Monday, May 23, 2016

A Little About Printmaking

Welcome back to the blog! Have you ever tried printmaking before? It is a great method not only for completing entire illustrations, but for creating unique textures and patterns as well. Prints can be used in drawings, paintings, and collage.

In this post, I am going to share my process of creating illustrations using the linocut printmaking technique. But first a little history….

Printmaking is an ancient technique that originated in China around AD 105 after paper was invented. It all began as stone rubbings so that the Chinese scholars could study their holy scriptures. They started creating woodcarvings in the 9th century and their method spread throughout the world by the 15th century. Since then, the process has evolved to include linocuts as well. 

The linocut printmaking technique was first used in 1905 by a German artist named Die Brucke. It has provided relief printers with a quicker, cheaper alternative to the woodcuts that have been used to create art for centuries. I often use the linocut technique when I am creating prints for illustrations. It is a much quicker process because the material is easier to carve. 
Here are the supplies you will need to create a linocut print.

Supplies from left to right: rice paper, japanese carving tools, linoleum, glass with 
the edges taped, oil-based ink, water based ink, brayer, baren, Cobalt dryer

Like all illustrations, this method begins with an idea and a LOT of thumbnails.


After you have a solid composition it’s time to work out a final sketch. I like working on tracing paper for my final sketch because it is easier to transfer to the linoleum piece (or pieces) I use to make the finals. 

After the final sketch is finished, I cut my linoleum to the size that I need with a sharp knife (if you use a dull one, you might lose part of a finger….) and tape my tracing paper, face down onto the block. Using a mechanical pencil, I carefully trace over all of my pencil lines. I use a mechanical pencil because it creates darker, sharper lines on the linoleum.

When I am finished with this step, I remove the tracing paper (I normally save it just in case something goes wrong later on down the line.) and re-trace the lines with a thin Sharpie. Sharpies is the only material I have found that holds up through multiple layers of oil based ink and clean-up. Every other ink dissolves during the clean-up phase.

Once the Sharpie has been used to go over all of the pencil lines, it is time to start color studies!
When printing, I often try to keep my color palette very limited (1-3 colors). Color studies really help me see how few colors I can get away with so that I can keep my carving to a minimum. Deadlines can come up pretty quickly and if I spend too much time carving multiple blocks or carving away from one block more than twice (this is called Reductive Printing) then I tend to rush the rest of the printing process in order to meet the deadline set. Color studies help me to plan all of this ahead of time so that I am spending less time carving and more time actually printing. Here are a few of my color studies for various projects:

I normally struggle with limited palette color studies a bit because there are so many options! A lot of times, I will complete a set of 3 or 4 studies and hang them up where I can look at them over and over again before making my final choice. If you are struggling, Pinterest has a lot of great information. Also, the Color Index ( has been an invaluable resource for me.

After my color studies are complete it is time to start carving! I hand carve all of my prints using Japanese carving tools that I bought here:

I have also found that Speedball makes a pretty good starter set if you are interested in experimenting with printmaking, but don’t want to invest in a high end carving set. You can find it here: This set does not work for wood, but it works great for rubber and linoleum.

Although carving often ends up being the most time consuming part of the printmaking process, it is my favorite part of the process. When carving linoleum it is wise to think about every gouge made. I often create spirals or straight lines going a specific way because when the linoleum is inked up, the carved places can still pick up some ink. If those places have been carved into a pattern, it will just contribute additional texture to a piece rather than ruining it.

After the carving is finished, I prepare for pulling the final prints. When pulling prints, I often use rice paper or Mulberry paper. The traditional way to prepare paper is to wet and tear it…

but sometimes I cheat and cut it with an x-acto blade instead. The clean lines help me with my registration (especially if I am pulling a multi-colored print). Normally, I cut my paper the exact size of my block so I can line up all of the edges when I lay the paper face down on the inked linoleum piece.

Once the paper has been prepared, I mix the ink.  I use Graphic Chemical & Ink Co oil based relief printing inks, but Speedball works pretty good too and it is easier to clean up because you can use water instead of vegetable oil. When mixing,  I use  a palette knife to help loosen up the ink (it gets stickier the more you scoop it around) and then roll it onto a brayer (which is like a fancy rolling pin covered in rubber). After the brayer is completely covered in ink, I roll it all over my carving and place on of my pieces of paper on top.

Using a metal spoon or a baren (a flat, handheld tool traditionally used by the Japanese), it is time to pull the print! I hold the paper in place with one hand and move in smooth circles with the baren my other hand. I try my best to apply the same amount of pressure to the entire piece to get a nice, graphic finish. If you are trying this and your first print comes out a little light or fuzzy don’t worry. Prints are like pancakes: the first one is always a bit funky. Just ink up your block and try again.

When I am printing for children’s illustration, I typically pull 5 prints before cleaning everything up. This way I have lots of duplicates in case I make a mistake. That is one of the really great things about printmaking!

If you have never experimented with printmaking before, I would encourage you to try it! You can use this method to print all kinds of unique patterns and textures for collage; however, you can get crazy and print with found objects glued to a board for unique collagraphs. You can even use foam pieces cut into shapes for quick, easy stamps! Once you know the basics, the sky is the limit. Take a day to play and let me know what you think. 

 ~Jeslyn Kate
Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @jeslynkate


  1. Love seeing your process!! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. It was very helpful! I love your new works and thank you for introducing printmaking history. Thank you!

  3. Excellent post, Jeslyn! Thanks for all the printmaking history information, too.