Saguaro Blooms Linoleum Cut

It’s late April and the saguaro cacti are blooming again! Simple white flowers cluster atop the arms of the cactus, resembling crowns. I love the elegance of the lines in the flowers and I wanted to include the blooms in my I Left My Heart in Tucson series. Here’s how I created this set of linoleum block prints!

 Saguaro Cactus Blooms

This is the reference photo I used for the illustration. I took this picture of the cactus in my backyard. There’s even a bee near one of the flowers! Since I knew I was ultimately going to use the drawing for a linoleum cut, I kept the lines much simpler than I normally would have for a painting or drawing. It was helpful for me to know what I normally do when I draw so I could be more rigorous about editing out information that would have made the process more difficult for me later.

Here is the completed illustration, inked and almost ready for transfer. I scanned it into my computer and enlarged it in Photoshop, then printed it out. Then I traced the image onto tracing paper in pen.

It gets a little tricky here because the print will turn out mirrored or backwards from what you see when you’re looking at the linoleum. With an image it’s not as important as it would be with text to pay attention to the orientation of your work, but personally I like the print to turn out facing the way it was when I drew it. I went over the lines with a very soft pencil so that the graphite would transfer easily to the surface of the linoleum. I cut the tracing paper to fit the size of the block I was working with, four and a half inches by 6 inches. I found out the hard way that the tape will not stick to the linoleum block, so I taped it to a piece of paper that was underneath the linoleum.

The reason I used pen to go over the lines initially was so that I could see them very well through the tracing paper, especially since I was also going to be using graphite on the same surface and I didn’t want to be confused about what lines I needed to trace once I flipped the paper over. I used a mechanical pencil to actually go over the lines and transfer them to the linoleum so it will be clear what was a smudge and what was a line. Once I went over all the lines, I removed the paper and, using the tracing paper as a reference, made sure all my lines were correct and clear because the next step was carving!

Carving kit with attachments

I’m pretty sure I originally bought this tool to carve jack-o’-lanterns with. You can see from each of the attachments laid out that they are curved with a blade at the end so they cut and scoop out grooves as you work. I think I only used one attachment as I carved the entire block, and that’s the super tiny one. That’s how I normally work, in fine details, no matter how hard I try not to!

Close-up of how the tool works

I went around all the shapes first in order to establish the lines so I wouldn’t get confused later. Whatever is carved out doesn’t get printed and whatever’s left does. I wish that I had colored in all the shapes that I wanted to be printed because I did get a little mixed up and carved things I shouldn’t have in one of the flowers. The character of the flowers is what I really wanted to showcase with this piece, so that was a little disappointing.

The finished carving

One of the things I really enjoy about this medium is all the extra little lines and texture you get from the act of carving itself. I tried to keep that in mind as I worked so that the print would still be cohesive.

Since the ink I purchased was water-based, I couldn’t do watercolor washes after I printed because it would just smear the ink everywhere and ruin the print. So I did watercolor washes on watercolor paper cut to the size of the linoleum block before I printed, using bright primary colors for spring. After each wash dried, I added gold flecks using a Finetec watercolor palette. This was a good process for me because it forced me to be more abstract and not as specific about color and placement as I normally am.

Yes! Once the washes we’re completely dry, it was time to ink up my block! This roller is called a brayer and it rolls the ink evenly over what you’re printing. I tried to be sure to pick up all the fine lines as I was inking the block. Next, I placed one of my dry watercolor papers, wash side down, over the wet ink and pressed down gently to get the ink to adhere to the page and hold it in place. I have a small flat wooden magnetic stand for one of those art figurine guys that you use to reference figure sketches with that I rubbed over the back of the paper to press it down and make sure that the ink from the block transfers evenly to the surface of the paper. They do make an actual tool for that, but I just used what I had at the moment.

Finished print!

This process was fun because I was never really sure where the block print would land over the washes, so I always was nicely surprised by how each one turned out. I scanned each print after I signed and numbered them, so later in the year I’ll have the set  available as greeting cards.  I sold most of the prints from this run and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make another set just because I love how these turned out so much. Individual originals will be available for purchase both in person at the next couple art markets that I do and soon on my online store!

Thanks for reading! If you give it a try, tag me in your post. I’d love to see what you come up with!

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