The span of Printmaking covers a number of different techniques, such as screen printing, woodblock carving, copper etching, linoleum carving, and more. Each specific process affords unique capabilities, and anyone interested in print media should explore them all! When it comes to my personal studies, linoleum carving is what I’ve been drawn to the most. I’ve found that it is a great introductory printing process, but also one that can provide extremely fine detail, making it hard to master. Aside from the content of this project, the part I’ll be discussing here concerns solely the carving and printing process.
Here’s how I went about undertaking my first big linoleum block series.
Planning & Carving
Each portrait shown above is a block of its own. They were all planned meticulously, from the faces and text to the surrounding frames. My intention was to carve each portrait to appear like it was contained in a frame with an engraved quote. All of the text had to be etched backwards into the linoleum blocks, as shown below. I chose a serif font for the quoted text, because even though it required finer carvings, it would heighten the readability of each letter form.
The portraits were first drawn by focusing on the linear and shape-like qualities of each respective face. The darkest shadows were kept purely block so that the ink would fill these spaces completely, and the lightest areas were carved out entirely. I was able to create a variation of medium tones by hatching specific areas of the face, or by mimicking natural hair or fabric patterns. By separating the faces into these blocks of pure tone and hatched tone, I was able to use this format for each president and make them all recognizable.
The carving process of course was time-consuming, but not terribly. A very steady hand can afford the print maker a great amount of fine detail. Each letter form only required a couple of strokes from the carving tool; so each stroke had to be right on the mark. When carving the faces, I found it most effective to once again break up the face by its planes, and carve them shape by shape. It is extremely satisfying to watch all of these steps come to a close and to run all of the prior hard work through the press.
These prints were designed to look polished, so the final output required just as much care and planning as the initial plans. By cutting this frame (shown above) out of mat board, I was able to place each block into its own ‘window.’ This method is easy to use and make, and can be used over and over again.
This project was very formative in my print media studies, and has inspired me to work on improving my linoleum carving skills even more. Stay tuned for what’s next!