Three weeks ago, I attended a three-day workshop hosted by the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center on the campus of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The Longhouse brought together master artist Marwin Begaye (Navajo) to work with a group of Native artists on linoleum-block cut printmaking. Many of the artists in the workshop are well-established in other media, but relatively inexperienced with printmaking or lack ready access to these particular materials.
The workshop was funded by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, which awarded the Longhouse a grant to bring 5 artists to the Longhouse. The NACF was established in 2007 as a national granting organization dedicated to the revitalization, appreciation and perpetuation of Native arts and cultures. Marwin Begaye is the third master artist to lead a workshop through the NACF Longhouse program. John Smith (Skokomish) inaugurated the program by leading two workshops on making cedar canoe paddles. Louie Gong (Nooksack) led a later workshop in which he worked with Native 6th-8th grade youths making their own designs on shoes.
The three-day printmaking workshop was very intensive – we worked in the printmaking studio from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Marwin Begaye introduced us to his own printmaking practice, showing us carved wood blocks and the prints he made with them. His work is incredibly detailed. Each of the prints in the series he brought featured a particular species of bird, such as a scissortail hawk, against a complex background of a repeating pattern.
Marwin Begaye got us started drawing out the designs we wanted to make for our linocut prints. We got right down to business, talking about the ideas for our designs and sharing sketches with each other. The participants in the workshop came from many different backgrounds, and we shared the inspiration for the prints, including traditional stories, family stories, stories about the plants, animals, and cultural practices at the center of our artistic ideas. Here are the artists who participated in the workshop, and their affiliations:
Michael Holloman (Colville)
Van Holloman (Colville)
Alex McCarty (Makah)
Paul Nicholson (Legacy Art Gallery)
Louie Gong (Nooksack)
Yvonne Peterson (Chehalis)
Kayeri Akweks (Mohawk)
Lillian Pitt (Warm Springs/Wasco/Yakama)
Laura Grabhorn (Tlingit)
Bonnie Graft (Muckleshoot)
Tina Kuckkahn-Miller (Ojibwe)
Lara Evans (Cherokee)
Marwin Begaye (Navajo) is a professor in the fine arts department at University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK.
Here is a video showing the steps of printing from a linoleum block.
It was a great experience. I finally developed some basic proficiency, at least in terms of keeping my hands clean enough not to leave smudgy fingerprints everywhere – that’s what happened to last time I did any printmaking. My husband came to visit and recorded some footage of me pulling a print. I definitely still feel like a beginner at printmaking, but came away with twenty new prints and stories, laughter, and a sense that art is at the center of survival – it ties together many forms of knowledge and keeps us talking and sharing across cultural and geographic boundaries.
Interested in the technical aspects of the printmaking process we used?
1) Remember, everything will be backward! When including text, write the words out on a transparency with a Sharpie, flip the transparency over (so your writing is backward), place it on top of carbon paper on top of your lino block, and trace the words.
2) Draw out your design with a Sharpie on the lino block. Stay consistent – ask yourself if you’re drawing the sections you want to carve out, or the sections you intend to leave uncarved. Only the relief (raised) area will print.
3) Use a rag to rub a light coat of india ink over the rubbery linoleum surface. When you carve away the top surface, it is easier to see what you’ve carved.
4) Warm up your lino block! It’s easier to carve when it’s warm. We used a special hot plate designed for this purpose. Using heat will make the block curl a bit, but that won’t matter if you’re using a press at the printing stage.
5) Done carving? It’s time to prep your paper and make a registration page. The registration page is the same size as the paper you will finally print on, but it can just be cheap paper, like newsprint. Use a ruler and pencil to mark out where on the page the printed image will go. Usually, you want the image centered left-to-right, but with about a third more empty space along the bottom edge than the top edge. Trace around the edge of your lino block.
6) Prep your ink. We used Daniel Smith’s Relief Oil-based Ink. It’s high quality and manufactured right here in Washington State. It also cleans up with in a two-step process with vegetable oil and Simple Green. Use a brayer to spread the ink out evenly. See the video above for a demonstration, including the special sound you hear when the ink is the right consistency.
7) What about the paper? We used Rives Lightweight Paper. It’s 100% cotton and does well with small-scale printmaking.
8 ) Roll your ink onto your lino block with the brayer and then place the block on top of your registration page. WASH YOUR HANDS! I got ink on mine every time. Grrrr!
9) Match up the edges of your good paper with your registration page – gently, carefully!
10) You can get a decent print at home without using a press. Use the back of a wooden spoon and move it in small, even circles over the back of your paper while it is sitting on top of your inked block. I’m not that patient. I used the brand new Takach Etching Press in the printmaking studio. It was really neat to see by its metal manufacturer’s tag that it was made just this past February in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All our materials were American-made, except for the Rives paper (made in France).
11) It takes a long time for the ink to dry – don’t underestimate it!
12) Label your print in pencil and you’re done. Ever wonder what the numbers mean? The first number is the order in which you pulled the impression. The second number is the number of impressions made from that block. If you only make one, then switch ink colors or change the block, then that one you printed can be labelled AP, for “Artist’s Proof,” instead of using numbers.