Artist Lisa Kessler was experiencing a bout of creative block when a friend offered her some scrap lumber. She immediately envisioned the scraps as little house shapes and imagined using carving block sketches to decorate the surface of the wood! Follow Lisa’s tutorial from the May/June 2010 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors to try out this creative 3-D printmaking project.
Printmaking in 3-D: Creative Blocks of Wood, by Lisa Kesler
I have worked as both a professional painter and printmaker for more than 20 years. I’ve always loved the process of carving linoleum and artist‘s carving blocks to pull handmade prints, but, because I had run out of ideas for imagery, I hadn’t done any carving for quite a while. Recently, I decided I wanted to start printing again, and, because I was still experiencing a creative block, I decided to quit worrying about making elaborate, complicated designs and focus on small, singular objects. I had no trouble coming up with all sorts of sketches of simple things.
At about the same time, a friend offered me some scrap lumber from a project he’d just completed, and I immediately envisioned these as simple house shapes. I then imagined printing my carving block sketches onto the surface of the wooden house shapes. Printing in 3-D—I fell in love with the idea.
- Scrap lumber (I use 2″ × 4″ lumber.)
- Tracing paper or vellum
- Pencils (thick, soft graphite and regular #2)
- Sharpie® marker
- Artist’s carving block, such as EZ-Cut, Safety-Kut™, or Speedy Carve™)
- X-Acto® or utility knife
- Ballpoint pen
- Set of linoleum/artist carving block tools (I used V-gouge and U-gouge blades.)
- Oil-based block printing ink (I used Speedball® printing ink.)
- Glass palette or old cookie sheet
- Lightweight printmaking paper (Japanese rice paper and tissue paper work well.)
- Vegetable oil and paper towels/rags for cleanup
- Acrylic matte medium
- Acrylic varnish
- Miter box
- Acrylic paint
- Colored pencils
Cut and carve
1. Cut a piece of lumber into a simple house shape. I used a miter box to accomplish the angle cuts, but this can easily be accomplished without one.
2. Trace each side of the house onto a piece of vellum or tracing paper with a pencil, and draw a design within each traced shape. I drew a simple everyday image or scene for 2–3 sides of the house, sometimes extending the image up onto the roof section. I decided to cover the other surfaces with different allover patterns, like dots and stripes.
TIP: Make sheets of hand-printed collage papers by carving dots, stripes, and other allover patterns on scrap pieces of the carving blocks and then printing them on lightweight papers.
3. Trace over the lines of the sketches with a black Sharpie marker so they are easier to see. Turn the vellum over and, using a thick, soft graphite pencil, trace over the lines again on the back side.
4. Trace the outline of each house side onto a piece of artist’s carving block and, using the X-Acto or utility knife, cut a carving block to match the shape of each house side.
5. With the graphite markings face down, lay each vellum drawing over the corresponding carving block house shape, and carefully trace over the Sharpie lines with a ballpoint pen. Apply pressure while tracing to transfer the soft graphite from the back of the drawing onto the surface of the carving block.
6. Using the black Sharpie marker, draw over the transferred graphite lines on the carving block.
NOTE: This step is very important. It makes the lines show up more clearly, and it also blackens the areas of the drawing that are to be left un-carved. The black areas will be preserved (left uncut), and will be the raised surface that accepts the ink.
7. Cut around the edges of the image with the V-gouge blade to get the most precise outline. When the entire shape is outlined, use the U-gouge tool to cut away the surrounding area that you don’t want to print.
NOTE: Keep in mind that some of the carving marks may show up in the final print. This is one of the unique characteristics of block prints, so it’s important to think about the direction of the marks you are cutting. It’s usually more appealing to vary the direction of the marks, but you can carve them following the shape of the image, or carve an interesting pattern of marks to create subtle interest in the background areas.
CAUTION: When carving the artist‘s carving block, it’s important to hold the block near the side or bottom, not at the top edge. If you place your hand near the top, you will risk cutting yourself if the carving tool accidentally slips while you’re carving.
1. Squeeze a small amount of ink (a dollop about the size of a nickel) from the tube onto your palette. Roll over the ink with the brayer, back and forth several times, until you have a smooth, even film of ink on the surface of the palette.
NOTE: I used oil-based block printing ink for this project. When it dries, it won’t dissolve or bleed, even if it gets wet.
2. Roll the ink-covered brayer over the surface of the carved block until the entire carved surface is evenly coated with ink.
3. Carefully lay a piece of paper over the block and lightly press it into place with the palm of your hand. Using the back of a spoon, gently but firmly rub over the surface of the paper to transfer the inked image onto the paper.
NOTE: Printing on lightweight papers using oil-based inks gives you the flexibility to use your prints in a variety of ways. you can mount them, collage them, and paint or draw on them. They can be a final work of art on their own or become part of a unique mixed-media project.
4. Once the transfer is complete, lift the paper and allow it to dry overnight, ink-side up. Depending on the humidity where you live, you will need to allow 24–72 hours for the print to thoroughly dry.
NOTE: You can usually see through the lightweight papers well enough to know whether or not your image has successfully transferred without having to move the paper.
5. When you finish printing the images, clean the ink off the blocks, the brayer, and the palette using vegetable oil and a heavy paper towel or rag.
1. Lightly sand the wood house shape to get rid of any splinters or large imperfections. However, be careful not to sand away the natural texture of the wood because it adds character to the final piece of art.
2. Once the prints are dry, color them if you wish (see “Adding Color,” below), allow to dry, and then cut them out with scissors. Spread matte medium on the house surface with a brush, and lay the print in place.
3. Flatten the print, removing air bubbles as needed, and apply more matte medium over the top of the print. Allow to dry. Repeat on all sides.
4. Apply 2 coats of acrylic varnish to all of the sides and the bottom of the house to seal and protect the surface.
Although they combine some of my favorite techniques, these little 3-D mixed-media structures are quite a departure from the kind of art I’ve created in the past. I really love their look and their unique character. And to think, they’re all thanks to a little creative block.
Experiment with one or more of the following ideas for adding color. Color can be added to the block or the paper.
The matte medium that is used to attach the paper dries completely clear. Its non-glossy surface allows you to add more detail and color to your art.
• Paint the block prior to adding your printed paper.
• Add a subtle wash over the paper using watercolor paints.
• Try an acrylic glaze to add a transparent color.
• Use water-soluble crayons or pencils to add dimensional color variations.
• Color the surface with standard colored pencils.
Lisa Kesler is a professional painter and printmaker whose work is known for its rich colors and repeated patterns. Her art can be found in corporate and private collections throughout the U.S. When she isn’t busy in her Illinois studio, Lisa enjoys gardening, cooking, knitting, running, and spending time with her two sons. Visit her online at lisakesler.com.
Want more creative printmaking projects? Here’s another out-of-the-box idea for you: kitchen table printing using juice boxes!