When I saw the image above I knew that I wanted to try it. I had never done block printing before. I was curious to see how a person could learn something so hands-on in an online environment.
It was great.
The instructor, Jen Hewett, is an illustrator, printmaker, and surface designer from California. She offered the course live for one weekend (June 24th and June 25th) or people could do it on their own sometime before August 6th.
I wanted to try both – to experience the live session and to see if I could do parts on my own. I wanted to try something new and hoped to get ideas that I could tuck away for a course I’m currently designing (blog post about that coming soon!)
The fun started when Jen emailed us our shopping lists; it felt like a whole new language…
- A linocutting tool. I thought I knew what it looked like.
- A soft carving medium, such as Moo Carve, Soft-Kut, EZ-Cut, Speedy Carve, or Speedy-Cut. I had no clue what this was. I’m glad she included specific names.
- A water-based screenprinting ink specifically formulated for textiles. We were asked not to use: oil-based block printing ink, plastisol-based screenprinting inks, block printing ink, textile pigments, fabric paints, or acrylic paints. This felt like a process of elimination. I definitely learned about different kinds of ink.
- A baren. A what?! Isn’t that a guy? I had to Google this one. (The baren was optional.)
Other items we needed:
- An inking plate
- X-acto knife and a self-healing mat to cut on.
- Quilting ruler or other large ruler, or a t-square for repeat patterns.
- Light-colored fabric made out of a natural fiber, such as cotton or linen. Cotton muslin is an inexpensive, easy-to-find fabric to practice on (wash and iron your fabric before printing).
- Sketch paper or a sketchbook.
- Tracing paper
- Iron and ironing board.
- Something to protect your table from the ink. Create a cushioned surface for printing on (you’ll get crisper prints).
Before we started, I played around in my notebook with different ideas for printing. I knew that I wanted to make something for my best friend. She had invited our little crew up to her cottage for the long weekend. She was willing to have three kids under 2.5 for the weekend, I needed to bring gifts 😉
But before making something for her, I needed to practice first.
And apparently practice to me means creating a very intricate and challenging pattern that requires multiple blocks and colours. But I figured, hey, I may as well try something challenging while I have an instructor available to ask questions if I need help.
I was inspired by the tile pattern on one of my notebooks ( I love tile). I drew it freehand on tracing paper so it was then ready to transfer to the blocks (top right in photo).
I loved the feeling of the cutting tool sliding through the block. The block seemed quite solid but was so easily carved away. I just kept thinking of the old saying, like a hot knife through butter.
It was super messy and fun. But at first I found myself feeling really tense. I was so worried about making a mistake and messing it up. My shoulders and neck actually felt sore because of it. The blocks were close to $6 a piece. I was already feeling guilty about spending money on the course (I’m on mat leave) and I didn’t have any extra blocks if I messed up.
Eventually I just let go and enjoyed the process. I even had someone join along with me.
Once my blocks were carved, I was ready to print!
I learned that to get a nice solid colour, I needed to use a thin board to evenly distribute pressure. You can see the difference with my first few blocks on the left compared to those further to the right. It didn’t bother me at all that my colours weren’t even. I was having fun just figuring it out.
After doing quite well getting my green print down, I moved to a different block and my second colour. This is where my biggest learning came. You’ll notice something in the bottom left hand corner.
I totally messed up. After being so careful reflecting my other blocks and trying to space evenly, I stamped in the wrong area. Ugh. I ruined it.
But with this just being a practice run, I could easily trim the fabric and remove it. But I didn’t, which is not very Lainie of me.
I decided to keep it.
It would serve as a reminder that when I make a mistake, I just need to keep going. Imagine if I would have stopped there…it’s such a small part out of the whole piece. A whole piece that wouldn’t exist if I would have quit. I totally get that this sounds very cliche. But for me, at this moment in time of trying to figure myself out, it was a big ah-ha moment. Surgite, Lainie Beth.
I’ve since put my swatch up on my Lainie wall (when I’m feeling braver, I’ll share a photo of it).
I then took what I learned and made my best friend, Anna, a tea towel. She just bought a sail boat and loves all things homemade. Voila.
What I like about block printing are the possibilities. A person can print their own fabrics to use in sewing projects, use the blocks as stamps for paper, cards, and more.
Now I want to make more.
I think it would be fun to print on aprons with bold shapes and colours. Big strawberries. Slices of orange. Very 1950s. Or maybe I play with geometric shapes… (something to add to my #101LainieProjects list).
I’ll keep you posted.
I would definitely take an online course like this again. Yes, a person could likely find how-to videos on YouTube or step by step instructions on someone’s website, but there’s something about having an artist guide you through the process in live time, answering questions as they arise. And it was fun to see others post their work as we went along. Many taking the course were artists in the U.S.
If you’re interested, Jen is hoping to offer the course again this fall. Check out her website!