August 15, 2016

Ossuary Skulls Block Prints

So I'm a dabbler, a dilettante. I do a bit of this and a bit of that, as the whim takes me. And I enjoy it. I pick up new hobbies, do them for a while, drop them, come back around later.

Once every several years, block printmaking seems to be a thing I come back to. Last time was probably six or seven years ago. I bought linoleum blocks, a carving tool, a brayer, and some ink. I carved one block with a winged cog (because STEAMPUNK), printed it repeatedly in silver and once in gold all over a big sheet of purple paper, and was done again. (I should really try to find that paper. I liked it.)

A couple of months ago, I was struck with the idea to do a block print of a bunch of skulls, like in an ossuary. Then I sat on the idea for a while, because it meant actually going and finding tools and materials in the chaos of my house.

I finally got around to it last week.

This is an artist's carving block for printing. It's not actually linoleum, but something softer and easier to carve. It still tends to be referred to as lino block printing.

This is a carving tool with five bits, which go inside the handle when they're not being used.

First I started penciling a border on the block, using the hole on a ruler to do a scalloped pattern, and divided the space inside the border into six sections.

I went and found this tutorial on how to draw a skull to get me started, but it got a little confusing since I wanted them to have no lower jaw. (Jawbones are often stored separately from skulls in ossuaries.) I'm not great at it, but they're recognizably skulls.

To keep myself from getting frustrated, I went back and forth between cutting the border, cutting the skulls, and drawing. I probably could've stood to leave the first one alone until I finished, then gone back and fixed it up some, but honestly, I'm not sure my skull-drawing got all that much better.

At least I can comfort myself with the knowledge that skulls actually do look weird without their jaws.

The finished block.

It was at this point that I discovered I couldn't find my ink or brayer (not that the ink would've been the right color, but I couldn't even test it). And I didn't have money to buy them. But a very kind person was interested enough to buy four cards based solely on the block, giving me enough money to buy supplies. Printing ink, brayer, calligraphy ink, and a new pen handle, since I'm doing a verse from the Litany on the back of each card.

Oh, and the other thing you need is a pane of glass for the palette. You want a nice, smooth surface to spread the ink on, so it's even. Turned out the only pane of glass I had lying around was this one. Remember those gold-marbled mirrors from the 70s? I found this weird green-marbled one someplace or other, and meant to break it up to use in a mosaic. Never happened, but it means I had this cool palette.

Spreading out the ink with the brayer. Then I rolled it onto the block as evenly as I could.

Aaaaaand the first print!

Not too shabby for my first time doing this in years.

I made ten prints that night, and I have ten more cards to play with, either for this print or another... since I just happened to find two more uncarved blocks while hunting for ink. Both of them, plus this one, are thick enough that both sides can be carved. Woohoo, project for the break!

Here are four of the prints, so you can get an idea of what good ones look like (on the bottom) and less good ones. That top right one is objectively a failure of what I was trying to do, but I like the ghostly quality of it, and I'm keeping it for sure.