Monday, March 18, 2013

Cork, linoleum and everything else!

There is life after wood in relief printmaking!
Last Leaf, 3 block lino-cut


Aside from wood, any surface that is fairly easy to cut and takes ink is suitable for relief printmaking. In experimenting, I wouldn't (and haven't!) discount anything that's laying about and looks interesting. I think almost everyone that starts printing "woodcuts" does so on linoleum. Lino, as it is familiarly called, is very easy to cut and somehow less intimidating than wood. There are various grades and types, battleship linoleum (called battleship because of its gray color, not because it comes with anti-aircraft cannons) being the most commonly found in art supply stores.

After paying for mounted linoleum I decided unmounted, by the roll, is much more economical in the long run and allows for more flexibility of block height. Linoleum has gritty stuff that will dull delicate wood carving tools so I either use the lino-designed tougher tools or use my cheaper sets when cutting linoleum. Really easy to cut, fast prints are possible so it is very suitable for working in series and with larger prints.


And then there's cork! One of my favorite surfaces because it just yields results that are quirky and unexpected. Cork is readily available as tiles or rolls in craft stores and home improvement supply stores.

Cork is tough to cut, not because it is hard but because it crumbles and woodcut tools really aren't any use. The tools of choice are X-acto knives, craft knives or even box cutters or utility knives.

I use cork to add a sort of an irregular "shimmer" to the color blocks in some of my newest prints. I must say that it is frustrating to use and unpredictable at first, tough to carve, impossible to keep together and...well, that's enough bad rap!

I do like the results which is why I continue to use it. I get cork squares online or locally at craft stores and roll cork from fine woodworking stores; I think it's used for backing and dampening vibration.
I transfer key block to cork block using stiff transparency such as for projector presentations (well, before PowerPoint).
I print the key block onto the transparency sheet usually with water-based ink. The transparent sheet is pinned down.
Then lift transparency, remove key block, slip the cork block into the registration jig, and transfer carved image to cork block.

I usually transfer to several blank cork blocks even though I will only use one.
This is because the cork is fragile and prone to crumbling and carving/cutting errors. Or I may just make two prints with different color schemes such as shown here.

Puzzle Prints

The cork blocks are easy to cut with x-acto or craft knives and therefore very suitable for "puzzle" color blocks, where each piece of the puzzle is inked separately and assembled prior to giving it a once-through the press. The cork blocks are not easy to carve. If the cork is thin, I glue to a foam-core backing board to give it stiffness and the right height for printing--the same height, ideally, as the key block. If the cork is thick enough as in the tiles shown above, then I usually roll a thin layer of PVA glue all over the back to aid in holding together during carving and printing. I assume a layer of acrylic would work equally well.
The above block kept losing little pieces as I printed. The second block shows a big hunk missing after printing the edition of 46 or so. This print taught me to  not try to cut such thin pieces because they tend to crumble away from being taken apart and put together so many times. Cork is really more suitable for large areas.

Printing Cork

Exciting things happen when printing cork
This picture shows three variations of what happens during printing. When printing, cork acts like a sponge, whether using water or oil inks, and collects ink between the grains. This ink tends to accumulate and then squeeze  out when pressure is applied so it gives very interesting effects. This also means that the cork block has to be completely cleaned off every ten prints or more often, otherwise the grain fills up completely and the grainy effect is gone.
You can also spritz the cork block or the paper (if using water-based inks) with water and get an effect much like watercolor. After a few practice prints, the effect is actually quite consistent and controllable throughout the edition.

Puesta de Luna, Cork Print by Maria Arango
(detail below)

After going to a Nature Printing Society workshop, I really learned that ANYTHING can be printed! Various surfaces give different results and many unusual daily objects can give some awesome prints. Don't forget to have a blast.

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