A few weeks ago, I decided to try making a rather small, two-color wood block print because I wanted to do two things. First thing: see if cheap-o plywood off an old pallet would make a decent print. (I wouldn’t recommend it.) Second thing: see how my daylily-iris-cotton paper would take a print. (Yes!)

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I started by cutting a clean piece of plywood “board” from a pallet into a couple of small, same-size, wood blocks on the table saw. Then I sanded the top, bottom, and all four sides of both blocks so there’d be a nicely flat area to print from, and no slivers for my hands. I was lucky to find a volunteer live ladybug model wandering around the studio. They are such calm and friendly, easy-to-draw insects. To transfer the drawing to the blocks I used graphite transfer paper. I drew the circle of the ladybug’s back onto the red-ink block. The other block would be the black-ink block. The transfer needed both sides of the “lines” drawn and filled in, so I could be sure where to cut, or more importantly, where not to cut.

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There’s something about a roller loaded with ink.

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This is when I just started to roll out the red ink, which needs to be rolled until it is uniform and velvety. I do that on a piece of plate glass, and in this photo, I can see that I have to add a bit more ink before I’m done. I tested the color on the block there. Looks like I kissed it, but you know me, I don’t wear lipstick, so that was the kiss of the roller on plywood.

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This is the small printing press I have in Egress Studio. It can be used for linoleum or wood block, as well as etchings, drypoints, and wood engravings. There are a few of the block prints with red ink only drying quietly in the background. The green paper is a template I made for registering one block’s print with the other block. It is the size of the handmade paper I made, so it would be easy to square up, and then set the block in the correct spot and orientation. Yes, you can actually print the red circle upside down from the black, so one needs to be pay attention to which way goes up. I wrote which side was “up” with an arrow onto the back of each block.

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Here is a red circle print waiting for the template to be lined up to the impression from the red-ink block, so the black-ink block can be placed on top of it before running it through the press. By the way, the table that this press is on was the kitchen worktable that my mom once kneaded bread and rolled out pie dough on. It is still a good table to work from, though I have repurposed it. I hang my rulers from it, and store print materials on the lower shelf.

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A rhythm of red. The handmade paper is uncut, showing its full deckle edges.

As you can imagine, making a wood block print is a lot of fun: the drawing, the cutting, the inking, the printing and the drying—all of it. I listen to music while I work, like Erik Satié and Django Reinhardt. The rhythms don’t necessarily go well with repetitive work, since printmaking is by starts and stops and on to the next, but they do go well with the thinking processes followed for such work.

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With the red circles dry, they are ready for the black ink. I don’t know if you can see this, but the red dot leans to the left, the black-ink block’s circle leans to the right. Upside down inside the carefully placed template, and the black will match the red.

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The black, black ink! Seems I could not wait to print the black, and I had forgotten that I ran out of the wood block ink during my last bunch of prints. I needed ink now! I decided to try the thicker, stickier etching type of ink. Not the best idea. But it worked well enough.

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This block is a black-ink block. Making progress. I must have removed the template before I remembered to take the photo. There is newsprint under and over the block and the handmade paper, which will help to keep the felts clean of ink.

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Black on red, only seven more left to print. The block and the roller are waiting for me to take this photo. The ink tube is there beside the plate glass full of ink. The empty wine glass sitting on the table? I can’t drink wine and print things at the same time, though if I were still a gum-chewer, I could to that. The glass may be empty now, but was once filled with sparkling water. Refreshing.

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This black is so lush and deep. I’m glad I had this ink handy.

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All done but the signing. If I remember and have some spare time, I’ll put a signed and matted photo here.