Frank the cat printed on paper

Extremely Beginner Block Printing

I got a beginner’s linocut set recently, and I immediately fell in love.

I can’t pretend that I know anything whatsoever about the art form or block printing techniques (I’ll freely admit I’ve done no research yet), but the act of slicing pieces off of a linoleum block is the most satisfying thing I think I’ve ever done. I distinctly remember trying linocut as a child in art class one day and thinking, “Wow, this really clicked with me. Cutting stuff up is so fun, and I made a cool dragon!” But, somehow, it took another twenty years for me to realize that maybe I could cut blocks outside of art class too.

I’ve now completed five blocks, most of which I probably won’t ever return to (RIP to the one that wound up in the trash). But I recently finished a print of my cat, Frank, that I’m truly happy with, so I wanted to share a few thoughts.

First of all: it’s incredible to have art of your cat. I have some friends who decorated their living room with drawings of all of their pets made by various family and friends. They’ve said they specifically like having art around to honor their pets while they’re living—it’s happier that way. I’m not very sentimental, but I have to admit there’s something to that. Looking at a print of my cat and thinking, “wow, he’s really great!” right before heading downstairs and seeing the real guy in the flesh is a big mood booster.

I also learned so much by working on this piece: varying stripe sizes, working around weird fur patterns, interpreting lines on the go. Mostly what I took away from the experience is that you have so much flexibility working with linoleum. Yes, every cut you make is permanent, but because you’re peeling off the negative space there’s a lot of room for adjustment. When I cut one stripe oddly, all I had to do was cut the next a little differently than my guidelines to make it weave together.

Block cutting feels a lot like watercolor (another medium I’ve picked up looking for a change and ultimately put down). You have to start off knowing where you want the white space to be. But because with linocut you’re printing with heavy ink, there’s a lot more forgiveness to the process. I used a dull pencil to sketch out my original idea (And I mean dull—you don’t want to damage the linoleum with anything sharp at this stage.). I drew over it in black marker to plan exactly how I wanted the stripes to flow. And then as I made cuts I adjusted those initial lines with my blades until I came out with something I was happy with.

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a huge ball of anxiety. Every day I think, “And I making the right life choices?” “Did I say something wrong?” “Oh my god, I made the cat mad, and he won’t ever forgive me now.” I’ve discovered that it’s healthy to have a flexible medium to play with. It’s somewhere I can make mistakes—and they’re real mistakes, not something my brain invented—and most importantly? I can fix them.

In this place, when I’ve done something wrong, no one knows it but me.

Frank carved in linoleum beside Frank the real cat

Last Edited: 5.6.2021 | Return to Blog Index