How to get rid of large non-printing areas of a relief print

This is probably really obvious to anyone who has done lots of relief printing, or who had someone to show them how. But I had to wade through quite a few books and websites and then try it myself to really understand. I don't like the idea of spending hours cutting away a background that won't be printed with linocutting or woodcutting tools. It seems there are three main ways to avoid this:

  • use a stencil of mylar to block off the parts you don't want to print
  • cut away the area you don't want to print (with a jigsaw for wood, or a knife or scissors for lino)
  • use a small brayer and ink up only the section you want to print.

When cutting away what you don't want to print, you can ink the part you want to print and then put it back together for printing, to make sure it is registered correctly. The only problem with cutting away is that you can get a thin line between the sections (the width of the cut).

By the way, this lino was a piece of flooring linoleum and I was unable to get rid of the surface texture which gives the print a very spotty look. I tried sanding it as recommended in some books but it didn't help. It's cheap (in this case, free) but the commercial linocutting blocks don't have that texture.

section of lino cut out and inked separately

Beginning woodcuts

Fish printed in colour on pale orange backgroundI decided to try my hand at woodcuts. I've done a few linocuts and some monoprints and enjoyed the process, and I love the strength of woodcut prints. Here is the process I've worked out so far, by trial and error, reading books and a few blogs.


Do a line drawing on the piece of wood (a very thin piece of plywood). Mark an X in the corner I'm using to register the paper to.

Cut some lines with woodcarving tools - the only one I'm having much luck with so far is the U-shaped one. I also used the Dremel moto tool.

These are the lines that will stay white.

Mix some ink on a plate, scoop it onto a sheet of glass and flatten it with the palette knife. (If I want to avoid some of the cleanup I use acetate instead of glass and throw it away).

Roll the brayer in the ink and roll it onto the wood.

fish in white lines on pale orange background

Place the paper on top of the wood, with the corner of the paper matching up to the corner with the X on it. (Some papers seem to take the print better if they are lightly sprayed with water first).

Place a piece of acetate over the paper. This is if the paper is getting roughed up by the rubbing of the baren.

Use a baren to rub over the print.

Pull up the print.

Cut the shape of the fish out of a piece of acetate, lay it over the wood and roll ink onto the wood. I used baking paper but it stuck to everything and tore so acetate or something similar would work better.

Two woodcuts of fish with the fish shape cut out of paper

Remove the acetate and only the fish shape has ink on it.

In this case I rolled two colours on the brayer without mixing them so it gave a rainbow effect. I used a fair bit of transparent ink mixed into these inks.

Two woodcuts and the prints made from them

Lay the print over the wood, another sheet of acetate on top and then rub it with the baren.

I wanted to save the fish shape but cut it out in order to print only the background for the next layer.

Drill some holes to let the scrollsaw blade through, and then use the scrollsaw to cut out the fish and to round off one edge of the wood. Cutting off the part you don't want to print can save a lot of work with the woodcarving tools.

The fish shape cut out of the sheet of wood by the scroll saw

Ink up the wood and print the next layer.

The wood with the cutout and the print made from it

Since I had saved the fish shape (except for the fins), I did some prints of it as well.


Here is a print that I finished off with some ink and crayon.

Orange fish on green background embellished with yellow crayon and brown ink

Tools and materials

Paper (Hahnemuhle, lightweight for hand printing)


Dinner plate to mix ink


Sheet of glass to roll out ink with brayer


Ink (in this case I used Derivan water based block inks for easy cleanup)

Scroll saw


Dremel moto tool

Woodcarving tools

Pen, crayons

Which digital painting software to use


section of paintingI've been delving into digital painting, and have come across some useful information while reading and talking to friends about the best software tools. I hadn't realised that Photoshop and Paintshop Pro are really only meant for photo editing, and are not so great for digital painting and drawing. I also spent a fair bit of time and effort trying to draw in Illustrator (see my previous blogs). Illustrator wasn't doing what I wanted either. I've tried scanning drawings and then using photo editing tools (see my previous posts) - also not very successful.

Here's what I found out.

Paint Tool SAI II gets good reviews but the documentation is in Japanese.

Corel Painter is highly recommended but a big learning curve.

Corel Painter Lite is recommended for people beginning digital painting, fine artists and students, because it doesn't have an overwhelming number of options and might actually have enough for your needs. There's a helpful review on and another one on PC World.

Corel Painter and Painter Lite are compatible with Photoshop and Photoshop Essentials.

I also found a useful tip in Digital Painting for the Complete Beginner, by Carlyn Beccia:

Because CMYK is a smaller color space, you should always paint in RGB and only switch to CMYK when you are ready to pass your work off to an offset printer. Unfortunately, you cannot convert Painter files to CMYK. When you are ready to prepare your Painter files for press, save your files as .PSD and open them in Photoshop.

I already have Photoshop Essentials, and Painter Lite was only $19 (usually $69, and Painter is $199, usually $299 - until May 15) so I decided to try Painter Lite with Photoshop as needed for saving to CMYK. Now I just need a bigger Wacom tablet.

See my next post for my next big learning curve experience.

Keeping control over CreateSpace, Kindle and ePub versions


Here are some lessons I've learned about formatting for Print on Demand and ebooks. I hope they save you some time! The CreateSpace templates for Word that include defined styles, headers and footers cause more problems than they solve, if you want to tweak the layout at all. If you have a good knowledge of Word, you can do a better job of the formatting by using the template that only has the page size and margins defined. I ignored this advice on my first POD project and wasted a lot of time trying to fix the problems.

Saving a Word file as PDF compresses images so much that they fail the CreateSpace internal review. There is a solution for this (see the post by Chris McMullen that I reblogged on Starbytes Press "Fighting Word's picture compression"). Alternatively, you can upload the Word file and CreateSpace will produce the PDF with the images at the correct resolution for printing.

The 'also publish on Kindle' button in CreateSpace uses a PDF to create the ebook (according to David Harris from Amazon's KDP support forums). It's better to keep control over the ebook formatting.

You can use 'curly quotes' in the print-on-demand publication as well as in the ebook versions.

Word has options for automatic and manual hyphenation. If you use justified text you'll need to hyphenate some words at the end of a line. Manual hyphenation highlights recommended words for hyphenation but allows you to decide in each instance. Turn it off for the ebook versions.

Publishing to CreateSpace seems intimidating, but you will be guided through the process. So far I've found the support team respond promptly and appropriately to my questions, and the automated support and forums are helpful.

For publishing the ebook versions, if you are comfortable with HTML and CSS, I recommend learning how to read, write and adjust the code, and keep control over the whole process. I've spent time working with software tools like Sigil and Calibre, and found that in the long run, it saves time to do it yourself. See my post in StarBytes Press, Making ePubs from scratch. And you can look forward to seeing messages like these: Kindlegen message: Mobi file created successfully ePubCheck message: no errors or warnings detected Amazon message 'upload and conversion successful: zero possible spelling errors

Christmas 2013


Christmas tree made with rubber printing blockA dodgy Christmas tree, cut in a Speedball printing block. Fun but there is so much to cut away - painting is easier. I originally thought I would be able to register the block on the cards and have another block with ornaments etc - obviously didn't think it through - so I ended up using marker pens and stickers to finish them. Some of the stickers are covering accidents with the ink - the printing block is kind of floppy so it's quite hard to avoid getting ink where you didn't want it. Anyway they have a kind of chunky handmade look that I like.

Of birds and banksias

Continuing my monotype experiments, I decided to try 'chine de colle' technique. Let me warn you, there is more to this than you might think from a quick perusal of a few websites and youtube videos. The theory is that you use some type of glue to adhere tissue paper to the print, at the same time as you print the ink onto it. Maybe it works better in a printing press. Anyway, my tissue paper stuck nicely to the surface of the inked plate instead of coming off onto the paper as it was supposed to.

I cut out new pieces of tissue paper and glued them down with the binder medium, then put some watercolour and oil pastel on top. Here's a crooked photo of it. You can see the paper brand imprinted at the bottom - it looks really cool! Not sure if the tissue paper colour is permanent. Anyway it was fun experimenting.

Also did another swamp hen monotype. It's called 'Ready for action'.

And this one - 'Greeting the dawn'.

Experiments with monotype and watercolour

I've been playing with some printing techniques. The fox print was done by cutting stamps and using black oil-based printing ink, then painting watercolour on top (with almost disastrous results for my best watercolour brush - apparently you have to let the ink dry for several days).
Yesterday I tried monoprint techniques. I rolled water-based printing ink onto a mirror, scraped and wiped out a design, and added a couple of bits of string (does that make it a collograph?)
I laid a failed watercolour painting facedown in the ink (I have a big collection of those, I knew they'd come in handy one day!) and pressed the back to transfer the ink.
This is the result. Now I think I'll try some pastel over the top.

Scanning artwork

It seems so obvious - the scans of my artwork have been disappointingly washed-out. It finally occurred to me to check some of the extra settings on my scanner. By changing the darkness, contrast and colour balance, I got the scanned image to look like the actual painting. However, that's onscreen, and I know different monitors make images look different - a large monitor with high resolution makes an image look paler. I suppose if I want to print the image I might not want to make those adjustments.Anyway, here is the same picture I scanned last week, with the adjustments - darker, more contrast and more magenta. On my monitor, at least, it looks just the same as the original.

Printing with ink and watercolour

I was inspired by the amazing woodcuts and watercolour washes in the illustrations  by Holly Meade  for 'In the Sea' by David Elliott. I cut stamps (out of rubber, not wood!) and used oil based ink to print them onto paper and some lines with a lithographic crayon. Then I did a couple of watercolour washes over the top.

All was going well until I went to wash my brushes and found that they have a sticky black coating. Dunked them in turps, wiped with rags, then rinsed with soap, warm water, more soap. Hope they will be okay. Was it the printers ink or the crayon, I wonder? I guess you have to wait more than an hour for the ink to dry. Still, I like the effect.