California Society of Printmakers Show at Bridge Storage and ARTSpace

I have a linocut print in the current California Society of Printmakers' show titled, Points of Departure. The exhibition is at Bridge Storage and ARTSpace in Richmond, CA and runs until May 25, 2018. There's a reception on Saturday, May 19, from 3-6pm. If you're interested, you might read the nice writeup of the show in the East Bay Express. Hope to see some of you at the reception!

 California Society of Printmakers |  Points of Departure

California Society of Printmakers | Points of Departure

Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink Review: Long-Term Test

I'm a fan of Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink and have been using it for about three years. I use it primarily for printing linocuts on kids cotton t-shirts and thought it would be helpful to give an update on how the shirts have fared through normal wearing and washing. (Here's my original ink review from a while ago). Since this textile ink isn't widely available, I've included links to Blick Art Materials and Amazon, where it can be purchased. I get a small commission if you end up buying something there since I participate in their affiliate programs but the opinions below (good and bad) are my own. You can find more details about this here.

The washability of inks on textiles is a concern for anyone who starts printing on fabric. Many of us have made a print we're pleased with only to find that it fades a ton upon washing - I know I have and it's frustrating. Some recent questions from readers (thank you!) prompted me to take a close look at a t-shirt I printed years ago and assess how well the linocut print lasted.

My daughter's dragonfly t-shirt is a good example. I printed the linocut on a Bella Baby shirt with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink in May 2015. I pulled the shirt out of her drawer this weekend and took a picture.

 T-shirt printed with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink after almost three years of washing and wearing.

T-shirt printed with Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink after almost three years of washing and wearing.

Based on my experience, Speedball's Fabric Block Printing Ink (available through both Blick and Amazon) has performed well in the years since I originally printed the t-shirt. Especially considering that I made this shirt before I did a lot of testing in my printing process. For instance, I now always wash new fabric before printing and cure the ink in a hot dryer (I can't remember if I did either on this early t-shirt). I have a more recent shirt that I block printed after I honed my technique, which is holding up very well.

The shirts were always washed and dried with our regular laundry - no special care was taken with them. The intensity of the lino print still seems good to me. Like I mentioned in my original ink review, though, there is a little fading at the beginning. Don't be surprised when the intensity of the print's color is not as deep after you first wash it.

In my experience, after that initial fading, the ink's permanence holds up over the years. Given this, if the printed t-shirt is going to someone else, I recommend pre-washing the t-shirt once the ink sets, sort of like how companies pre-wash jeans before selling them. And, if you're looking for other printing tips, I have a whole page dedicated to the t-shirt printing process.

I hope this update has been helpful!

Choosing the Best Linocut Carving Tools for Block Printing

Over a year ago, I did a big review of the best linocut inks. So many people found it helpful that I thought I'd embark on a new project - reviewing some of the best linocut tools. Over the years, I've used a wide range of carving tools for block printing, such as those made by Speedball, Power Grip, Pfeil and Japanese woodblock carving tools. I'm going to break down my research into two categories: inexpensive, budget oriented carving tools and more expensive, superior tools. I have some specific recommendations at the end.

 Some of the carving tools I use for block printing

Some of the carving tools I use for block printing

I've included Amazon, Blick and McClain's Printmaking links in this post because they're easy places to order tools - it's quite rare to find a local art shop that sells a range of good quality relief printmaking tools. Amazon and Blick also have helpful customer reviews to read and if you click on their links, I get a small commission if you end up buying something there since I participate in their affiliate programs. You can find more details about this here. But, I have no relationship with the wonderful McClain's Printmaking Supplies and the opinions below are my own.

Beginner / Budget Linoleum Carving Tools

Some of the best options in this category of tools are the classic, all-in-one Speedball Linoleum Cutter and relatively inexpensive gouges like Power Grip tools.

Speedball Linoleum Cutter

The most basic, versatile and inexpensive tool is the Speedball Linoleum Cutter. This is sometimes the first tool linocut artists use. It's cheap (under $10), dependable and comfortable.  If you're not familiar with this traditional tool, it works with six interchangeable blades that store in the plastic handle. The available cutters are:

  • (No. 1) Small "V" Gouge
  • (No. 2) Large "V" Gouge
  • (No. 3) Small "U" Gouge
  • (No. 4) Square Gouge
  • (No. 5) Large "U" Gouge
  • (No. 6) Knife
 Speedball Linoleum Carving Tools

Speedball Linoleum Carving Tools

The metal blades are replaceable when they get dull, though, I sharpen them many times before recycling them. Many hobby and art shops sell their own versions of this tool but some are of inferior quality - this one is definitely worth the $1-2 more. This is a video of me carving a tree in a linoleum block with this type of cutter.

Power Grip Carving Tools

I like these simple tools made in Japan by Mikisyo. Power Grip carving tools come with sharpenable steel blades and fit really nicely in the hand. I use a range of "U" and "V" gouges, as well as a small straight chisel (for woodcuts) and skew knife. These are a step up in quality over the Speedball Linoleum Cutter and must be sharpened with a water stone, honing block and honing compound, like all the other tools mentioned below.

 Power Grip Carving Tools

Power Grip Carving Tools

Expensive / Deluxe Block Printing Tools

Tools in this category are going to cost roughly $15 or more for each individual gouge or knife. These tools will last a long time (but need periodic sharpening) and carve very smoothly, often with less effort, when sharp.

Usually, you will save some money if you buy them as part of a set. At this price level, you're having to make a bigger investment in your art practice. Therefore, before investing in a set, I recommend buying or borrowing one tool first to see how you like it. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How does it compare to what tools I already have?
  • How does it fit in my size hand?
  • Is it comfortable after a lot of carving?
  • How does it carve my particular type of lino or material of choice?
  • How well does it sharpen?
  • Is it going to last a long time?

Pfeil Palm Carving Tools

Pfeil palm carving tools are high quality wood and linoleum tools that are Swiss-made and characterized by their wooden mushroom or pear-shaped handles that fit in the palm of your hand. I have a small 1.0 mm "V" parting gouge and I think it's a really nice tool, however, I don't like the way it fits in my hand. I haven't bought any more of these and it taught me the, "try one tool before buying a whole set" lesson.

 Pfeil Palm Carving Tool

Pfeil Palm Carving Tool

Flexcut Carving Tools

I'd be remise if I didn't mention Flexcut tools. I've never used them, but time and time again I hear that relief printmakers love them so you might want to give them a try. They have wooden handles that fit in the palm and are in the middle price range. This less expensive Flexcut Lino & Relief Printmaking Set with interchangeable blades looks promising.

Josei Moku Hanga To

I've had four of these Japanese relief printmaking tools for almost five years and they're sold through McClain's Printmaking Supplies.

  • Josei Maru To, "U" gouge knife, 3.0 mm
  • Josei Maru To, "U" gouge knife, 10.5 mm
  • Josei Sankaku To, "V" gouge knife, 1.5 mm
  • Josei Sankaku To, "V" gouge knife, 6.0 mm

Josei Moku Hanga To are really good quality tools for a pretty reasonable price and I couldn't be more pleased with them. One of their unique features is that you can cut the long wooden handle to fit the size of your hand (instructions on how to do that).

 Josei Moku Hanga To

Josei Moku Hanga To

Futatsu Wari Moku Hanga To

Futatsu Wari Moku Hanga To are really gorgeous, top-of-the-line woodblock carving tools made in Japan and available at McClain's Printmaking Supplies. I was kindly given a few tools that are very similar to these by a friend many years ago. The gouges have a metal ferrule that slides off and allows you to take out the blades for sharpening or replacing. These are amongst the most expensive tools you can buy - most are $40 or more for each tool. If that's within your budget, they're worth considering.

 Linoleum Carving with Power Grip Tools

Linoleum Carving with Power Grip Tools

My Perfect Set of Tools

My preferred set of tools is an assortment of different brands that balance cost and quality. It includes a Speedball Linoleum Cutter, a couple Power Grip "U" gouges and numerous Josei Moku Hanga To tools of different sizes.

Speedball Linoleum Cutter: While some printmakers might consider this mearly a beginner's tool, I love it and use it all the time when carving linoleum. I find the small "V" gouge indispensable. One downside of this tool is that it's best used on linoleum and soft "rubber" carving blocks (like Speedy Carve and MOO Carve), not wood.

Power Grip: you can get a nice set of Power Grip tools for between $20-$50. I prefer the "U" gouges over the "V" gouges. My favorites are the 6.0 mm and 9.0 mm "U" tools.

Josei Moku Hanga To: I think these are the best tools available for the price. My favorites are the versatile 6.0 mm "V" gouge and the big 10.5 mm "U" gouge for clearing large areas of wood or lino.

There is a certain amount of subjectivity when choosing carving tools because everyone's hand is a little different so what's comfortable for one person might not be for another person. Please let me know if you've found something that works great for you!

Airplane Linocut Printed on an Etching Press + Liz Phair

My newest linoleum block print is of an airplane window seat view at dusk. It's printed with Schmincke Aqua Linoprint Ink on 250 gsm Stonehenge paper. I was playing with that feeling of flying over a city and looking out at the sprawling, lit up urban landscape below.

I remember that great 1990's Liz Phair song, "Stratford-On-Guy," which starts off with the lyrics, "I was flying into Chicago at night...." That song's video on YouTube is definitely worth a watch. And, for a deep dive into that track, check out PopMatters' take on it.

Here's a little video I made while printing the final layer on my small press, which is a Blick Econo Etch Model II Press. The linocut is part of a series of airplane window view artworks and is now available in my Etsy shop. If you have any questions about how my prints are made, please feel free to email me!