Block Printing is not for Wimps

When I started my freshman year of high school, I was five feet eight inches tall and skinny. I was all arms and legs and frizzy yellow hair. And I hid behind glasses and braces. I was soft spoken and introverted. Ok, fine,  I still am both of those things. I've still got that frizzy hair, but no more braces. 

But, at thirteen years old, I had never taken a formal art class even though I had always been drawn to creative things - writing, photography, music, and movies... Art has always been a natural extension of my identity except for one massive hurdle... allowing myself to truly pursue art meant letting go of my fear of making a mistake. In all these years, I've come to learn that maybe this is true of every single human being on this planet.

First period was Art 101. I don't remember the teachers name. I do remember she looked like a surfer, sunbleached, bobbed hair, tan, thin limbs, and a slow way of saying she liked our work with a, "that's cool, you must be stoked."  I liked her, quietly, from my stool at the farthest table.

Over the course of the semester, I worked with charcoals and pastels, acrylics and watercolors, perspective and shading, portraits and still life... and then, one day, she set a sturdy linoleum block in front of each of us and explained that we would be designing, carving, and printing from this very block. She showed us examples of sunsets, palm trees, and beach scenes. She passed around the tracing paper and the carving tools as I held my breath. Carving meant there would be no erasers available.

What if I made a mistake? What if I ruined everything? At least with pencils you could erase, with water colors you could add more water and wash it out with a clean brush... This was sharp tools and permanent ink. Forever. The pressure was almost too much.


As the teacher finished circling the room with supplies, she held up her block and told us we could draw anything we liked as long as it was a black and white image which fit inside the block. I watched my classmates hurry to work, chatting happily, as if the prospect of carving into a block of linoleum was going to be easy and fun. I gripped my trusty eraser, tapped my foot against the table leg and tried to imagine the most magnificent block print design the world had ever seen, but I was frozen with fear. I could not get my pencil to move. I drew a blank until the bell rang.

The next morning, I retrieved my supplies from my cubby and lingered over the examples she had shown us and I noticed something... these prints were stunning because they were so simple, a palm frond, a volleyball net. What made them lovely and interesting was the artists point of view, always at a slightly different angle than one would expect, like the individual frames that filled the Sunday comic page of the newspaper. Now this, was something I could do.


I took my regular seat and nodded good mornings to my classmates who were still half asleep and I set to work. I did not have to put my whole life story down in a single block. I did not have to change the world. All I had to do was add a little bit of how I saw things.

I still have that first block of linoleum. A wave with a dolphin in mid jump. It's very Lisa Frank circa 1991. But I was 13. Aren't we all 13 at some point? And, no. I'm not going to post that picture on the internet.

Later in the year, we tried ceramics. But, I had given my heart to block printing. I loved the process of refining a design, tracing and transferring it to the block, and then carving it out... but then, we are not done. There is the matter of the ink. I love that I can come back to a block that I carved years ago and reprint it.

What I've learned is that there are far more intimidating things in life than a blank linoleum block. And, you can always start over on a new block if it's not going the way you planned. 

Over the years, I made christmas cards, birthday cards... and I enjoyed giving these little prints to friends and family. And then, I learned, there is such thing as fabric ink and I started printing on these little tea towels. And to my surprise, people wanted them... they wanted my designs enough to pay for them... and so this little handmade shop on Amazon was born.


As I look over all the blocks I've carved and printed over the years, my designs have grown and changed considerably. Right now, I'm in love with hand lettering, but that may change at some point.

If you are looking for a special gift to give this season, these tea towels do stand out. They're 100% cotton, lint-free, and machine washable as long as you use color-safe bleach. And, stay tuned, I'll be adding Christmas cards to the shop this week!