Impressions of the year

Pt 1 Back to the middle or don’t put that spoon in the soup!

I’ve made cards at Christmas for years and years, from poster-paint handprint trees on sugar paper to elaborate paper cut-outs. It’s a good thing to do, especially if you are too broke for presents or wanting to divert children from pre-Christmas hysteria. Last year, for the first time since I was in middle school, I decided to do some lino prints.

Those cards started right where I had left off at eight or nine: thin brown lino with a hairy hessian back and toasted organic smell (printing lino is made from a mix of sawdust and linseed oil, heated under pressure). The cutter was a fat teardrop handle of red plastic with some disposable metal blades which slotted into the top. I also bought a plywood bench hook (to avoid gouging holes in fingers or furniture) and some carbon paper – something I also hadn’t seen for a while – to transfer designs onto the lino.

Over a week or two I scraped out a couple of simple designs (a pine tree in snow; a moonlit hare; some mistletoe). The kit came with a small tube of gritty black water-based ink and a roller, and with the high-tech addition of a wooden spoon to apply pressure, I printed out the designs on some card blanks. Although the process was a bit haphazard and several problems became obvious (the ink was very unpredictable, sometime patchy and sometimes leaving great gobs of black obliterating all the detail; applying even pressure was difficult and quickly made my hands ache; lining up the print on the cards was fiddly) most of the cards turned out OK. Some were better than others, for sure, but handmade cards should be a bit shonky, I think.
Having to go through making an image without being able to see it until right at the end turned out to be mildly exciting, like a very low-stakes game of blackjack. The way the whole process broke down into discrete steps that could fit into little slots of available time was useful, as was being able to work indoors without heaving the furniture about. I quite liked the way printing makes you think about design. Plus it’s daft to say you do art and then have to buy cards, surely? So when work decided to pay me a small bonus, I thought I would use it to see what else I could do with printing…

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