Hand carved blocks have been used for centuries for stamping graphic images and designs onto cloth and other surfaces. Traditionally they were made from wood and metal. In the 1970's it became popular to carve the images into linoleum floor tiles which were softer to carve. The softer medium allowed more women to step into the printing arena because the new material was more suited to their physical capabilities.
Linoleum floor tiles were made from a linseed oil mixture, that was dehydrated and rolled flat onto a hessian base cloth.
When linoleum floor tiling went out of fashion, and was replaced with other more modern floor finishes, manufacturers continued to make lino for the craft industry.
I discovered lino blocks for the first time in 1993. The first time I worked with it I fell in love with the versatile potential of this craft. The leather in this picture was printed with an ornate lino block that I carved in 1999. This delicate block took me three weeks to make.
I was priveleged to see a collection of Penny Le Roy blocks from the 1970's some time back and I was very interested to note that the modern lino that you buy from a craft shop is a fraction of the thickness of the material that was a available back then when it was more widely used for flooring. Today it is just a sliver of tile that you work on. Although the thickness of the block does not affect the printed image, it does affect the handling and lifespan of your modern blocks.
Lino tiles are inclined to become brittle and cracked, especially if you use them with water-based inks. I am no longer able to use the one in the picture above because it has just become too brittle with age. Old lino blocks can be rehabilitated and cared for with a coating of linseed oil to feed it.
In the mean time, I have discovered a wonderful new material that is available. It is a rubber sheet that you can buy at craft shops to do the same job. The rubber is butter-soft to carve, flexible to work with, easy to clean and it does not become brittle when used with water-based inks.
Although we live in the modern age of full colour digital printing, it cannot beat the charm of a hand made print for me. I love hand crafts. Hand made items give you a glimpse into the mind of the creative behind the work. The level of care required to produce beautiful prints can only be carried out by a true artisan with a love for their medium.
In our mass-produced world, hand made prints represent individuality and a love of old-fashioned processes. While machines can deliver quicker, better, more...they cannot deliver the love and care that lies behind authentic hand made prints. They cannot translate the language of love that the artisan speaks through his medium.
Have a great day in full colour!