( Originally Published 1932 )
Block printing is a method of placing permanent designs on surfaces by carving a pattern on a wood or linoleum block, inking it, and transferring it to the material being decorated. It is an-other of the many arts traceable directly to China, where we find it in use as early as the T 'ang dynasty (A.D. 618-905) .
At this time, pottery making was an art, while block printing was considered merely a side issue. It was used to stamp monograms and cheap substitutes for religious paintings. No Chinese artist of note designed expressly for the woodcut.
It was left for the Japanese to develop it into a real art, which they did in the beginning of the eighteenth century. In the following century came the discovery of color printing by this method, and those great artists, Hiroshige and Hokusai, gave the world their exquisitely harmonious color prints.
From the Orient, block printing found its way into Europe about the year 1423. Here it was taken up and improved, until in Germany Purer brought it to such a peak of perfection that few artists in the craft have ever been able to surpass his work.
In the beginning it was regarded as a reproductive art rather than a channel for creative expression. The engraver simply transferred the work of other artists on a block from which the desired number of prints were taken.
With the development of block printing as a direct medium of expression, a new term was applied to it. "Painter wood engraving" expresses clumsily but aptly the art of the block printer, who uses a block as a medium for transferring color as the painter uses his brush.
The substitute of linoleum for wood is a modern form of the art. It was introduced into America about 1910, but had been used in Europe for some time be-fore. The term "lino-block" means a block made of linoleum in place of wood.
Such a surface was found to present fewer difficulties to the novice. It is far easier to cut than the wood, as it has no grain and will not splinter. While it will not stand as many printings as wood, it is far more satisfactory to work with in the long run. For these reasons, it is used in this chapter, and heartily recommended to the reader.
Block printing is an art any girl can easily master, and as the materials required in the work are inexpensive, it is within the reach of all. Let us gather together the various tools and materials we shall need, and then make a beautiful wall hanging.
Our first consideration is the design we wish to use. This may be in any color or combination of colors de-sired, and the types of designs used in this work have a wide range of choice. They may be one's own creations, or the usual cut-out designs found in many magazines. Photographs and line drawings of people, flowers, houses, scenes, or silhouettes make splendid designs, while those found on wall paper, Christmas cards, or calendars usually supply a novel touch.
The results of block printing may be divided into two main classes, single color printing, and combination color work, although most of the steps in both processes remain the same. For instruction purposes, let us complete our wall hanging, studying each step of the work as we proceed. To simplify matters, our first attempt will cover the single color work, while the combination color process will be fully discussed later.
After the design has been chosen, it should be traced or drawn on thin tissue, or tracing paper. The block on which we engrave our design consists of a piece of linoleum slightly larger than the design it-self. Unglazed and non-inlaid material is best for such work. Any good grade of 1/4-inch thick, battleship-gray linoleum gives the best results. Such a piece may be bought at any department store, or ready-made blocks are handled by most art stores. These come mounted on wood, which is necessary when a printing-press is used, and while we use none in our work, the mounted blocks will prove easier to handle. They are recommended, as their cost is not much greater than regular linoleum.
Some prefer to make their own by purchasing the linoleum and mounting it on one-inch thick wood blocks. However, if these cannot be bought ready-made, it is not necessary to make them, as the unmounted linoleum gives good results, and can be handled with little difficulty. For purposes of illustration, as will be seen, an unmounted block of linoleum is shown.
Few tools are required for engraving the design on the block and, in fact, many use nothing more complicated than a sharp-pointed knife. Special linoblock tool kits, containing four cutters, can be purchased, but for such work as we are interested in, a single gouge is all that is needed. This can be bought at any art supply store, and should have a 1/8-inch, curved blade. Note this tool in Figure 10 showing the cutting of the design.
A piece of typewriter carbon paper for tracing the design on our block, and a ten-inch square pane of glass on which to spread the ink, are needed. To aid in transferring the color from the glass to the block, a printer's hand roller or brayer is used. Such a roller is shown in the illustrations. Figures 11 and 12.
If you do not care to purchase such an article, one can be quickly made at home. An old rolling pin, covered with ordinary surgical gauze, can be utilized for this purpose, or a discarded typewriter platen (roller) makes a good substitute.
Printer's ink is used for block printing, and may be purchased in cans or tubes. The latter are more convenient to handle and also more economical. Printer's ink comes in black, white, and all standard colors, and is easily mixed to obtain any particular shade or color. A tube of printer's ink of the desired color, and the material to be decorated with it, complete the major requirements for our project.
After the design has been traced on tissue or other transparent paper, it is transferred to the linoleum block. There are a number of methods used in this work, but by far the most popular is by use of carbon paper. All linoleum blocks must be cut in reverse, so that when the pattern is turned over on the material and printed, it will appear in proper order.
A careful study of the illustrations given here will clarify this point. A small figure of a duck has been used for a design. Note that its bill faces toward the right on the linoleum block, but that it points toward the left when printed on the material.
As it happens, it is of little importance which way this type of design appears when printed, as a duck may face in either direction. But if the letters D-U-C-K appeared beneath it, and the block had not been cut in reverse, they would read on the material K-C-U-D, with each letter facing left instead of right. For this reason, it is important to cut all blocks in reverse.
Whether it is essential that the design be printed in reverse or not, it is best for the beginner to acquire the habit of reversing all her designs when cutting the block, as a means of eliminating possible mistakes.
Place a sheet of carbon paper (shiny side down) on the block. The side of the tissue paper on which the pencil marks of the design have been made is now placed face down on the dull side of the carbon sheet. In this manner, the back of the tissue paper faces the tracer, and the design is followed on it by outlining the pattern which can be seen through the thin texture of the tissue. By going over the outline of the pattern with a hard pencil, the design is traced in reverse on the block.
This process gives a clear, sharp outline of the de-sign on the block. Remove the tissue and carbon paper, and carefully go over the outline with India ink. The outline of the design must now be filled in solid with ink. By filling in the design in this manner, the printer can see how her print will appear on the material, except that it will be re-versed.
This also aids in cutting the block, as the knife must not touch any filled-in area on the block. It must be remembered that all parts left in relief will be printed on the material. By "relief" we mean those parts of the block which are left high—untouched by the gouge.
When engraving a design on linoleum, the first operation is to cut a shallow trough around the entire outline of the pattern. Great care must be taken in doing this work, as this channel forms the outline of the print. All such cuts around the design should be slightly beveled, as straight edges are apt to be weak, causing them to wear and break easily.
When this work is completed, cut away with the gouge all areas that are not to be printed on the material. See that all these are cut deep enough to avoid any chance of printing when ink is applied and the block pressed on the material.
The ink is now prepared for use. It has the consistency of cold cream. Squeeze a slight amount of it on the glass. It should not be much larger than the size of a pea. Be sure to cap your ink tube immedilately after using it, as it may continue to flow and cause wastage.
With your roller, distribute the ink over the glass until it becomes a thin film. The object of this process is to ink the roller with a thin coat of the color, which can be transferred to the block without fear of blotting or clogging the design.
This is done by laying the block on a smooth surface with the face of the pattern up, and rolling the brayer over it in all directions until it becomes well inked. A proof of the print is now made. A "proof" is a sample of the print. It is made so that the printer may see how her finished work will look. As prints often differ according to the material used, our proof should be made on a scrap of the same cloth we wish to use for our finished wall hanging.
Place several thicknesses of paper (newspaper will do) on a flat surface, and spread the scrap material over it. Turn the linoleum block over and press it on the material. Hold it steadily for a few moments, remove it, and inspect the results.
If the print is not clear, it indicates either lack of pressure or lack of enough color on the block. If it is blotchy, the block has an excess of color on it, or the design has not been cut deep enough.
Make whatever corrections are necessary until a clear and clean-cut print appears on the material.
We are now ready to do the printing on our wall hanging. Spread several thicknesses of newspaper on a drawing board or table top. This acts as a pad for the material when being printed, aiding the cloth in absorbing the print. The material is spread over the paper and held with thumb tacks.
As our designs are to be repeated. a number of times, guide lines are used to insure correct spacing and proper placing of the design on the cloth. These are made by stretching strings across the material, and are held with tacks. These guide lines must run parallel to each other, as well as the edge of the cloth, and must be evenly spaced. One group of these run from top to bottom, while the other extends from side to side, and is at right angles with the first group. These guide lines are shown in Figure 13.
Each square made by the guide lines contains one print of the design. As the wall hanging has two different designs, two linoleum block patterns are necessary. 'When printed on the material, these designs are staggered. By "staggered" we mean that first one pattern is printed—then the other, and continued in this manner.
When the entire hanging has been printed, the material is carefully removed from its paper pad and set aside to dry for twenty-four hours. When printing anything by the block method, the printer should reink her block each time the design is printed. Care should be taken to see that the block contains the same amount of ink each time it is used, and that the same amount of pressure is given the block when printing.
After use, the brayer and the glass should be thoroughly cleaned, which can be done by using a small amount of benzine on a cloth. The linoleum block should be given the same treatment when the printing is completed.
There are a number of ways to accomplish combination color printing. A number of linoleum blocks, each carrying one particular color, are cut. These leave in relief the portions on the design which carry one color. Each of these blocks is printed in turn on the material, giving the various colors desired. An-other method is to paint with a brush the various colors on a single block, and make the color print in one operation, but both of these require the technique of the expert.
With this in mind, the earliest known method of obtaining combination color prints, which happens to be the easiest, is recommended to beginners, and will be discussed here. While this method embraces both block printing and painting, the compromise is justified by the results gained.
Naturally, combination color printing is a little more complicated than single color work, but no trouble will be had if the instructions are carefully followed.
In the first place, this process requires a different cutting of the block. Instead of cutting around the outline of the design, as we have just done, all the block is cut away with the exception of the actual lines comprising the outline. These are left in relief. It will be seen that when the block is inked in the usual manner, turned over on the material, and printed, that only the outline of the design will be shown. This is what is required.
These outlines are now filled in with colors. On material, these fill-ins should be painted with gypsy dye, but on paper, wood, or other surfaces tempera or water colors will be found best. When doing combination color work by this method, color blending must be considered, as the outline will show in one color, and the fill-ins in other tones.
In the case of a leaf, the outline may be in black, and the fill-in in green. The large table cloth, shown in the illustration with the three other pieces, is combination color work by this method. It clearly shows the outlines of the design, which are block printed, while the lighter colors comprise the fill-in. These fill-ins may be all one color, but different from the outline, or they may be a series of various colors, but care must be taken that they blend perfectly.
Lino-block printing offers any girl a splendid opportunity to make and decorate her own table covers, curtains, handkerchiefs, runners, pillow covers, book plates, place or Christmas cards, and any number of other things.
Cotton materials and washable silks are the fabrics best adapted to block printing. Pongee and thin unbleached muslin are particularly good for this purpose. The process works quite as well on paper, wood, or other surfaces, and the art of the printer presents a limitless field for experimentation. Block dies, such as used in this work, are also of value in the field of leather embossing, which is discussed in the chapter under "Leathercraft."