Laura Wilder Making a
Block Print Tutorial

So interesting: Here is the blog Laura wrote as she was creating this block print:

Just before arriving here (Laura‘s Vermont summer cottage), I had spent a few weeks working on a new edition of block prints at a fairly hectic pace, with the usual brain strain and head-scratching technical glitches. They say that the artistic process, not the product, is where the magic resides. Huh. Angst, definitely. Magic? You be the judge... (follow the photos L to R with the text below)

The inspiration for this block print had come from two walks:

1) one through woods on a foggy morning,

2) and one through a neighborhood full of flowering trees.

Imagining a flowering tree in a misty woods, I spent a coupleof weeks drawing and re-drawing a color sketch. I pondered how many colors it would need, and in what order they should be printed.That was the brain strain part. I cut a piece of linoleum, and mounted it on board. No carving was needed, since this was going to be a solid block of background mist color. Mist is white, but taking some artistic license, I mixed a light aqua blue.

3) Bob (husband) has the brute strength to cut thick stacks of paper to size on the old paper cutter, and he had presented me with about 200 sheets. So I printed them all. Next, I drew the background layer of trees with a Sharpie on acetate, taped it to the linoleum face down (to make a backwards image so it will print frontwards), slid transfer paper underneath and traced the drawing.

4) Here's the drawing on the block...

5) ...and here's the carving.

6) The carving part is mainly fun and relaxing. No decision-making required. Fire up an audiobook (Robert B. Parker is a favorite), dig into the soft linoleum, follow my outlines and plow away, removing all the negative space. This carving probably took about five or six hours. I locked the carved block in place on the press, mixed up a sort of grey-blue ink, inked up the block...

7) ...And printed.

8) This layer of trees is pale and blue, since it's in the far distance. The trees look severely pruned at the tops on purpose, because much of that area will be covered by future printings. If I've planned it right. The next carving was for leaves and forest floor in the second layer of trees. I've been trying to carve more areas to just meet at the edges, like puzzle pieces, because too many overlapping layers of ink can cause trouble, and too much shine. So I carved empty shapes where tree trunks should fit in later. (Do I have the chops to achieve that kind of precision?) To save time, I peeled off the linoleum between leaves and ground, where no carving was needed.

9) This carving required a darker, greener blue than the last layer, to bring it forward a bit.

10) In order to achieve really precise carvings and “puzzle piece” printings, I put a sheet of clear acetate over the previous print and made a sharpie drawing for the next carving. 

11) It would be tree trunks, and I was hoping to make them fit perfectly in the spaces created in the last printing. These tree trunks were even more aggressively pruned than that first layer, for the same reason...


13) ...and on the press

14) The tree trunk shapes fit nicely into their slots. Hurray! But they were also kind of see-through. Huh.  That was not in the plan... What did I think of this translucent ink accident?

15) Well, it was a little weird. But it was also kind of dreamy-looking. And it showed the layering process. I decided to go with it. As I've told my workshop students, at times like these you say, with great conviction, “That is the charm of the handmade print.” (Thanks to my printmaking guru Ron Netsky for this invaluable quote) Next step for my so-called “charming” handmade print was to carve more tree trunks and branches. I also cut away little holes that I hoped would be precisely filled with blossom shapes later on.

16) Was I making things way too difficult in the effort to avoid ink overlap? I also added a bit of path at the bottom. Maybe it's a path made by deer. Maybe the path will invite the viewer into this misty woods.

17) This block gets a sort of plum-colored ink.

18) Yay, the trunks fit into their slots! Oooo. I love the lacy quality of the little holes I left for leaves and blossoms. Next I need to print the leaves and ground foliage that go with the new trunks.

19) Here's the carving, with slightly darker, greener ink than previous layers of foliage. Emboldened by my success in getting shapes on separate blocks to fit together, I carved a spiky bottom edge into which foreground blades of grass should fit, and little spaces for the dark deer path. This was way more precision than I've ever attempted, however, and I started to get nervous. I ran a few prints, adjusting the position of both paper and block, trying to get things to line up. I used up all twenty-plus of my previously botched prints, and forged ahead, botching up more and more good ones. Finally the leaves fell into place, but that dang ol' path down below would not. I had created a monster. The only possibly solution was to peel the lower section up and move it about a thirty-second of an inch down. IF such a thing could be done.

20) I moved it, and printed... No good. Moved it again... Nope. It took about seven or eight moves, and more prints down the drain, but finally I got a good one.

21) Glory hallelujah! Then I carefully traced that line of spiky grass shapes onto acetate with a sharpie and transferred the image to the next block.

22) To really bring this hunk of grass out of the mist and into the foreground, I violated my long-standing personal rule to never use Golf Pants Green in printmaking. (Breaking rules is fun.)

23) Holy cow, my grass shapes fit into their tiny spiky slots! I paused and gave humble thanks for having made it this far, still with well over one hundred perfect prints, and only two colors left to go. Okay, now my block print needed a blossoming tree for the foreground. I was dreaming of a certain species of tree as I designed it, but that species shall remain nameless, so that it can be whatever tree you want it to be.

24) Sheesh, it's got a lot of blossoms.

25) After one printing, the pink was too weak. So I ran each print through the press twice, to get a more opaque, bright pink.

26) Better, but dang it, they still don't quite “pop” the way I'd envisioned...While the prints dried, I went home and spent a day working out whether I should surround the blossoms with some Golf Pants Green leaves, to bring them forward. But would that clutter up the scene and obscure my lovely background woods? Ugh. Probably. So the next day I went back with the same block, mixed up a warmer pink ink, and gave the prints two more hits.

27) Ah. That did it. And then I was onto the last (eighth) carving and the last (tenth) printing. Unless I screwed it up. This carving would print a black border, branches and foreground path. I was nervous that the border might not land exactly on the edges of my print. And the edges were a little uneven, so the border needed to cover all that up.

28) Why the little hole in the linoleum, you ask? We had to leave for our country vacation in two days, and these prints had to be finished, dried, scanned, and put into our online store before departure! Plus all the packing and whatnot... I got a little impatient.

29) But thanks to my Printmaking angels, the last printing worked beautifully. “Spring Mist” is born!  I hope this print might offer you an escape to a quiet little dreamland.

Reprinted with permission, we hope you enjoyed Laura’s blog on creating this beautiful new block print.

You can order below.


Picture Name  Size   Quantity  Price   Additional
Spring Mist framed MSF Block Print
w/gray matte Limited Edition of 120 prints
 17 1/2" x 21" $325.00  ---
Spring Mist framed MSF Block Print
w/black matte Limited Edition of 120 prints
 17 1/2" x 21" $325.00  ---
Click underlined product names to view a picture of the item.