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Tinting Block Prints with Watercolor
by Molly Hashimoto

After working as a watercolor artist for years, I tried out the Safety-Kut blocks and fell in love with printmaking after my very first carving. I found it was a way to create art with high values contrast—that’s not easily achieved in watercolor.


Step 1. Draw the image on Canson vellum drawing paper.

Step 2. Darken image with a 5B pencil.

Step 3. Transfer the drawing to the block. Lay the drawing face down on the Safety-Kut block. Rub vigorously with a baren to transfer the drawing.

Step 4. Begin carving. I start with the most difficult sections first, thus giving myself the option of starting over on a new block if I carve away too much. The goldfinches were the obvious choice to begin with. I like to begin with the small Speedball U-gouge, and I try to follow the contours of the object I’m carving. The carved strokes follow the contours of the bird’s swelling breast and abdomen. Where wing feathers are straight, it’s fine to use a straight carved line. When I want to carve out greater sections I use a larger U-gouge. The V-gouge is handy for running along a ruler to create a very straight-edged line.

Tinting Block Prints

Step 5. Prepare the Magnani Pescia printmaking paper. I usually allow for a border of at least 2” all around so that I can trim it down to an even width after the print has dried. Some waste will take place, so allow for a few waste sheets.

Step 6. Prepare the ink. Squeeze about an inch of Daniel Smith water-based Black ink onto the glass or plexiglass. Use the brayer to roll it out to a very thin layer that covers most of the plexiglass. If it’s too tacky you can use a spray bottle to mist a small amount of water onto the ink to thin it.

Tinting Block Prints

Step 7. Apply the ink to the block. With the brayer, roll out the ink onto the Safety-Kut block until it evenly coats all the raised sections of the block.

Step 8. Make a proof. I use newsprint for the first proofs. Lay a piece of newsprint onto the block. Press down firmly to secure it. Now rub vigorously with a baren. It may take as long as 5 minutes of careful rubbing to transfer all the ink so don’t be too impatient. Check the proof to see if you need to do more carving.

Step 9. Make the print. Repeat the process of step 8, but use the printmaking paper.

Step 10. Make corrections. Remove the print and examine for areas where ink did not adhere. Use a small paintbrush moistened with water and dipped onto the ink that remains on the plexiglass and dab ink onto the spots where ink didn’t stick.

Tinting Block Prints

Step 11. Tint with watercolor. After allowing the ink to dry for a few days, you can now use watercolors on the print. I began with the colors lightest in value: the yellow of goldfinches, then the rose and magenta of the clematis, then orange of the poppies, then the blue shadows on the birdbath. Next I painted the bright green leaves and stems, using a mixture of Hansa Yellow Medium and Phthalo Blue(GS). Last, I painted the dark background which gradates from light yellow green to darker blue green to lighter yellow again, neutralizing the green with the addition of Quinacridone Burnt Orange.

The watercolor paint that you prepare has to be more saturated than if you were painting on watercolor paper. The printmaking paper absorbs the colors more and they appear much lighter when dry. Wet into wet and gradations are a little more difficult than on watercolor paper, but still work well. Because of the simplicity of these types of designs, with bold folk-art color and pattern, the subtlety of gradation is not necessary, so don’t worry if your colors seem too flat. Finally, if your print has buckled after the use of watercolor, you can flatten it under heavy books once the watercolors have dried.