Multi-Media Materials: Lino Print Your Holiday Cards!

Tired of the same old same old when it comes to Holiday cards? This year, try some linoleum block printing – and this is the perfect time to start – unless you are a procrastinator with good intentions like me – then you’ll start in about a month, maybe 6 weeks.. 🙂

To start, order yourself up some linoleum blocks. There are a lot to choose from. Try a catalog like Dick Blick – I am a big fan of the Soft-Kut blocks they sell. You can use both sides, they are easy to cut and you can buy a big sheet and easily cut it up for smaller prints.

a variety of linoleum blades.

You will also need some lino cutters, a brayer and ink. Be sure to get a variety of blades for your cutter (the link above is a kit with multiple blades and a handle)  and an exacto knife works well to cut the block apart. (you only need to score it and fold — the soft-kut blocks break apart very easily.

Next, you’ll need to decide on the details —  like paper, ink color and design. The key to lino printing is to think in positive and negative shapes. Anything you cut OUT on the block will be the color of the paper — it will NOT hold ink and will not print. Anything that stays will hold ink and therefore be your ink color. Texture and Value can be accomplished using a small lino cutter and either doing small cuts in surface, much like crosshatching or making little dots like stippling. Any marks that will cause the area to hold less ink.

To begin your print, transfer a pencil drawing on to your soft-kut block by turning the drawing face down on block and rubbing the back. It is nice to use a pencil for this so you can see where you’ve transferred without having to lift the drawing. The image will then be backwards, which is perfect since it’ll print the right way! **Remember – any numbers and letters need to be backwards on the printing block!** (you can also draw directly on the block, the as I mentioned above, you’ll need a reversed design!)

all of the background is removed, with some texture remaining.

Next – start cutting. Be careful and never cut towards your own hand. This is not your high school linoleum though, it is smooth to cut and does not require a bench hook to hold it in place. As you work, you can ink your plate to see your progress.

a plate in progress...

To ink your plate, use a piece of cardboard or another flat surface to roll out  your ink. Place a toothpaste-sized dollop of ink on your surface and roll it out. This is to make sure the brayer is evenly inked. Next, roll your plate and do a test print!

To test print, lay the paper on top of the plate and rub gently with your hand – but be sure to press evenly all over the paper. Lift a corner to be sure you are using adequate pressure. (see images below) After you make your test print, you can choose to let the ink dry on the plate, then continue to cut (making it easier to see the subtracted areas) or wash it off and keep going.

Advanced printers can do a reduction print. At this stage, print ALL of your cards once – take more away from your block, then print over the original print in a different color ink! (here is an interesting video clip on reduction printing) Have fun with it!

The printing steps are pictured below:

a dollop of ink!

roll it out!

ink it up!

lay the paper on top of the plate

rub the back of the paper with your hand evenly

pull up a corner to check the pressure and transfer

pull paper off the plate - if you are printing "for real" ink up and go again!

Happy Holidays!

~ MaryJo Rosania-Harvie is an art teacher in New Jersey Etsy Shop:

Multi Media Materials: The Truth about Pencils and Erasers

If you are new to drawing, you may be wondering, “What’s with all the numbers and letters on my drawing pencils?” I am here to give you the truth about pencils, and while I am at it (and since it sounds so good) I’ll give you newbie drawers out there some eraser options to try out.

Let’s talk about pencils

Drawing pencils usually have a number and a letter on the end – this let’s you know the softness or hardness of the graphite in the pencil. The letter will either be a “B” or an “H”. The “B” stands for BLACK and the “H” stands for HARD. The number on a “B” pencils starts with HB then 2B, 4B, 6B, 7B, and 8B. HB is the equivalent of a #2 pencil – like the kind you needed to take tests in school, then the pencils get progressively softer as the numbers go up. 8B is the softest, therefore the blackest of the “B” pencils. The “H” pencils are opposite – the higher the number the harder the pencil. These pencils are usually for drafting since they make very thin, light lines.

Practice Makes Perfect

Start by testing out your pencils – see how they work when you press hard and when you ease up on the pressure.

This will help you to learn what they are for!

“B” pencils are great for shading, to practice this start with a value scale. (By the way: VALUE is the light and dark of a color or tone.)  A great way to get to know your drawing pencils is the make a small value scale with each pencil. The steps for creating this are:

1. create 5 boxes, at least 1/2″(or more if you have the time) Choose a pencil for your scale.

2. start with the box all the way to the right, shade this as dark as the pencil will go, press hard with the “B” pencil

3. Keep your pencil well sharpened and move to the next box, remember you can always go darker but it is difficult to lighten pencil up

4. apply the pencil in layers and build up to a darkness next to the darkest block

5. continue to shade the boxes until you reach the lightest block – this happens to be the most difficult box to shade since it is the lightest and takes the lightest touch.

Here’s the trick to well blended shading – it’s not a tortillion (a stump of paper used for blending pencil) or your finger – instead use a VERY sharp HB pencil to lightly move the pencil in your value scale around, this will create a smoother effect.

Oops! Now what?

There are a few choices when it comes to erasers.

Some artists like the eraser that lives on the end of a mechanical pencil – this is nice to precise erasing, since it is small.

This eraser is basically the same as something like the Staedler Mars white eraser. These are good quality, clean erasing and worth the money.

To remove dark pencil and charcoal try a kneaded eraser – these are squishy grey material that can be molded, made smaller and reworked to clean the pencil out – to a point – eventually then get “full” and cannot be reworked to clean – but in general they last quite a long time.

Where can I get a pencil set?

Michael’s Arts and Crafts, Staples, Dick Blick, Utrect, other office supply and art supply stores sell a full drawing pencil set, they also sell individual pencils just in case you have a pension for your 4B and seem to grind that down to a nub faster than the rest (like me!)

The erasers can also be found in the same locations.

Below are a few links to get you started:

Pencil Sets

Dick Blick – General’s Pencil Sets

Amazon – Staedtler Mars Pencil Set


Dick Blick – Kneadable Eraser – Design Brand

Dick Blick – Kneadable Erasers Lyra Brand

Office Depot – White erasers

My last bit of advice is to take notes for yourself in your sketchbook, so you remember what pencils work best for which drawing.

Here is an example of some notes I jotted down when putting together this article.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section of this article!

WAIT! There’s more….

Tried out this material? Post your experiences in the comments section of this article for a chance to win tickets to

Sugarloaf Crafts Festival coming to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center

from November 5-7, 2010!

Just include your email address with your post to enter to win. The show will include unique  contemporary crafts and artwork from more than 300 artists working in ceramics, sculpture, glass, jewelry, fashion, furniture and home décor, fine art and photography. There will also be gourmet food for visitors to sample and purchase, live entertainment, and artist demonstrations. Something for everyone!

Have fun!

– MaryJo Rosania-Harvie is a high school art teacher & artist who simply loves art supplies!

Multi Media Materials – This Month: Mod Podge

As an artist you are probably interested in finding out about new (or new to you) materials. Regardless of the ideas and concepts in your work, you may want to explore them using a variety of materials to keep your art practice exciting!

Each month I will focus on a new material. As an art teacher I am constantly trying new techniques, using materials in new ways and encouraging my students to experiment.  I also encourage you to post pics of your own work created with the highlighted material or technique, ask questions, suggest future materials and add your own knowledge and experiences with materials.

The Handmade Philly Book Exchange has reignited my love of materials, and given me the chance to revisit some of my favorite art making tools. (check out the link to learn more about the book exchange!)

This month, for my first post, I’ll focus on Mod Podge. Many of you may already know about this collaging, gluing, sealing water-based finish; but if you don’t now is the time to start something new!

Material of the Month: Mod Podge

Where can I get it?: usually found at Michael’s or an equivalent craft store

The Basic How To:

Matte Surface Mod Podge

Mod Podge is a non-toxic thick white liquid resembling Elmer’s Glue; it comes in Matte and Gloss and should be applied with a brush. One word on brushes and Mod Podge — if you don’t wash the brush REALLY WELL after use, consider them history. Some people prefer to use one of those cheapy foam brushes just for this reason, I on the other hand, like a medium sized flat brush. But really, both work well.

1. make sure the area you are collaging is clean – although Mod Podge goes on opaque and white, it dries clear – dust, dirt, cat hairs in the mix will show. (I know this from experience!)

2. Brush the Mod Podge onto the surface you are collaging, use a thin, even layer – a little goes a long way

3. place the item on top of the thin layer of MP.

Mod Podge works best with paper or other porous materials (you can collage thicker paper too – just use the MP to glue the item in place first)

4. brush another thin layer on top of the item, paying careful attention to the edges. If you want the piece to be sealed (perhaps you are saving a puzzle or want a sold smooth surface) push a little extra Mod Podge under the edges – since the material dries clear you can build up a little extra around the raised edges.

a medium sized flat brush works perfectly

With each additional piece brush a little more Mod Podge onto the surface – then the collage material, then a thin layer on top.

push a little extra MP under the raised edges of your pieces

5. If bubbles form smooth them out with your brush or your fingers, be sure to do this while the Mod Podge is still wet. Another method of smoothing is to use a piece of mat board or smooth cardboard (not corrugated) to smooth out any bubbles. Run the edge of the cardboard over the collaged paper forcing any extra glue out from the edges. As the MP dries, bubbles tend to reduce and flatten out.

6. Allow the surface to dry. This can take anywhere from 20 – 30 minutes. You can apply a second coat over the whole thing to be sure it is well sealed.

*Helpful Hints*

– Glossy Mod Podge can be applied over Matte to create a shiny surface even if you used Matte to create the collage – and vice versa.

– Don’t have any Mod Podge?  Acrylic Gel or Matte Medium (that you would add to your acrylic paint to thin it) are very similar and will do basically the same thing. These materials have more water in them so they tend to wrinkle a little more than MP – but absolutely work in a pinch.

– Mod Podge is for use on indoor projects – water, like rain and humidity – will make the surface sticky.

– When Mod Podging the pages of a book, allow them to dry for a few days before closing the book

– When collaging thick pieces, remember to push a little extra MP under the edges and around the edges, it’ll dry clear.

a thicker piece of paper with the edges sealed

– Again, a little goes a long way – too much Mod Podge will peel – if this happens, just apply more MP over the surface!

– Get creative! Try Mod Podging natural objects, photographs, receipts, movie tickets, etc!

Next Month: The Truth About Pencils and Erasers.

By MaryJo Rosania-Harvie, who loves the smell of new art supplies and lives and works on her art in New Hope, PA.