Thursday, March 11, 2010

A quick lesson in Collage/Block Printing.

Recently I was asked by a new friend if I could show her how to block print. If her and I were in the same hemisphere, I would have invited her over for an afternoon of getting messy with paint, but since she is in Istanbul and I am in rural British Columbia, I decided to search through some old photos and to share them here. This is for you, Kelly! Recognize the living room? (Kelly now lives in my old Istanbul flat.)

Anyway. Block printing. I admit I really started carving blocks when I lived in Taiwan. Why? Because it's cheap, and I didn't need a press. In fact, you can do all of it sitting in front of the TV watching Ian Wright of Lonely Planet after a hard day's teaching, and you can plan your next travelling adventure at the same time! Oh those were the days...

Taipei also had a fantastic paper store. I can't remember how I found this paper store, but I bought so much paper from them, I had to start collaging it into block prints in order to justify visiting and buying more. I started lifting prints ideas out of Japanese comics. I remember coming up with a line about how I was lifting the low grade comic into the high end art world, but it was just a line. I really just liked the way it looked. I'll try to find those prints and put them here in a later blog, but here is one of my favourites: How to Make Sushi! Remember the coloured parts are paper, and the black parts are carved out of a lino block. There are many ways to block print. This is by no means the traditional way.

How to make Sushi! Made in Taiwan. By me.

So first of all, you need to get some lino and a sharp exacto knife and carve out your image. I tend to draw out my image in pencil first, and then tape it like mad to the lino block so it doesn't move. Then I scribble all over the back of a paper with a ball point pen. I don't know why, but it's the best for transferring the image. Then I rip all the paper off. Because pencil has a tendency to rub off quickly on the rubber I go over the image again with the ball point pen. Then I get to carving! I will admit, I have gashed myself pretty badly with exacto knives in the past. But we aren't talking about that, are we?!!!

A few blocks: The grey stuff is crumbly (not ideal) but can be found anywhere. The cream stuff is called safety cut and weighs a tonne and it's not cheap, but it's nice to carve. It's like a really big eraser. It had been dragged from country to country with me until it found its purpose in Istanbul. Strangely enough, it's the only stuff that will block print on the scarves.

Mucha Inspired Gypsy Block

A little mosque I drew between Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the bus one day.
You can still see the ball point pen clearly on this one.

Supplies! Block print, brayer, piece of glass or metal to roll the ink out on and paper.
That's it!

Now that you've got your block, you need paper. You can print on regular paper, or you can jazz it up with collaging paper. Luckily for me, I have sister who is a collaging whizz. With the Belly Dancer, (Sheherazade) we opted to print both the image on paper, and on the coloured paper for collaging, and cut and paste the different coloured papers in place. This would have been less tricky had we been using oil based paints. We had to be careful not to smudge the water based paint with the glue.

Next comes the inking. Roll the ink out till you hear a scratchy sound. If you don't hear anything, it's because you have either too much ink (Does the ink run in legs on the brayer?) or not enough (It will look dry).

I like to put my paper on top of the image and burnish the lines with the back of a spoon. I've used all the special things you can use in an art store for burnishing, but the back of a big spoon works the best in my opinion. Another note: You don't need to work on the floor. You can do this on a table, but for some reason Rene and I like to work on the floor. More space, I guess!

Eventually, you will end up with little bits of paper everywhere. You can throw away what doesn't print nicely.

Then your sister sits in the middle of the living room floor and cuts all those little bits out and arranges them in colours she likes.

Once it's all sorted, it gets glued down, signed and framed! Because no two prints can be exactly the same, these are not numbered, but rather listed as A/P (Artist's Proof.) Because I did most of the carving, and Rene did most of the printing and arranging, this is signed as one of our collaborative pieces.

Sheherazade's Corner, May 2009 Rene and Melanie Mehrer

Next time I'll show you a slightly different way! And yesterday, for the first time of my life, I bought a silkscreen kit. I'm branching out!



  1. Kelly in IstanbulMarch 12, 2010 at 3:06 AM

    Yea! Hooray! I am inspired! Until I find the lino (no idea how to do that) I think I will experiment with the wooden printing blocks, colored paper and whatever paint I have at home. However, I will probably do it in the big bedroom which I have turned into my studio rather than the living room. Although I have been threatening to buy a drafting table, I too prefer to work on the floor... many thanks!

  2. Have you found the art stores in the back roads on the way down to Cirkeci? I think one of them had the crumbly kind of lino- It wasn't cheap though. If you don't know it I'll ask my sis for the directions for you. There is also a great art store in Kadikoy across the street from Ciya. ; )