You’ll need a linoleum printing block or a rubber carving block. You can purchase these at most art supply stores. These come in a variety of brands and colors that vary in hardness and texture. What you choose will mostly come down to personal preference. I prefer a thicker block so that I can carve the opposite side if I want. I’m using Soft-Kut
brand today, which is an economical lino with a softer texture. A 4×6 block costs around $1.50 online.
You’ll also need a lino carving set. You can buy a variety of tools, or you can buy a set with interchangeable blades. This one
cost about $7. It’s also helpful to have some type of craft knife or razor. I have a full set here, but a standard X-acto knife will do the trick. A self-healing cutting mat will help protect your work surface.
You’ll need a brayer to spread the paint or ink. These start around $4, and are used for most print-making projects, so it’s a good investment.
You’ll also need paint or ink. Block printing ink will give you the best results, but you can experiment with different mediums.
It’s important to have a smooth plate or palette to apply the ink to. I love to use the new Impress Inking Palette film, made by Grafix. This is a pad of clear film with adhesive on the ends, so the film won’t shift while rolling. It really minimizes the messiness of printmaking.
For today’s project, I want to make new covers for these little notebooks. I got these for .20 each at a party supply store, and I’ve also seen multipacks of similar notebooks at the dollar store.
It’s best to sketch your design out on paper first. The trick is to remember that all of your lines will be printed in reverse, so you’ll need to think opposite. Any areas you don’t carve are called positive space, and those will show up in ink. Any lines you do carve are called negative space, and those will remain un-inked. You may find it helpful to label the areas of your drawing as white/cut, and black/leave. Keep the lines simple, and remember that it’s challenging to create fine lines.
Start by using the craft knife to trim your lino block to the finished size. The most important rule in carving a block is to always cut away from yourself, while being continuously aware of where your opposite hand is.
Now draw the image directly onto your block using a pencil.
You can begin carving your block now. I’m cutting just inside my penciled line. When using a lino cut tool, you want to skim just beneath the surface of the block, rather than gouge out large chunks. Try to keep your motion fluid and your line smooth.
Turn the block so that your fingers are always out of the way of the blade. (The first time I did this, I cut myself almost immediately, not realizing that the curved edge is razor-sharp. So use extreme caution at all times!)
I’m changing out my blade for a larger one so I can cover more area. Start with shallow cuts; you can always remove more later. While it’s possible for you to cleanly remove all the negative space, it’s more customary to leave a bit of texture so that some of your carve lines show up in your final print, making it easily recognizable as a hand-carved block print.
To cut out small circles, as for these eyes, slide the blade just below the surface of the block, making a half-circle cut. Turn the block upside down and cut from the opposite direction, removing the circle.
One more important thing to remember: all of your text will need to be written backwards, as a stamp is a reverse image. On this stamp, I’m writing “HI,” which looks the same forwards or backwards. But if I were writing something like “CUTE,” I’d need to remember to reverse the letters.
Now we can start making prints! Add a dab of paint directly to the Inking Palette film. Use your brayer to evenly smooth out the ink.
Some people prefer to load the brayer with ink, then roll the linocut directly. When I’m working with a small block like this, I find it’s less messy to press the block directly into the ink. Press firmly, then check to make sure the entire positive surface of the block is wet with ink. If not, press again.
I’m first stamping on a piece of scratch paper to make sure I’m happy with my design. Alternately, you can lay the block face up and press the paper on top.
Making the Notebooks
Now I’m ready to make these notebook covers. I’m using Grafix Chipboard, which is kind of like a stiff and durable cardboard. It comes in several sizes, but pretty much any size is fine since I’ll be cutting it down.
Load the Inking Palette again, then ink the block. Press directly to the chipboard and allow the ink to dry.
Remove the coil from the notebook by twisting. Lay it on top of your print and trace, being sure to trace every punched hole as well.
Cut out, then punch the holes using a small single hole punch.
Add the cover to the stack of notebook papers, and tap the punched edge against the table to align. Replace the coil by twisting through the holes.
These little notebooks would make cute party favors or stocking stuffers!