For many of you, this whole block printing train that I’ve so enthusiastically hopped on is a surprise. It surprised to me, too, to be honest, but I wanted to give a bit of an explanation into the why and how this all started.
When I was in college, I was a drawing and painting major. I spent most of my time working with oil paints, but I also took a couple of watercolor classes and one printmaking class. To be totally honest with you, I didn’t love my printmaking class. I loved the process, and the ink mixing and the techniques, but my teacher was more on the subjective side, so it became hard to enjoy the end results. After that class, I didn’t dabble in printmaking again for over 10 years. Over those ten years I worked to grow my business and focused primarily on drawing and watercolor painting. I wish I could remember what inspired me to dig up my old printmaking supplies, but all I can say is that it was a divine moment of inspiration. I happened to have saved everything that I had from that class, and there was an old piece of rubber for me to experiment with. By that point, I had started to develop my own style, so the design part came quickly. I carved a little bunny based on my love for Otomi textiles.
I was in love. Ideas for more blocks immediately began to flood my brain, and I haven’t looked back.
At the time I don’t think I would have been able to clearly put into words what drew me in. It felt like such a departure from the photo-realistic painting that I had been trained in and spent so many years pursuing. It felt like such a departure from the even the digital printing that I had been doing of my simpler watercolors.
I’ve had a couple of years now to dive deeper into my growing passion for block printing and the why of it all, and I think I’ve been able to narrow down why I enjoy it so much to a few things:
EMPHASIS ON MATERIALS
Block printing, also known as relief printing, includes woodblock prints, linocut prints, or rubber stamping. Block printing can be as simple as a rubber stamp or as complicated as one can make it. No matter the degree of difficulty, the type of block that’s used, the type of paper or fabric or whatever that’s chosen, and the type of ink that’s selected makes for drastically different end results. Each material has an effect on the quality and personality of the print. This leaves so much room for experimentation and for an artist to be able to make something that speaks of their unique artistry in every little detail and nuance of the piece.
INTENTIONALITY IN MARK MAKING
As you can imagine, I’ve spent years and years of my life drawing. With pencil and charcoal and ink and pastel. With markers and brushes and nibs and graphite. With drawing, some lines are so carefully laid and some shading is so precisely applied, and in contrast, some lines can be done without really thinking. It’s an ebb and flow of having to focus and then being able to relax and let go.
With block printing, the carving process takes focus and intention almost the whole time. There’s no going back. No “Whoops! Let me grab my eraser.” So each dig into the linoleum requires me to think first. “Is this where it should go? What about the thickness/thinness of the line? How will this translate when printed as a mirror image?” For some, I’m sure that can sound overwhelming or daunting, but I enjoy it so much. I enjoy that I put thought and care into each mark, and that I get to be intentional with every move that I make. It rewards thoughtful planning, and thoughtfully changing the plan, and it makes the end result feel so me.
IT INVITES CHANGE
As intentional as I feel I have to be, or maybe want to be, block printing at its core is very simple. Carve a block, ink it, press paper to it, and you have a print! With a painting or drawing, once it’s done, it’s done. The materials are what they are, the colors are what they are, and the end result is the end result. With block printing that’s not the case at all. Paper can be changed, colors can be switched, the layout can be adjusted. You can layer in new blocks and rotate them and the possibilities are endless. It’s not only ok to experiment, but it’s totally welcome and a part of the fun. The flexibility and ability to improvise is something that I, a lover of change, relish in.
As I continue to grow and change as an artist, I hope to always welcome in the unexpected. My path so far has been full of surprises, and I’m definitely in a place where I can look back in awe of the path that has brought me here. This is not what I would have expected of my life as an artist when I first started out, but each little step and misstep has brought me to this place where I feel more confident and at home in who I am as an artist than I ever have before.
If you’re an artist, and you’re reading this. Keep going. Just keep taking steps forward. Welcome in the uncomfortable and the unexpected in the name of growth.