love Instagram.  If you've never heard of it, its a mobile phone app that combines photo editing with a social media side - a kind of photo sharing community.  Its fascinating seeing the world through other peoples eyes, and I also find it a great discipline to find something "photo worthy" every day. This picture is one of my Instagram photos and I was inspired to use it as the basis of a lino print.  

Once I'm happy with the image, I transfer the design onto the lino block using old fashioned carbon paper.  Then the carving process begins.  I use cheap and cheerful lino carving tools.  I have had this set for around 5 years and rarely have to sharpen them.  I mainly use the "v" shaped tools, a large and a small one. 

Linoblock printing is a relief printing process, meaning that you are printing the areas of the block that are in relief, or raised up.  This means that you remove or carve away the areas you don't want to print. Another consideration is that when you print, you actually create a mirror image of the block.  This is important to remember if you want the image you are printing to be the same way round as the original.  You'll notice that the photo I used as the basis for this print has the tree on the left, and the raw printing block has the tree on the right.  Before I transferred the image, I flipped in horizontally so that it will print the right way.  

Setting up for printing involves having everything at hand.  It can sometimes get a little messy, and you want to keep your prints perfectly clean, so setting up well is essential.  I print on my kitchen bench.  I know this sounds strange (!!) but it is perfectly designed for lino printing!  My kitchen bench has a built in block of granite which I use to roll out the ink on.  If you don't have a granite block, you will need to use a slab of glass or something really smooth without grain or indentations.  Rolling out the ink well is essential to getting a crisp print.  

I use oil based printing ink ... actually I use oil paint mixed with block printing medium.  The medium I buy is Daler-Rowney Georgian brand.  It is great, because it allows you to use any oil paint in any colour, and transform it into block printing ink.  I love the texture and finish of the oil based ink, but it does take a long time to dry - up to a week during winter.  I use a small rubber block printing roller and roll out the ink until it is tacky and evenly coated.

My lino block is placed onto a "dirty" backing sheet of paper.  I use a small stack of paper so that if the top one gets too messy, I can simply remove it and continue working with the one underneath.  Coating the block evenly right to the edges can make a mess!  It takes experience to get just the right amount of ink - too little and the print will be blotchy;  too much and the finer details of the block will fill up with ink and the print will be dark and ugly.

Once the block is well inked, I place it onto my "clean" area backing sheet.  I use the same sized paper as what I am printing on, to help get the print centred on the page.  The clean backing sheet must be clean .. otherwise ink can transfer onto the fresh paper and make the print dirty.  Again, I use a small stack of paper so if I get the backing sheet dirty, I can simply remove it and keep printing with the one underneath.  

I carefully place the paper to be printed  onto the well inked block and use a traditional printers baren to rub the back of the paper firmly.  The baren is a simple disk wrapped in a type of leaf that is incredibly tough and covered in ridges.   This action, usually in a circular motion, transfers the ink from the block to the paper.  

When I'm satisfied that the entire surface has been transferred, I peel back the paper to get my first look at the new lino print!  

At this stage, I would make any alterations necessary to the block - removing bits that don't work or enlarging important details so they print better.  When "editioning" a print, this first print is called the AP or Artist's Proof.  Editioning is a way of cataloging the prints and limiting their number.  It can make prints worth more, if there are only a certain number available.  I have decided not to edition this print as I'd like to try a number of different ways of colouring it.  I also decided to use different paper stock for this series.  

I hang my prints to dry.  I find its the best solution in a domestic environment! Its space saving and the rack I use has wheels so I can move it around if it gets in the way.  The drying time can vary greatly, and I can get impatient to try colour on the prints, so I sometimes hang a rack up over my wood-fired stove to help them along a little!

In the end, I decided the brown paper stock was the way to go - I love the richness it adds to the colours.  I use watercolour to colour my prints.  I like the combination of oil and water ...  oil based ink and waterbased paint.  It's a satisfying process.  I used some white gouache too, to bring out the highlights on this darker paper.  

So from idea to completion, that's pretty much the process of my little home-made prints.  No printing press, no printmaking studio ... not that I wouldn't love one!!  It's a very simple form of printing that has a long history.  It's also very "low tech" and I guess that's one of the reasons I like it.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Summer has been busy here in southern Tasmania.  With 5 kids at home and some house guests visiting from interstate, combined with busy times on the flower farm, there hasn't been time for a holiday away from home this year.  But one of the (many) things I love about where I live is the abundance of beaches close to home.  Tasmania has so much water, being an island state.  But the coastline is very folded and intricate, with innumerable inlets, bays and beaches to explore.  There are world class surf beaches as well as quiet coves, beaches with clean white sand, and beaches covered in shells.  Each beach seems to have a personality of its own.

Parkers Beach is a little quiet beach that is close to my home.  Caught between two headlands, at low tide it uncovers beautiful undulating sand bars.  They are separated by shallow strips of water populated by soldier crabs and sea snails.  Our family loves to go there for time out.

The land surrounding Parkers Beach is wooded which makes driving down to the shore a real treat.  Glimpses of aqua and deep blue horizontal strips contrast with darker silhouetted vertical mature gum trees.  This also means that Parkers Beach is one of the best beaches around to find driftwood.  

I recently found these beautiful "driftwood" pinecones.  All the sharp points are removed and smoothed over by the sand and sea.

Gorgeous sculptural objects!

There are always such a huge range of colours and textures to find on the beach.  A feast for the eyes.

The boys spent one afternoon creating an entire civilisation!!

Another beautiful beach with a different personality is Slopen Main Beach, on the western point of the Tasmana Peninsula.  It's a large curved beach with white clean sand, and is rimmed by beautiful grasses and characterful eucalypts.

Its very rare to find anyone else on the beach with you!  

This caravan made me smile - what a great view of the beach they have. So very Australian!

More treasures to be found - there were lots of discussions about what this might be!  I loved the structure of it, and that tiny dash of purple.

More colour and texture in the flotsam and jetsam on the sand.

"Look, mum.  It's a face!"  

My baby girl LOVES the beach.  Her health challenges, and cerebral palsy certainly don't stop her from enjoying life.  The walker has been fantastic for the beach this year, allowing her to explore it with some independence.  I think the look on her face says it all!

After all the fun of exploring beaches this summer, I come up with a use for the lovely driftwood sticks I've been collecting!  I love the way repurposing a stick makes you look at it more closely, appreciating bumps and curves that you might otherwise miss.  

They'll be a lovely memento of summer as the days get shorter and the leaves start to fall.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Potato Print Gift Wrap - DIY Tutorial

Potato printing is a simple version of relief printing that anyone can do at home.  Its fun and the results can be really special.  Kids love to help too, and you can involve them in the process for a great holiday craft activity.  

You will need- 
clean potatoes in various sizes
a large kitchen knife
a small kitchen knife or paring knife
optional - lino carving tools
acrylic or waterbased paint
plastic disposable plates or similar
large sheets of newsprint paper or kraft paper and card to print on

I've chosen some of my favourite Australian wildflowers as the motifs for this project but you can print any simple shape you can think of.  If you aren't an accomplished carver, stick to simple shapes like stars (great printed in silver paint) christmas trees or other Christmassy shapes.  Think about what colours you'd like to use too.

In my first design depicting a waratah flower I need to cut two separate potatoes because I'm using two colours - one for the flower and one for the stalk.  Choose a potato that resembles the shape you are wanting to print - theres less cutting that way.  Using the large kitchen knife, slice the potato in half cleanly so that you have a flat even surface to cut into.  It needs to be as flat as possible to print well.

Draw your design onto the cut surface of the potato with a pencil - coloured pencils seem to work best.  Carefully, with the small paring knife or lino carving tools, cut away the areas you don't want to print, leaving your design as a raised area.

Use the plastic picnic plate to put out your paint - a plastic spoon is great for mixing colours if you need to.  Spread the paint out and press your carved potato into it, ensuring you get good coverage over the entire raised area. A clean stamping action works well for a clear print.  You will get two or three stamps before you need to re-ink.  If you get too much paint on the potato, use some paper kitchen towel to remove the excess. 

 Have your newsprint or kraft paper spread out on a flat clear surface and apply the print, thinking about how you would like to repeat the patter.  A simple repeat pattern looks great, but as you go you'll want to try other repeating patterns.  It's all part of the fun.
Once we've done the green stalks of our waratah flower, we print the flower.  You can see that the shape of the potato we've used really suits the shape of the flower - this helps with simplifying the cutting process.  It also means that the potato keeps its shape for longer and you can get more printing done.  We tried our waratah design on different papers and in different patterns.  

Using waterbased paint means your gift wrap will dry quickly.  Hang it up somewhere where it can dry without smudging.

We also made some gift tags using our waratah design.  Simply print your design onto heavy card, leave it to dry, and cut around it for a special one-of-a-kind gift tag.

If you'd like to try different colours with your potato block, you can wash it gently under the tap and pat it dry.  Then try your new colour.

The potato printing process can produce some great rustic results - it teams well with simple jute twine or burlap ribbon and make s for a really special and memorable gift!

This project was created for the Etsy Australia Blog as part of their DIY Advent Calendar 2013.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Get Your Christmas Craft On!

Theres something about Christmas that brings out the craftiness in most of us!  I guess its all the gift-giving and entertaining.  It's a great time of year to stretch your creative legs and get your hands a little dirty!  

I've been asked by the Etsy Australia blog to write a DIY Christmas craft post as part of their advent calendar style Christmas craft frenzy!  Very exciting!  The idea is that every day of December, they are featuring a different craft idea on the blog for us to try at home.  I'll be posting a tutorial for creating your own gift wrap and gift tags using something we all have in our cupboards - the humble potato!  Potato printing is a simple form of relief printing which requires no specialised equipment, and the results are surprisingly pretty and festive.  Because I'm a native flower nut, I've gone with some of my favourite Australian flowers as the motifs.  

I'll be posting a "how-to" here on my own blog as well, early in December.  

So enjoy the countdown to Christmas and get ready to turn your potatoes into prints ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christmas Cards

So it's definitely heating up for Christmas Season 2013!  And trees4thewood is getting back to its roots with handmade keepsake Christmas cards.  I've never been a fan of the sort of Christmas card that is mass produced, cheap printed cardboard with an impersonal, off-the-rack greeting inside.  I don't know about you, but I always find it a terrible anti-climax to get a personal letter in the mail (!!! not a bill - hooray!!!) only to find it has "to Grace" and "from so-and-so" acting as parentheses around a generic printed greeting.  Don't get me wrong - I'm still grateful that so-and-so thought of me ... and that its not a bill ... but it seems almost like a waste of a postage stamp.  

Trees4thewood began when I first made some simple lino print Christmas cards for family and friends back in 2011.  I like the idea of sending something more meaningful than the aforementioned cheap chinese import.  Lino prints are a simple form of intaglio printing, making an image able to be reproduced but still retaining its "original" status.  Each lino print card I produce is indiviually hand printed (without a press), assembled and hand painted for colour.  I find the repetitive process really meditative and calming!  

And there is something immensely satisfying about multiples. As a cut flower grower (my family and I run a native cut flower farm in Tasmania called Swallows Nest Farm) I have the same experience.  Buckets and buckets of flowers, all colour co-ordinated, make a visually satisfying display.  It is one of the aspects that I really enjoy about making keepsake cards.

In an era when old fashioned card writing is becoming ... well ... old fashioned, I think that sending a card can be so much more meaningful than it used to be.  I just love the idea that these cards may end up being used as bookmarks, or put in the back of a sock draw, only to be rediscovered and enjoyed years later.  I love the idea that people put them in little frames.  I imagine in the future they are taken out and the message they contained is rediscovered and remembered.  I love the idea that they accompany peoples declarations and thoughts of love.  It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling!  I think if you want to let someone know you are thinking of them, it's worth doing it on a card that is worth keeping.  

This years new design is based on a Scarlet Robin, an Australian native bird that is a resident on our property.  It is such a strikingly coloured bird with crisp black and white parts highlighted with scarlet red that fades down to pink and soft grey.  When they flit about,  you catch splashes of bright white and intense red.  I decided the best way to express the intensity of colour was to create a card where everything but the bird was neutral.  The 2013 Christmas robin is printed on recycled kraft paper which takes the ink well and has a lovely rich natural tone.  The card is 275 gsm recycled kraft card.  The envelopes are kraft paper too, but ribbed which I particularly like.  I think the little fellow looks suitably festive!

I also have some of the 2012 Christmas card design available again.  They were based on a the Tasmanian Waratah, a flower endemic to Tasmania and one we grow commercially on our flower farm.  They are such a stunning flower that blooms in spring in the lead up to Christmas.  The come with green envelopes in A6 size.  You can find them in single cards or packs of 5.  

I also have some smaller cards which were really popular last year - the Merry Robin design.  They don't fold, but have a fancy die-cut edge.  They can be used as special gift tags, but are still large enough to send through the post.  The come with kraft envelopes.

All trees4thewood Christmas cards use 100% recycled card.  The waratah and merry robin designs are printed on the pages of old books, sourced from my local op shop.  Old book paper is often made with a higher rag content and makes printing on it a treat - not to mention that I love the "patterned" look that the printed words create as a background.  

If you are considering posting Christmas cards this year, can I suggest you look for an alternative to the cheap mass produced pieces of cardboard that are everywhere.  Seek out some locally made or designed cards.  There are plenty available online, or at your local maker's market.  It's worth sending something really special!