Wednesday, November 25
When I first got into letterpress printing, one of my one-on-one demos at The Open Studio included using a lino block carving. In addition to the polymer plates, magnesium dies, moveable wood and metal type - the lino block is another way of transferring image to paper. The design would be drawn, carved out and the positive space would be printed. While I was still taken aback with the results at the time, I wasn't immediately drawn to this method for two reasons:
1. The impression it made was flat as opposed to that discernible kiss or deep deboss into the paper. My first exposure to a lino block print looked like it may as well have been screenprinted.
2. The carving is an art in itself. A technique, skill and craft that I simply wasn't patient enough for.
Still by the end of the demo, I went home with an uncarved sample block with the intention of using it one day. In the meantime, I turned my detailed designs into magnesium plates. Then got braver and tried out the polymer plates a few months later. I never looked back at the lino block because the impressions I got from my plates were clean, crisp and deep.
Three years later and my thoughts on the lino block haven't changed. The only difference now is that I'm open to simpler, organic, rustic designs. These are the characteristics, I think, suit lino blocks really well. I found that uncarved lino block from the demo the other day and decided to let go of the details. No computer, no Illustrator, no ordering plates and shipping fees. I took a 2B pencil, drew a really simple outline of a bird, and went at it without any idea of how to carve (as you might be able to tell from the photos).
The surface was not as pliable as I'd have liked it. So I put the block in the microwave for a few seconds. That seemed to help, so while the shavings weren't coming off like butter, I managed to carve away what I needed to within a reasonable amount of time. When it got to a point that I was satisfied with it (I suppose the impatience is still there), I locked it up. Once it was in the bed, I pulled the lever, the rollers went up and it came back down not having inked the block. So I had to make the block typehigh with some random pieces of chipboard. Finally, the rollers hit the raised areas of the block. It took a bit of time, packing and underlay to get a decent transfer. Notice I didn't say, a decent impression. Platen presses are designed to print smaller surface areas. Removing the negative space from a block until I got fine lines or smaller areas to print wasn't exactly how I wanted to spend my time.
I'd use the lino block for letterpress printing on a table top press if the design relied on a distressed look. Don't get me wrong; it's definitely rewarding just to roll up the sleeves, and sit down to carve out your own drawing (even if it's traced). The gratification I got out of using the lino block was a nice change. But it will only probably be something I turn to when I want to loosen up and play. And we all need to do that once in a while.