Relief Printmaking [part 1] in Black & White

So you wanna be a printmaker, do ya? Do ya? Probably not seeing as how it’s a dying art but maybe you should! You will need carving tools [at least one V, one U and one knife but the more, the merrier], wood plates for carving birch is easier to carve but easier to mess up, poplar has a fine, fine grain that is a pain to carve but holds up well [you’ll need one for each color you’re working with but you can use both sides!], your designing brainpower or an image for inspiration, brayer, ink [I used Speedball for black but I can’t remember the brand of the other color(s)] fancy paper [BFK Rives pictured], bench hook [easy to make, not too expensive to buy] pens, pencils, standard graphite paper. Optional: Dremel tool, fancy transfer paper. If you use a Dremel, use a dust mask.


A bench hook’s function is to keep your plate from slipping around as you carve into it with dangerously sharp tools. The underside has a ledge and the top side has a ledge with an open space at the center. If you’re into DIY like me, you’ll need some scrap wood to build your own. Definitely doesn’t have to be fancy, but make sure your edges are smooth so you don’t hurt yourself or scratch your plates.


Once you’ve got a bench hook, draw up your design. I chose the snail l lamp Butterfly gave me back in Florida when she was leaving for adventure. Turns out I followed a few months later, bringing the lamp with me. Not long after leaving I got a call from my aunt asking which box I’d left the lamp in. She wanted it! So, I thought printing this lamp and sending her the image would be a way to share its light with everyone.

I don’t have pictures of that process, but use transfer paper [fancy or standard graphite either works fine. The difference is the fancy stuff is wax and shows where you’ve been already so you never miss a line. The number of colors you want will determine the number of plates you’ll need to copy your image onto. There were three colors in this print.

Printmaking in general is best explained by describing where the ink goes. In intaglio printmaking you carve into a surface and then apply acid so that when you print the ink goes into the grooves. Relief printing is the opposite. The ink rests on top of the plate so if you don’t want ink in a particular spot you have to carve it away. White backgrounds take a lot of carving.

In order to make these multiple plates register the same way, we used kinto marks.


From the corner of your drawing, allow one inch on two sides and then an addition half-inch for the mark space. Then create a circle that encompasses the two sides as above. This creates a wee shelf for your paper to sit on that should make your plates all line up the same way. Should. YELLOW PLATE WHOLE BENCH-HOOKED SNAIL KEY PLATE CARVING TOOLS CARVED UP CLOSE

These prints didn’t turn out as I expected, but what can I say? I’m learning, folks! I will share more though, so you can learn from my mistakes and we can all be printmaking masters in no time.

What has your hands busy this morning? I am not a morning person but I sat bolt upright at 6.22 this morning. I may’ve had productive dreams. You ready and raring to go or reaching for coffee?




One thought on “Relief Printmaking [part 1] in Black & White

  1. Pingback: 2014 You Better Work | Sunshine Press

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