On Saturday, I attended a block printing workshop, taught by Jesse Breytenbach, a Cape Town-based illustrator and printmaker. Jesse has a Masters in printmaking and many years’ experience of relief printing, producing beautiful textiles like these:
The last time I tried printmaking was ‘carving’ into styrofoam with a pencil in primary school(!), but I love learning and I love making things, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to learn a new skill from a world expert in this craft.
I loved that this workshop wasn’t a class to make a specific project, but a way to learn the skills and techniques which we can then apply to any projects in future. Jesse just told us to draw simple shapes and then start to carve them….
We used plastic easycut lino and learnt how to use a selection of carving tools to turn our drawn shapes (above) into a block ready to print from (below).
Jesse (below, left) walked around throughout and offered help and insight to all the participants. It was so useful to hear all her tips and expertise as the workshop progressed.
I started out far too timidly with carving away the excess material, but by the end of the class I really felt like I understood the process: how to make clear outlines, how to carve fine and deep lines, how to efficiently clear away unwanted material, and how to check if the block is finished or needs a bit more work.
Then it was time for the messy part: inking up our blocks and printing onto fabric!
Everyone else’s test blocks were far more ambitious than mine – I just wanted to learn to carve, but the others made far more complex shapes with more fine detail and multiple colours. Here are some of my favourite prints from other participants:
Looking at the variety of blocks we made, you can start to see how versatile this medium is. It was really interesting to see how all the different types of blocks behaved when they were printed.
I rotated my simple ‘boring’ block to make different patterns, which was fun and yielded some surprisingly interesting patterns! These were just test prints, so I tried to judge the spacing and angles by eye, but, with a few registration marks so I could print them evenly, I think I could make some really nice prints from my little block.
This workshop was such an enjoyable and creative morning. I usually make things in isolation, so it was really fun to be creative in a group setting and get to see what other people were making. I’d definitely recommend learning a new craft from an expert, if you get the chance – they can point out exactly where you’re going wrong so there’s a lot less trial-and-error and having to figure things out for yourself.
If you live in or near Cape Town, I can highly recommend learning about block printing from Jesse! If you’re interested, contact Jesse for more information or to sign up for her mailing list for notification of her next workshop dates.
Once I got home I felt so fired up by learning a new skill, I really wanted to do some more carving. My ultimate goal when taking this class was to be able to carve a block in the shape of my PlanetJune yarn planet logo. Before I went to the workshop, I thought I’d need lots of practice before I even attempted it, but I was so excited by the whole process that I couldn’t stop myself from getting started right away, on the same day…
As a novice with only a few hours’ carving experience, I knew I’d probably mess up the carving a few times and waste some lino, and I was prepared for that to happen. But I took it slowly and steadily and remembered Jesse’s advice, and, somehow, I didn’t make any critical errors – I even remembered to carve my block as a mirror image so the design will print the right way round!
And a couple of hours after starting, I’d gone from a square of blank lino and a piece of plain fabric to a PlanetJune yarn planet print…
I’m so excited by all this! It feels really special to have my own hand-carved block so I can print my own hand-designed logo.
What am I going to do with it? Well, I’m planning to sew up some project bags to store my crochet works-in-progress, and print my logo in one corner of each one. They’ll be PlanetJune projects in more ways than one – isn’t that just perfect?!