DIY Home Printmaking Studio

Every now and then I’m like “dangit, Mel, you should do some art.”

I started doing printmaking in college, mostly monotypes. I also made some linocuts, and a couple other assorted kinds of prints as the opportunity arose. I have some of my pieces kicking around on my art site.

After a recent visit with a friend who has their own home printmaking studio, I decided it was time to try it myself. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for a couple years now, but never got around to actually doing until now. Since I don’t own my own press (and have no interest in dropping hundreds of dollars on one), I figured I’d go simple. Linocuts would do quite well; unlike monotypes, I can get a couple of runs out of one linoleum plate.

I consulted with my friend and my college printmaking professor and came up with a list of supplies:

  1. Linoleum (no brainer)
  2. An assortment of inks
  3. Rubber brayers
  4. Palette knives
  5. Plexiglass for spreading ink onto
  6. A baren for hand-pressing my prints
  7. Some sort of non-toxic cleaner for cleaning my materials
  8. Rags for cleanup
  9. Watercolor paper for printing on
  10. A linoleum cutter (I already own this)

I ended up getting everything from Blick, since they were cheap and convenient. I picked up a couple different sizes of linoleum (4×5″, 6×8″, 12×12″), as well as some black, white, red, blue, yellow, and green inks. I bought a 4″ and 8″ brayer, but I’m thinking the 8″ might be too big and I still might swap it out for a smaller one, maybe 6″.

All told, it ended up costing me around $180 for all the supplies I needed. Honestly, this was lower than what I was expecting it to cost to get started.

For my first print, I decided to go with something small and simple — just one color. I traced one of the 4×5″ rectangles onto a sheet of paper and started sketching some ideas. When I had something I liked, I traced it onto the linoleum and drew over with a red Stabilo pencil so it would be easier to see and carve later. Once my drawing was all set, I tossed my linoleum in my oven on a super low heat to warm and soften it up so it was easier to carve (Note: this might be super dangerous. Who knows! We had a heating table when I did printmaking as a student).

I ended up doing a second one free-hand, using just the pencil and then my linoleum carver.

I have a nice, open table in my living room, so I set up my printing supplied there. I chose the second block to print. I laid down some ink on my plexiglass surface and did some mixing. I was aiming for a reddish-brown and mostly got there, but I’m definitely going to need to get used to mixing inks again.

Side note: Super pleased with my palette knife — very flexible and springy. It mixed my inks really well. 

Once my ink was mixed, I spread it down into thin layers with my palette knife and then rolled it into a thin, even coating with my smaller brayer. Laying my linoleum down onto a sheet of paper, I rolled out a layer of ink, trying to be as thorough as I could without having anything to anchor it down. It was a little hard to manage and I got some ink on my fingers.

When at last I got a good layer of ink down, I transferred it to a clean piece of paper, laid my printing paper down on top of my linoleum, and pressed down with my baren, to… some success. I tried to do another print, this time switching so I was pressing my linoleum down onto the paper instead of the paper down onto my linoleum, but I didn’t have enough ink down to really tell the difference.

After printing, cleaning up went easier than I expected — the citrus-based cleaner I chose cut through my water-based inks without any trouble.

Takeaways: I didn’t wear gloves when I was printing and that wasn’t very smart. Always wear gloves, kids. I also need to find a better way to register my print onto my paper and transfer. I kept moving my paper around, which made it harder to press down firmly. I was worried I was going to smudge it a little (which I did). My print didn’t come out nearly as clearly as I was hoping, and there was a big splotch that didn’t really transfer. I need to find a way to stabilize everything and, if I do multi-color prints in the future, need to find a better way to line everything up. My alignment was pretty messy this time. I think pressing down onto the linoleum made it a little bit easier to control, so I might experiment with doing it that way first next time.

I also noticed after my first round of printing that my ink was starting to dry up — I tried to gather it all back up and re-spread for round two, but it was too thick and dry to spread again. I’ll need to figure out a way to keep my ink wet. I’m using water based inks, so maybe a splash of water? Not sure.

If I do a larger print, I think I’ll need to buy a larger piece of plexiglass — this one just barely fit everything. I don’t think my larger brayer would be able to get an even coating of ink without a larger space to roll out on.

All-in-all it turned out okay for my first home print. I’ll have to keep playing around so I can work out the kinks. :)

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