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imageEveryone needs a creative outlet. From singing and dancing to painting and sculpting, artistic endeavors are a great way to stimulate a child's imagination. In many instances, such artistic activities continue as creative outlets and hobbies into adulthood. One basic art form that can be sampled at home with a little time and a few materials is block printing or linoleum block printing. The process involves transferring an image to a piece of soft linoleum (somewhat thicker than what we know as linoleum flooring), and carving away the negative space to leave a raised, positive image. Ink is then applied to the carved surface of the block, the block is positioned on paper, and pressure is applied to transfer the image (in reverse) to the paper.

(available from most arts and crafts stores and also available in kits)

  • Small linoleum block (roughly the size of a greeting card)
  • Carbon paper
  • Pencil
  • Permanent black marker
  • Carving tools (large handle with interchangeable "V" and "U" shaped gouges for carving away linoleum)
  • An iron or blow dryer
  • Water soluble block printing ink
  • A brayer (a rubber roller for transferring the ink to the linoleum block)
  • Paper
  • Spoon (for pressing the paper to the inked image surface for even transfer).
  • Piece of plexiglass or an old cookie sheet (for rolling out ink)

First, decide what type of image to create. A good project might be an image for a greeting card for the upcoming holiday season. For the first block printing attempts, keep the image simple. Using a piece of paper the same size as your linoleum block, draw your image. Note: The final image printed from the block will be the reverse or mirror image of your original. If you use letters or numbers, they will have to be drawn in reverse in order to print right-reading. Feel free to erase and make changes at this point until you are satisfied with your design.

Now you will transfer the design to the linoleum surface to provide guidelines for what portions to remove. Place a piece of carbon paper over the linoleum block (carbon side down) and secure it with tape so it doesn't move. Position your drawing on the carbon paper and, using a pencil, trace over your drawing, transferring the image to the surface of the linoleum block. Once the tracing is complete, remove the original and the carbon paper. At this point, you can go over the carbon lines with a permanent black marker which will make it much easier to see what areas of your image need to remain and those that need to be removed. The black areas shown in marker will remain and will be raised (the positive space to which the ink will adhere). The remaining space (the negative space) will be removed and will leave no ink on the paper.

Using the carving tools, start removing any linoleum outside of the image area you have marked with permanent marker. Remember to always cut away from you, never toward your body. An adult should always be present during this portion of the project. To make cutting easier, the linoleum can be warmed with a blow dryer or with a warm iron. Once all the negative areas have been removed, clean away bits of linoleum leaving your image with clean lines and edges.

Place a small amount of water-soluble block printing ink on a piece of plexiglass or an old cookie sheet. Using the rubber roller or brayer, work the ink back and forth until the roller is covered with a thin, even layer of ink. Place your linoleum block, image side up, on a flat surface covered with newspaper (to make cleanup easier). Roll the inked brayer over the image area leaving an even layer of ink on the positive image area (raised area) carved into the linoleum. Lay a piece of paper over the freshly inked surface of the linoleum and apply firm, even pressure without moving the paper in any direction. Use the back of a spoon to press the paper to the block using small, circular motions. Once pressure has been applied to the entire image area, slowly peel the paper away from the linoleum block, being careful to lift up and away from the block to avoid touching the image to the ink again. Lay the print (face-up) on a flat surface to dry thoroughly. Additional copies may be made by re-inking the block and repeating the process for each print desired.

The same basic techniques may also be used with a potato cut in half (instead of linoleum). Sections of the potato can be removed to leave a positive, raised image. Keep the image simple (a heart, star, tree, etc.). The potato can then be used like a rubber stamp by dipping the carved area in water-soluble, acrylic paint. Dab away the excess paint and press the image onto a piece of paper. In addition to linoleum, other materials such as balsa foam exist which are even easier to carve and may provide another viable option.

With practice, designs can become more and additional blocks can be used to produce multiple colors on an image. Block printing is just one more way to enable your kids to express their creativity through art!

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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