Alright, so 2 years are in the bag now since I decided to give this whole art thing a shot. I've learned a lot in terms of time management, improving my craft, improving my engagement and social media, and learning about my audience. I also know that I have a long way to go still, and I'm ok with that. I want to start my review with Market Collective since I just finished my most recent one!
Artisan craft fairs
I'm cheating a bit here because I'm going to start this in December, 2018 which was my first artisan craft fair. If you've been following my story at all, it all started at a craft fair in Millarville, Alberta where I said, "I should be doing this". I gave myself 1 year to build a body of work, get all my start up in order, and apply for a market, and do it...and I did it! I've since done 3 art fairs, all with the group Market Collective in Calgary, AB. I'll provide links below. I'm not here to brag about numbers, or anything like that. In fact, I have no idea if my numbers are any good in relation to other artists in the same art fair. All I can compare is my current outing to my last two outings.
Full disclosure, if you are an artist interested in numbers and a more detailed break down, contact me directly and I will be more than happy to share my actual numbers. For the sake of this blog, I will be referring to my numbers in terms of algebra.
In my first market, if | made X amount of money, then I made approximately 2X at my second show in May. This time, I made 3X. I look at that growth as a great personal success, and I am really only competing against myself. I met a lot of great artists in the last year at Market Collective, and I wish them nothing but success. I am only interested in how I can improve my own practice.
The first go was mostly just to dip my toe in the pool. The second time, I had a slightly better feel for what the Market would bring, and by the third market, I had established a good body of new work that I was really passionate about, and I think that passion shines through the work, thus people are really interested in it. The first market, I made fairly generic work about a subject matter I'm pretty passionate about. At my second market, I had more to offer and a few unique offerings as well, but by the third market, I had a body of work in a unique style that was true to me using a subject that is dear to my heart.
I am of course talking about relief printing, linocut. It's pretty much the perfect fit for my work and style. It also offers a really unique middle ground between original art and art prints. It's sort of like an original for the people. It might be a print, but each print is unique. Each print has the artist hand involved. Each print is it's own, and each print is...affordable. Accessible art for the masses is a really cool thing in my mind, and printmaking sort of exists in the sweet spot of a venn diagram. It checks all the boxes, and that means someone can have an original piece of art in her home without the huge price tag. It feels a little more honest to me than selling digital prints. Now don't get me wrong, I am not knocking digital prints, and still fully intend to sell them, but the audience interested in the digital print usually has a different agenda than the viewer looking at the handmade prints. Both have valid interests and desires, and I'm interested in connecting with both those viewers. I'm only trying to find all my audiences.
There are three audiences I have been able to establish so far.
Audience A, the person purchasing a digital print. This person is not really interested in being an art collector. This person sees an image he likes and wants the image for the wall. There are a number of motives. This person loves the subject, the style, the colours, or the work matches a theme in his living room. As this audience is more casual, she isn't interested in paying a large amount for work, and will simply move on to the booth offering the best price in the ballpark of what she is looking for.
Audience B, the person purchasing a handmade print. This person is looking for something handmade or rustic, having a vintage or classic feel, and is maybe a little more interested in collecting art, but either can't afford to or maybe she is new to collecting. This person wants to invest in your work, and he is usually interested in following it has he feels he has made a small beginning investment into the world of collecting. Both Audience A & B do cross over as well. I have people who follow my work from both columns.
Audience C, the person interested in purchasing original artwork, and is often only interested in your originals. This is the market I have yet to crack at Market Collective. In fact, to date, I have not sold a single original. To be fair, it may also not be me, it may just be the market. I don't see anyone really trying to sell originals. I do have them on display as often people are interested in browsing, and at times I have been very, very, very close to selling an original but then the person backs down at the last second. Because this person is usually only interested in originals, it's often an all or nothing proposition, so you don't just lose the sale of the original, they won't even entertain the notion of buying the far more affordable print. I suppose I could try to push the focus of originals, but that's a big gamble, as the buy in for a weekend is about $600 when you just look at booth price, taxes and parking.
If anyone has cracked this market in the same setting that I'm selling in (an artisan market, not a specific art fair), please, I would love to hear from you. Any tips or help would be greatly appreciated! My fear is that I would have to get all the work framed, and I know how costly that would be.
What did I do wrong?
Now, I will say this, I was projecting that I would do even better than I did, but I also started an illustration contract (that I am not at liberty to discuss yet) which definitely shifted my focus away from Market Collective. Some of my failures this year, I tried a new wall display system that epically failed! It fell down so often, it was just a mess by day 3. It worked great in my garage where no one came near it or touched it for a month. Live and learn. I transport everything in a pretty small car, and I don't want my setup to become too crazy. I want to find a wall solution that is simple to transport and looks nice.
Secondly, I did too much salon style hanging. Next time I have a stab at this I will look at hanging maybe 3 or 4 pieces that pull people in and keep the small stuff on the table for people to look through. You will always have pinnacle pieces that people love. For me, I can think of about 3 or 4. One of my all time favourited pieces is my Great Horned Owl Watercolour. I say favourited, because it is not one of my favourites (the curse of being an artist in any genre), but people love it, so I drag it out like a hit single during the encore. In fact, I received a compliment on it this weekend from a friend and when I didn't say anything she assumed I was being crass and said "but you already know that". Honestly, it isn't me being crass, I just don't like talking about the piece because it isn't one of my own personal favourites. If I took 2 comparable pieces done around the same time, I'd much rather showcase my Osprey nest over the owl.
A few more minor issues with my booth, maybe a bit too much clutter on my table, and I posted work on flip through stands in front of my table that were often totally missed. In the future, I'd like shelves that could elevate the work.
What did I do right?
For everything I am still doing wrong, I hope there are still things I am doing right! Firstly, this speaks to the audiences, I feel I have tapped into more audiences than before. But how do you get an audience that has very little understanding or appreciation of traditional printmaking mediums to not only understand the process but also buy into it? Video of course! I compiled a short 12 minute video of some of my better process videos from instagram, and ran them on a loop on my tablet. This was so great. Watching people's eye's light up when they had that epiphany was just magical, and then, when their eyes dart over to the block of the rhino lino in front of them, and the carving tools, then they see the print on the stand next to the block. Even though some people still asked, "do you have that print in a bigger size", they definitely realized the error of the mistake when I pointed out that the block size can't be manipulated to make bigger prints. But hey, if anything, this just exposes to me that I need bigger 3 sister prints :D
I had a lot of variety. People like to have the power to choose. I'm not just talking subjects, I'm talking papers and inks. Ink colours will definitely be something more on my mind for the next time. I think when I start to have the time to move into reduction lino, that could change things for me as well, and bridge the gap and remove the need for colour digital prints and I can just focus 100% on handmade prints while also appealing to the broader digital print buyer. But that is off in the future!
The other thing I do right is make live art. It really is a great way to engage your audience. I would like to see anyone challenge this point. People love seeing the process of actual art being made. It gives your audience a better sense of connection to the work. I know this because I am that audience. I love watching other artists work as well! I love watching people execute any skill that I don't have, I even love watching artists in my same genre because we all have differences and similarities in how we work. Process videos truly are a thing of beauty. Now, watching it live, well now that's an experience. It's the difference between owning a CD and seeing the band play, and who doesn't want a live rip of a show they were at?
The last thing I want to talk about is making network connections with people. I think this is so important, it really establishes a sense of community and belonging, and you get leads and tips on things that you wouldn't otherwise get.
The other, other market
There is one last thing I'd like to touch base on for any artists reading this and that is to establish and understanding that a Spring market may be different than a Christmas market. The thing I didn't exactly clue into until halfway through Saturday is that a lot of people at Christmas fairs aren't there shopping for themselves. They are shopping for other people, and you will sell A LOT of work that's for "my mom, she loves blue jays". I think it's important to know that going in, because the dynamic from a Spring show to a Xmas show is so different. Spring shows are mostly people buying for themselves, and I think it's easier to sell art to someone buying for themselves. Buying art for someone else is hard to do. I know I did better than I did in the Spring market, but I also had way cooler content I was offering. Had this been a Spring show, I think I may have sold 4X or even 5X worth of art. I had the content to do it, and I certainly had a lot of people pass up on work because they weren't there for themselves. But don't underestimate the value of after sales online. Last spring I had a woman pick up an additional 50, three sister lino prints, that she was using to fill boxes for her own side hustle. The online after market is big, and that leads to my next point in the year in review!
Social Media and Online Shops
Spring was a big time for me. I almost doubled my sales from Market Collective 1 to Market Collective 2. I knew that to really grow further, I needed to start developing an active following online. Since June, I have grown my Instagram from a mere 100, dwindling, barely engaged viewers to nearly 1700 followers as I right this today, in December. Now that's not the biggest growth ever by any means, but it's growing every day, and it means that if I produce quality content, post it to my shop, and post about it on social media, I WILL GET SALES DIRECTLY FROM INSTAGRAM. That's huge! Do you know when I posted from start to completion about my Wee Otter print, I sold about 14 prints. Many of those sales weren't just otters. Often they were otters and a Danger print, or 2 others. The point is, that by making a good product people wanted I basically increased my income for that month by about 15%. I Sold 2 of my 5 inktober drawings as well (I had to stop short due to a project). So online sales, while still very modest at this point have opened my eyes to just how professional this venture can truly become if I'm smart about it, and | create good content that people actually want.
My thoughts on Etsy
One of the most infuriating things about being an artist is that every method of trying to get your work out to the client involves someone trying to take a cut of your work. One of the biggest reasons many have flocked to online sales as well as other avenues isn't just due to the broader audience, but I'm not sure if you are familiar with the fine art gallery system, but it is an absolute mess! 50% commission fee would be considered on the low end of commissions in most gallery settings, and while I am not calling out every gallery, I have seen a lot of galleries that do nothing to really earn that commission. The galleries tend to drive up the price of art for the consumers just so that an artist can make a decent amount off her own work. This seems to be the trend in all artistic endeavours, but I think visual arts and music are really good examples.
That brings me to Etsy, they certainly aren't "commission" free. They take a little piece of the pie (even off my shipping fees) and then they pressure vendors into providing free shipping to American clients and to compensate for this, we are supposed to increase our prices to everyone (not just American clients). If you don't believe me, just view Etsy's policies on SEO prioritizing and free shipping to the USA.
Their direct suggestions have been to "increase prices on smaller items", which means, if you're a buyer in Canada or the UK, or wherever, Etsy suggests to small business owners that we charge you more for our products so that American clients can have free shipping. Does this seem fair to you? Many Etsy sellers were up in arms over this. Of course this was around the time I was just getting on board. The reason I am using etsy is that my webhost only allows me to feature 10 items on my shop unless I want to pay an additional $30 a month for an unrestricted shop (which I haven't researched much, but I BET YOU, they will still find a way to take a cut from my work even if I'm paying an additional $30 a month). And of course let's not forget VISA and Mastercard, they get their 4% cut as well.
So for now, Etsy makes sense, until I research my host a little further and see if they have additional fees tacked onto my sales, because at this point it may be worth it to switch as I am selling enough off of Etsy, that it should cover the cost so long as there are no additional processing fees (which there probably are). The downside to switching to a web based shop is that I don't get that sweet, sweet Etsy traffic...buuuuuuut since almost (if not) all of my traffic is driven to Etsy from my Facebook page and my Instagram, the Etsy SEO and traffic are kind of meaningless. I mean I get a lot of shop favourites from it but that's about it.
It can be tough starting all this stuff out on your own, but I want to be open and transparent with other artists as to what you can expect if you decide to try this for yourself.
Price increases and sales
I want to be open and honest about this. I have been flat out undervaluing my work for the last year. I've been doing it to get the work out there, to build my audience, grow my metrics and reviews and give some legitimacy to my practice. I will level with you, I often hear the comment "this should be way more than this" about my art. Well maybe, but I still want my work to be affordable. One of the things beyond aesthetic that I love about printmaking is that it makes handmade art accessible to people who don't have huge bank accounts. I love seeing new families at my shows purchasing some of their first new art as a family and getting really excited about the fact that it's basically an 'original'. So while my prices will increase, they will still be fairly reasonable. This will allow me to concentrate on making less, high quality prints with smaller print runs (so basically quality control). It will also help me sell multicolour prints at a reasonable price that will make it worth my time.
That said...I have a couple of prints that just never performed as well as I thought they would!!! Stay tuned in the new year for some sweet deals on these prints as I look to clear my inventory!
Plans for year 3
1. Going into my next year, my plan is to shift my focus away from digital prints and over to linocut. In order for this to be a successful venture, I'll need to think in terms of colour. I love linocut, it's how I think now in terms or artwork, but I'm also working strictly in black and white. Watercolour definitely fills the colour gap for my audience, so if I am going to shift my focus towards lino, I need to start diving into reduction and multicoloured lino blocks.
2. I want to continue to develop my watercolour and digital art skills. I realize this is contrary to what I just said above, but I do still want to work in ink and wash, and I want to look at the possibility of making a new portfolio that is geared specifically towards children's book illustrations.
3. I would like to continue to grow my social media with a focus on local. I really learned this year the importance of an audience that has an interest in quality content. I'd also like to develop stronger local relationships, both with interested buyers, as well as other local artists.
4. I want do more illustration work! I still have a day job! I am starting to make some real money here, but I am still what you would call pro-am.
My next item is a question to you. Is there anything you would like to see more of in my work? Is there something you're not seeing that you would like to see? Like to see more tutorials? Like to see more process videos? Please feel free to leave any feedback!
Well guys that's another year in the bag! Another successful Market Collective for me, and I'll be starting the new year in the middle of a big illustratuon project! I will write this week with more details, but for now I thought I would post a quick blurb, and drop some sketches from the weekend. I love doing live painting and drawing! It gives me an opportunity to connect with buyers and engage kids and hopefully get the next generation of future artists excited about creating!
If you didn't get a chance to see me this weekend, I am sorry, I will not be there next weekend, but my etsy store is open and you can get there by clicking the store link in the navigation bar at the top of the website.
As with all local buyers in Calgary if you order on Etsy and want to pick up your art, I will refund your shipping cost!!!
How to Transfer your drawing to a lino block for carving (using Golden GAC 500 image transfer method for photocopy and ink jet)
Ok, so I get asked A LOT how I transfer my images to a block of linoleum. This isn't linocut specific, it just happens to work very well for linocut, especially if drawing directly onto lino isn't a natural feeling process to you, or you've made a drawing and you want to convert it into a print. This also works with some glues like Mod Podge. I've only used GAC 500, so that's how I'm showing you the process.
What you need to start:
1. Your image photocopied or printed and cut down to size
2. Golden GAC 500 Acrylic Medium
3. Piece of Linoleum ready to carve
4. Cheap 2" brush (or anything to disperse the glue)
5. Squeegee or old credit card (to smooth the glue out)
7. Acetone (nail polish remover with acetone)
Start by pouring some GAC 500 directly onto the lino block. Start small, and add more if you need it. (this will reduce your mess)
use the brush to spread the medium as evenly as possible, but don't be too concerned, just focus on getting good coverage. Thin areas will have a risk of not picking up the toner or ink as evenly as the thicker areas, but go too thick and it can impede your later carving as you will have to pierce through a thick layer of gel while you carve out your image.
When your coverage is fairly even, you are ready to move on (see below).
Carefully place the image, face down. Try your best to line it up evenly with the edge, if you don't, you may have issues using a registration block later, as your image will be crooked, and it will be hard to register a nice, even margin for crisp presentation and signing/numbering your work.
Using the squeegee or old credit card, push smooth the image out over the paper. Work from the center of the image out, forcing any excess medium to the edges, and squeeze it right out (clean it with a rag or paper towel, do not allow it to dry on the edges, or it will form an uneven surface around your edges).
Now that it's all smoothed out, let it cure for a bit. I like to wait an hour or two. Golden says you can do it in a few minutes, but I have had issues with the image rubbing off slightly after not waiting long enough. Now I wait at least an hour to be safe, and if I can, I do this before I go to bed, and clean it in the morning.
Now run the cured block and paper under water. Using the ball of your hand, or a towel or rag, begin rubbing away the paper, using the water to help you. When you are finished, the paper will be gone, and all you will be left with is the ink or toner and a layer of the gel medium. You can actually rub pretty hard without worrying too much about clearing the ink. The image is even flipped for you, super convenient! When you print, the image will flip back to its original orientation.
That's it! You are ready to carve! Once you are done carving, you will need to clean the block prior to printing. I use 100% acetone nail polish remover to rub off the medium and the toner. If you try to print before removing the gel medium, you will get uneven results!
Pros with this method
1. Near perfect image transfer
2. No need to trace and flip the image, as this process automatically mirrors your image
3. Very fast and effective (tracing and carbon transfer can be time consuming)
4. You get to draw on your favourite paper, using your favourite tools without having to worry about drawing directly on lino
Cons with this method
1. Doesn't work with reductions, as you need to clean off all the ink and medium prior to printing
2. If you aren't careful, the gel medium can have an impact on your carving (this is why I stress even distribution which will totally eliminate this problem)
3. Not as good on non conventional blocks like softcut or easy carve lino because the skin that the gel medium forms is a much harder layer than the lino, which can easily cause crumbling and slipping on these surfaces (I don't recommend so much for softcut linoleum as I have had the acetone impact the surface of the lino, I have used it on pink Speedball Easy Carve with decent results)
This is a great method if you want a certain look for your lino. I certainly don't think it's the only and best solution. It's situational if you wan't to capture a certain image a certain way. You can lose the spontaneity that comes with drawing directly on your support block. Like anything, this is just another way to do something, and having as many tools and methods at your disposal can help you make the best prints you can!
Cheers, and happy carving!
PART I - Supply List for new relief printers
This week, i started work on a new linocut. The image is actually a drawing from last year that I sold in April of 2018. When I started getting hooked on relief printing, all I could think was that this drawing would be so perfect as a block print. Another drawing I have my heart set on carving is my Raven Perched drawing from last year. Anyways, I thought I would take this opportunity to walk through everything I have learned to date on the subject. I am no expert but I am in a unique position that I am not totally green anymore, I have a pretty good understanding of what I am doing, but I am new enough that I am empathetic to the often overwhelming feeling of starting up. So let's get started! What frustrates me the most when reading blogs on any new subject is the lack of specifics. People who have been doing something for too long or are experts often have what I refer to as an "assumed knowledge".
My day job is in broadcasting, and when I first started, I had absolutely zero knowledge about the industry. People love to spout acronyms and fancy words that make it sound like they are exclusive holders of a niche of knowledge, but when you start to ask questions and pick away at the meaning behind abbreviations, acronyms, and other fancy words, you are left with simple, basic truths, and more often than not, you can expose people hiding their lack of knowledge behind the shield of those fancy words, but that is another article altogether!
Anyways...in part one of this entry, I thought I would go through all the different supplies and try to narrow it down to the best supplies I have found to complete the task at hand, which is not simply carving an image you made, but printing it as well. The problem with a lot of "beginner" art supplies is that they are often so bad they can have the negative result of deterring people from the medium. This isn't to say I have the mentality of "only the most expensive". On the contrary, I always look for affordable professional quality materials. In the case of items I know I will have either forever, or a very long time, I will sometimes invest a little more if I know in the long run it will save me money.
Secondly, I will try to tackle and address the process I use. From drawing and carving, to inking a block and running a series.
This list is a startup list. If you get into linocut, you will eventually want more. This will get you through a first block from carve to completing a run. I have detailed explanations below of why I chose what I did on the supply list. I will provide costs in Canadian, as that is where I live.
Red - Items you will probably need to get
Yellow - Items you will most likely own as an artist
Green - Common house hold items you should have
1. Unmounted battleship grey linoleum $15 (depending on size, but I would recommend starting 8x10" or so)
2. Self healing cutting mat 24x36" $50
3. T-Square $20
4. Box cutter knife $3
5. Golden GAC 500 gel medium $20
6. Acetone $3
7. Rubber gloves $3
8. Plastic ink squeegees $2
9. Cheap 2" hardware store or craft store brush $4
10. Any old rag or the ball of your thumb
11. Grey tone Copic markers $8 (you could use a cheaper craft store brand, but as I am an illustrator, this is something I happen to own)
12. Black markers or brush pen $3
13. Pfeil tools (3 or 4) a 11/0.5 veiner, 12/1 V gouge, 15/2 V gouge is what I got and a Flexcut 4 blade starter set $25 each,
14. Flexcut honing slip strop $25
15. Registration jig DIY (foam core ) $5
16. Inking surface glass plate or palette (tempered) $30
16. Speedball 6" soft brayer $20
17. Wooden spoon $5
18. Caligo Safe Wash Oil based Relief Ink 150ml tube $20
19. Fabriano Academia 20x30" $2 sheet (x10)
20. Work bench or table $50
21. Dish Soap $2
22. String with bull clips or clothes pins $4
$208 CAD startup cost
$85 CAD preexisting art supplies
$19 CAD house hold items
Total: $312 CAD (actual price you'll be spending is around $200 CAD, and many of these supplies are one time purchases if taken care of)
I will go over the supports I have tried.
1. Unmounted battleship grey linoleum - there are several versions of this, they all pretty much seem the same to me. This is the go to. It is the best. You need the right tools for it, but it is the best. It holds smooth, clean lines, fine detail, and is easy to cut with the right tools. Will require a bit of elbow greese for hand printing.
2. Speedball Easy Carve - easy to carve, easy to crumble. I really like it for simple designs or illustrations with limited detail. I used this to make postcards for my booth at marketcollective. Any fine details and the block will start to crumble. I think Speedball intends this product to be more for stamp making as it is more like rubber than linoleum, however many people do use it like it is lino, and you can if you so desire. Does not require good tools. It is also very easy to print off of by hand.
3. Speedball mounted tan block - hated it. I made a nice design on the block, but the block never printed properly by hand. I feel like it is designed for press printing. The carving surface itself was similar to battleship grey. Full disclosure, I have seen some people print on the battleship grey mounted blocks with good success when hand burnishing, so maybe I was doing something wrong, but I don't really see any benefits to mounted blocks. With unmounted, if I want to I can cut the shape out of the square so I don't get any stray printing. The regular linoleum also holds up very well, it is not nearly as delicate as the easy to carve blocks.
4. Softoleum or Softcut - similar to easy carve, but a little better, cuts easily with beginner tools. I expeeienced an issue with transferring, I use gel medium to transfer a photocopy, then acetone to remove the photocopy before inking. I noticed the acetone actually reacted with my block and ruined it, causing the surface to bubble and warp. If you draw directly or use carbon transfer, totally viable, otherwise avoid! Also holds a line fairly well and less crumbly than easy carve. This stuff is fairly easy to print off of by hand.
Overall winner: Battleship grey linoleum
Self healing cutting mat
This is really important for measurements. I actually don't cut any of my paper, instead I use a T-Square as a metal tear bar to trim my paper, but I do use the mat to make all my measurements and make sure the paper is square and lined up properly. You also may want to cut your linoleum.
Lot's of trimming paper and cutting blocks is linocut, and later on proper registration will become more important when you do reduction blocks or multi block prints and multi colour print registrations. If you are lining your paper up without using tabs, then you will want proper cuts and tears made to your paper and block. Invest in a good metal one.
Box cutter knife
Any old sharp knife will do.
I'm not going to spend too much time on this. There are all sorts of different routes, pick one that works for you. I am not going to spend time talking about transfer paper and tracing. Instead I will discuss a method I learned going down this road that works with printouts (both inkjet and photocopy). I have tried the acetone transfer method and it is just not as clean and precise as this one
1. Golden GAC 500 gel medium. it's quite simple, get a brush you don't care about, poor out some gel medium onto your block, spread it around with the brush till a sufficient layer has covered over the block (don't be stingy). Place your print down on top of the block and using a flat edge or baren, smooth out the print out against the block, pushing out any excess medium from the center to the sides. I usually let it cure for an hour, but have removed it as quickly as 10 minutes later, but have occasionally had issues removing it too soon. An hour seems to be a good safe time. Once cured, soak it under water and start rubbing away the paper. Once you are done, you will be left with a reverse image of your image on the block.
2. Acetone - This is a photocopy transfer method, and I know it works because I used to do it in art school using acetone markers. I did try just acetone and a brush to burnish the image onto my linoleum block, but it didn't work nearly as well as I wanted it to. Regardless of whether or not you use this method, I use the acetone to clean the transfer off my block after I have caved it, so I still recommend getting this even if you don't use it for photocopy transfer. Remember, if you are buying nail polish remover, make certain it is the 100% acetone type!
3. Carbon paper and tracing paper - I will probably use this method in the future, but for now I have been drawing images, then photocopying them to use the GAC 500 transfer method, but I know many others prefer this. You can by this at pretty much any hobby or art store, and there is even a special red transfer paper that you can purchase that is used by many relief print artists.
Overall winner: GAC 500
This is sort of personal, but I do feel this is versatile, especially if you are just starting out, you probably made a drawing and thought..."what if"? This method will allow you to simply photocopy the drawing and transfer it very accurately to your block. This is really important if you are planning to follow the guidelines of a preexisting high detail drawing. If you plan to kind of make it up as you go, then a loose carbon transfer is probably best.
You'll want these when handling solvents like Acetone, and you may also want to wear them while inking up your plate or handling your ink so you aren't getting smudges all over your paper. Something I wish I had bought for my first print runs.
These little guys are both handy in the image transfer process when trying to smooth out the paper against your plate, and they are also handy for moving ink around on your palette.
You should already have one, it's the brush you use when you don't want to ruin your good brushes. (applying mediums, glues, etc)
You already own one.
Grey Tone Markers
1. Copic Markers - not necessary but handy, use a grey tone marker (I use a mid value) and colour the block. This makes it nice and easy to see what you are carving away as it increases the contrast between carved block and uncarved block.
Markers and Brush pens
Great for cleaning up transfered images, or just adding and drawing new designs directly onto your block.
1. Speedball interchangeable blades - homestly, if you are going to get into this, just avoid. The difference is like using a dollar store brush versus a Kolinsky Sable. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR! I will say that these do work okay on easy carve and softoleum blocks, but then I find you are limited to surface carving materials that have a lot of limitations. It's also worth mentioning that while you may be saving money on your tool here (but not really as they are still fairly expensive and you will have to replace the blades when they dull), you usually have to pay a premium for the "easy to carve" linoleums. So while you cut corners on your tools, you will be doling out big money on the easy carve stuff. It costs you around $20-25 CAD for the Speedball cutter, or $25 for one quality Pfeil blade that will last you a life time if maintained.
2. Flexcut tools - pretty good set of tools, and the starter kit comes with a leather honing strop and honing compound to sharpen your blades, and all good blades will need sharpening. The carving tools themselves are 4 interchangeable blades. It comes with 2 V gouge blades and 2 U gouge blades. I still use the large chisel gouge in this set to clear big areas. I have heard complaints from some that do not enjoy the feel of certain high quality tools (how they rest in your hands). This would certainly be a high quality options, though I would invest in the individual wood handle blades as no one likes changing through blades while working as this totally kills the flow.
3. Pfeil tools - the best I have used. They cost me 25 bucks each, and I currently own 3. Two small veiners and a medium V gouge tool. These are the only tools i used to make the eagle aside from a wide Flexcut U chisel to clear the large area around the subject. They are stiff and easy to guide and control. They are sharp enough that I find I am able to guide them along large curves and ellipses in the carve, a problem I have had with other tools is making a continuous circle look as though it is smooth and flowing, these tools eliminated that problem as I was able to simply hole the tool still and guide the block itself to create the circles. They don't flick or jolt out of the lino causing unwanted scratches in the surface. Think of it like having a good Chef's blade and the difference between cutting a tomato with one of these blades versus say a knife you bought at Safeway for $9. As a result, due to the sharpness and smoothness, I have cut myself a lot less with these tools...in fact only once, and I was being very careless. However, as I mentioned in the Flexcut tools portion of this article, some people have complained about the palm tool. So buy just one, like a small veiner or V gouge (something you use more than any other blade) and test it out. If you don't like it, I'm sure you could sell it easily on a relief printing group on facebook or reddit.
Overall winner: Pfeil tools
There seems to be a lot of repetition and cliche about certain tools in linocut, and this is one of those cliches. The reason is because they are legit, awesome tools! They glide through the linoleum with ease, making regular lino feel like easy carve without the crumble or the hefty price tag. Don't forget, you will still need a slip strop to hone and sharpen your blades!
In part 2, we will go over making registration jig out of foam core.
You will need a surface to roll ink. You can by a tempered glass palette at an art store, or tempered glass from Lowes
1. Esdee hard 10" brayer - I don't know, every time I use it, I instantly put it down and use another. It's cheap garbage. I just remembered, last time I used it, it fell off the table and I forgot to wash it...oh well
2. Speedball soft 6" brayer - it's surprisingly ok. It inks up my blocks well enough, doesn't miss anything, does the job. Durability wise, not sure how it will hold up. It was around $20.
Overall winner: Speedball 6" brayer
I have a Japanese brayer on order that I can only assume will be better, but let's keep in mind this list is about what you need to start up.
1. Premium Speedball Baren with mesh - I don't know who dreamed this piece of trash up, but it's absolute garbage. It's cushioned on the bottom. It actually robs you of the pressure you apply to the baren, and this is the single most important aspect of ink transfer. It's %100 counter intuitive, and it makes no sense to me whatsoever. Avoid this like the plague unless you don't want nice solid ink transfers on your prints.
2. Cheap starter Speedball Baren - It's still not ideal, but at least it does what it's supposed to. I am sure there are much better options, and you could probably DIY something way better. I personally use a wooden spoon and a Thule wrench that came with our hitch bike rack. They work way better, but I do use this to lay down the overall, initial transfer, then switch to the spoon and wrench for problem areas.
3. Wooden Spoon - You already have one, and it works. It's a little slow going because the contact area is pretty small, but you can really lay in the power with it, getting smooth ink transfers.
4. Student grade bamboo baren - Pretty crappy, my bamboo split during my first series pull. I unraveled it to reveal a cardboard disk...you get what you pay for.
Overall winner: Wooden Spoon
Another one of those cliches that's true. On a side note, I have ordered a good bamboo baren and will be testing it shortly, and I may purchase a disk baren down the line. I have looked into ball bearing barens, but they are expensive and from what I understand could break under the pressure required for solid ink transfers so I will probably avoid.
I know what you are thinking, why not just get a press? I intend to get a small table top press, in fact, this is where I have planned my birthday earnings to go this year, but this will only print smaller prints (typically a maximum print width of around 26cm). The large presses are far too expensive. I will also be looking into the possibility of a membership with my printmaking society in Calgary to access studio time.
Relief Printing Ink
1. Speedball water based ink - garbage, avoid. The worst part is...this is pretty much stocked at EVERY local art supply store. If I could avoid Speedball altogether, I really would...they just suck so bad at making the product they make. Unfortunately I can't show you any of my speedball inked prints because they all went into recycling.
2. Schmincke Aqua inks - Not a bad little product. It's water-based and I got pretty good results doing a large print run of some small postcard prints. I will definitely experiment more with it.
3. Caligo Safe Wash Relief Ink (oil based) - great product. Another linocut cliche. Goes on smooth and solid (with pressure). The only reason I am even remotely considering an oil based ink to work with at home is the fact that it cleans with regular old dish soap. The downside, is it can take 2-3 days to dry.
Overall winner: Caligo Safe Wash
Paper is very much a personal choice. I can offer some suggestions based on my experiments. If you are new to this, you will most likely be hand burnishing prints. I know there is an attractive allure to heavy papers, but unless you plan to do low print runs and spend a ton of time burnishing, I recommend lower GSM papers.
What is GSM?
GSM just stands for grams per square meter. In short, the lower the GSM of the paper, the thinner it is, and thus easier to hand burnish.
But don't take my word for it, I encourage you to try the papers you want and see how they perform. I do occasionally use papers over 200 GSM for smaller prints, but for the one I am currently working on (12x16"), I have had much greater success at lower GSM.
1. Fabriano Academia 200 GSM 20x30" - Nothing fancy here. It is an acid free cartridge paper that performs overall quite well. It's cheap. I get it for less than $2 a sheet. It picks up detail reslly well, has a bit of stiffness to it. You won't break your arm working it, but don't kid yourself, you'll have to throw down some pressure.
2. Stonehenge 250 GSM 22x36" - I really like Stonehenge, it is affordably nice heavyweight paper, coming in at around $6 per sheet. If your print is smaller like an 8x10" block, Stonehenge looks really nice. Buyers will apreciate the weight to the paper and the deckled edge.
3. Somerset Satin 250 GSM 22x36" - This paper is really gorgeous and absorbent. I was actually surprised at how well the ink transferred based on the thickness of the paper, but it is still stiff, and I find it is difficult to keep in place while hand burnishing a larger print, I often get offset lines as a result. I haven't tried this on a smaller print but I really want to. Coming in at just under $10 a sheet, it's a paper that you really don't want to mess up on. Not for experimentation!
4. Hahnemuhle Biblio(?) 150 GSM 15x20" - This paper is pretty nice. It's light weight, but still has a bit of heft to it. It doesn't creese as easily as say the 120 GSM sheets. It has a deckled edge, and it's cheap at just over $2 a sheet. It's very easy to hand burnish through this paper, and it holds detail incredibly well. I am currently doing a run of prints on this paper and really like it, but I am also waiting for another set of papers I have yet to try out.
5. BFK Rives lightweight 115 GSM 20x26" - It's a good paper, but pretty pricey for how light it is. It costs about the same as a sheet of larger Stonehenge at 250 GSM. I haven't been insanely impressed by this paper. I don't think I will buy it again. It's too thin without having the same charm as a lightweight Japanese paper, it's expensive, and not really exceeding at anything, and the Biblio is so easy to burnish, that I feel I don't need to go any lighter on the GSM. Again, this is all personal preference.
I am waiting on a few papers to tryout:
Zerkall Book 145 GSM
Somerset Book 175 GSM
Fabriano Tiepolo 150 GSM
I am really anxious to try out the Somerset Book Wove based on my experiences with their paper.
Overall winner: Fabriano Academia
It's a safe pick, but I am trying to think of the beginner. It isn't my favourite by a long shot, but I do think it is a good starting point. You want something inexpensive with a bit of weight but still easy to hand pull. It does not have a lot of personality, but it picks up fine details well, and when you are just starting, you don't want a material that will take the control out of your hands by adding too much personality. Also try out some Stonehenge so you can get a feel for a heavier paper without breaking the bank like you would with Somerset Satin or BFK Rives heavyweight. My advice, stick to the 150 - 200 GSM range of papers, and then branch out once you have done a few prints, but if you are doing smaller 4x6" to 8x10" prints, I would definitely consider Stonehenge as a top pick! I recently sold a run of 8x10" prints on Stonehenge, and I had the same image on Fabriano Academia, and the Stonehenge ones sold out, and the Academia ones stayed simply because one had the deckled edge and lovely thickness. Go figure!
1. Workbench or tables - I have moved into the garage and am working on a couple fold out tables. You just want to have a good space you can ink on and burnish your prints. You'll want room to hang prints and also keep your clean paper. Organization is really key to making sure you get good prints. The messier your work station, the more ink smudges you'll get on your prints. I guarantee it. You'll be trying to juggle to many things and you will get ink on your fingers, then it will transfer to your burnishing area, and then to the print, and the back of the print. Keep everything as tidy as you can.
2. Dish soap - You will need some dish soap for cleaning up your Caligo Safe wash inks. It's also handy for just basic cleanup. I like Dawn soap, it's the mechanics choice, and the choice of environmentalists cleaning up oil spills. I'm not even joking. Ask any bike mechanic, they will have Dawn soap in their arsenal.
3. Clothes line with clothespins - You can use any old piece of string and clips, just make sure it is sturdy enough to hold up your prints to dry as the ink takes at least 2 days to dry.
That's it for now! I hope this has been informative and helpful. Stay tuned for Part II - Process
In part 2, I will go over all the procedures from ink transfer of your drawing, to carving and inking, to clean up.
So, here I am, the day after my second artisan fair, or more specifically, my second Market Collective. I have to say, if my first one was...ok...this one went much, much better. Money aside, I had way more activity at my booth, where the first attempt at christmas, I would tend to go about an hour at times without any engagement, and even more so without any purchases. So what was the difference? I think there were multiple factors, and I will try to go over them, albeit I can only speak anecdotally, and not empirically. Before I start, I would also like to mention that it would be impossible for me to do any of this without my loving wife. She is as much a part of this as I am.
As I said above, this wasn't my first rodeo. This is now my second go, and a lot of the mistakes I made with setup in December I managed to eliminate. In fact, I totally streamlined my setup. I was pretty much up and ready to go in 90 minutes, and took my whole booth down in 45 minutes. The first year took me at least 3 hours to get everything the way I wanted it, and it took me at least 90 minutes to take it all down. The funny thing is, I could still do better. I saw some great setups this year and got a lot of ideas, took photos of what I think were clever setups, and took notes. I plan to borrow a little bit from everywhere. I noticed great arrangements of booths, maximizing the space that artisans had to the fullest potential, great communication ideas like sandwich boards for pricing, and even more hanging solutions that I hadn't thought of! So I continue to learn, and will hopefully do even better, and learn even more the next time around!
Ok, this is a pretty important part. I had a lot more space to work with. I went one booth size up. This allowed me to have a table, and this is actually where I made a huge part of my sales. I was able to use my "pinnacle" pieces to draw people in, and then display some of my new work on the table to sell them on new items once they are on the line, and often, if I didn't have something to offer someone here, they suddenly noticed the magazine stand of bird prints at the side of the booth, which then of course leads to he print stand with the larger work. There was just a heck of a lot more rhythm to the booth.
What would I change? I would like to upgrade my sign to a retractable banner. I would also like to clean up my hanging setup with boards that hide the metal racks. My signage was also kind of an after thought, and I'd like to clean that up. Basically, I would tighten things up to add a layer of professionalism.
I'm an unknown artist. Why should people invest in my work? These are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself when you move from hobbyist to amateur or professional artist. I think my work is good, otherwise I would never have the guts to go out and try to sell it, but I also have to be reasonable. In an ideal world, I could spend a ton of money on high quality, cotton rag, paper prints, but the reality is, people don't want to spend 25 dollars on a relatively unknown artist's 8x10" prints. However, printing good quality work on cheaper paper (that is still fully archival and great quality) and selling that same work for more than half the price, well now suddenly you have a product that people want. You also have a print that is a lot more on point with what others are selling for, and thus more competitive. In fact I would say the average price for an 8x10" print at Market Collective is around $15, and the average for an 11x14" print is around $20 - 25. I was selling for $10 and $20 respectively. So I kept my prints on the low end of average, which I really think helped people over the hump, and also, allowed them to buy more of my work, and that's REALLY important. If you have 3 prints from an artist, suddenly you're a collector. You want to know, does this artist have a website? Is this artist very active? What's your Instagram? I've invested 40 of my hard earned dollars into your work, and I want to know what you're up to and where you're going. I really like your work, I couldn't afford an original, but as I follow you grow, maybe I feel like I want an original when the time is right and I have more disposable income.
I think it's more important to grow relationships with people than maximizing your profits. I want people to follow the work, it encourages me to strive forward and is far more rewarding than making a quick buck. A couple of times, I heard a couple people tell me my larger prints were under-priced, but now I have about 20 large prints in people's homes versus the 2 or 3 I sold for 30% more at Christmas. I have 10 great horned owl prints hanging in people's homes now versus 0 at Christmas, and this is one of my "pinnacle" pieces. It is one of the images I have created that seems to resonate with a huge cross section of people. That's most likely 10 new followers.
Often times, especially during the early hours of the market you will get interested customers. Then just as it looks like they're about to clean your booth out they say: "Ok, thanks, I'll be back later."
Yeah dude, get over it! You're not the only person they came to see, and how often have you bought the first house you looked at, or the first car you test drove, or whatever? They want to know what else is out there, and they every right, and this is where the pricing comes in. Maybe they saw something that they liked as much as your print, but maybe your print was 5 dollars less. And maybe they have enough to buy that print at the other booth, but at your booth, there was two prints they really liked, and they can get both of them for just $5 more than just one print at the other booth. So once again, for me, this really enforces the importance of not overpricing my work and overvaluing myself as an artist.
At Christmas and this Spring, I heard that phrase uttered so many times "I'll be back"...like a Schwarzenegger movie marathon. The difference this time, is that they actually did come back, so much so, that in some cases I didn't recognize the person when they said "I'm back!" I just interacted with so many people this week that sometimes I didn't recognize return customers (at least not at first, but once we started talking, I usually remembered what they were interested in). That means for whatever reason, they went and checked out the other artists in my vein and said, I want what he's got. And I don't think it's because I'm such a great artist. There are a lot of great artists at Market Collective. I just think I had really good price points, and that's not to say I'm undercutting, I'm just offering a lot of different points on the scale.
Offering more diversity of work
Yeah, I started doing linocuts. They're handmade prints, and they're pretty awesome and they add to my diverse price ranges. I would say the average amount someone spends at my booth is around 25 dollars. I will have to go back and check the numbers on Square, but I'm pretty sure that's about right. I had four separate linocut offerings, and I was dead wrong about how they would sell! I made over 100 prints of my 3 sisters, Canmore and chickadee postcard prints and was selling them for $5 each, which is (in my opinion) a great price for a hand crafted print. I had two 8x10" prints, one of a mother bear and her cubs, and one of Mount Rundle, Banff.
I thought those three sisters prints would sell right out. I sold quite a few, no doubt...but not the sell out I thought I would get. I thought the chickadees would sell out...I didn't sell a single one...so weird. I thought people would love the mount Rundle prints. I did not sell a single one. I thought I would have trouble selling the mama bear print...I sold out of 2 formats, and made close to 300$ on this print alone. Don't get me wrong...this is my favourite linocut I've made to date, but I am used to my favourite images not being my hottest sellers, and in this case I was happily surprised, and based on my customers' average purchases at my table, it was at the perfect price point, $20. Which also often led to a 3 sisters print to top it off. Don't get me wrong, I still sold more 3 sisters prints than mamma bear prints, but $5 versus $20...well they just didn't compete. A lot of this is just trial and error and just seeing what people are into. In December, I thought people didn't want bird art, and this time I sold a ton of bird prints. I also sold out of some of my new prints, like the wolf pack print, or the elk print, among others.
People like to connect to a story
Some people are looking for great art. Some are looking for their favourite animal. Some want a story. Linocut bridged a connection to my audience like no other work has before. For starters, a lot of people remember doing it in high school. They remember jabbing themselves in the hand! They remember the blood. They remember how hard it was to do well. Then they look at yours and the beautiful image. Then I pull the block out from behind the table and show them the master copy. I show them the tools used. If they never did Linocut in high school, now they have a greater appreciation for how the works are made and what gives them that unique individuality for each print. In fact, it's the print that feels like an original as each print is a one of kind product. The hand of the artist is in each piece, not simply digitally reproduced.
Another thing I learned from my first collective is to WORK IT! Get your hands dirty! If you're trying to sell drawings, bust out a sketchbook and start drawing. If you're selling watercolours, start watercolouring! People love to see an artist working, the process is engaging and it connects a dot that they often don't get to see. Now suddenly your audience isn't just buying a print to hang up, they have an experience tied to that print. Now your audience has talking piece hanging on her wall. Something he can tell people when they come over for a beer.
below is some of the work I created at Market Collective.
The people and the experience
Stuff like this can get really competitive quickly and lose the fun. In both cases this never really happened to me. Everyone is super supportive, and it's a great, positive environment! As a relative newbie just starting my journey into this world of idea pushers and peddlers, things like this have the ability to create a lot of anxiety. But the people make for a really great experience. All the people I have met have been positive and very encouraging and always making sure to see if everything is going well. It's a great group of people, which is often a character trait of people doing something they love or following their dreams.
The atmosphere that the organizers have created is unreal as well. I've never been to a marketplace that has the same feel. The music, the skate park, etc. It all feels more like a happening rather than just a place to buy stuff. I even get pumped while I'm tending my booth because of the music.
For anyone on the fence about giving this a go, take the plunge! There is room for everyone from amateurs with a fledgling idea to professional entrepreneurs who have gone all in. I think that is what makes the experience so positive and rich. This is a community of people who have become their own brand, and that's a pretty powerful thing. That is why I am proud to look up at my "Fossi Images" sign, because I am joining a club of people who have become their own brand, and selling yourself isn't easy, it requires a huge level of vulnerability that you are willing to expose. It's a risk, and what a beautiful thing that can be!
So this all started one day when i was looking for inks in the art store, and I accidentally stumbled upon the "after thought" that is the printmaking aisle in most art supply stores. Granted, that isn't their fault, I don't think the average shopper is looking for that stuff, and the ones that are are looking for the very entry level stuff for stamp making or silk screening their own t-shirts.
But really, all of this dates back to art school where my love for drawing could only be rivaled by one other department...printmaking. In fact, in my last 2 year of art school, I basically spent all of my time in the silk screening studio where all of my finished pieces were completed. I also took intaglio as an elective in my first year, but I only actually did any relief printing, at Sir Winston Churchill high school in NW Calgary where I was enrolled in the Art IB program.
Come full circle to today, I am posting some of my black and white drawings on Reddit, and a user makes a remark that I should turn it into a woodblock cut. Actually, a great idea. Except, I decide the relatively easy version of that is to get into Linocut. So I go online, try to gather up everything I'll need to start, and I do remember the basics from high school, so I start to wing it, and actually, I am really loving it!
I forgot how much I love printmaking, and relief printing is really easy to do in a home studio, and it suits my style very, very well! So after running a few test prints off some blocks I've carved over the past few weeks I decided that I really need to setup a studio, or I am going to get ink on the carpets! I setup a little makeshift studio in the garage, and so far so good!
My first experiments:
So I've been experimenting with different carving materials, and I will be trying a couple more as well. I have also been researching a lot of other artists online. I have come to learn there is a bit of a balance between "easy cut" blocks versus traditional hard linoleum. While I like the hard stuff for holding a line, I like the soft stuff because it is a lot easier to hand burnish (rub the ink onto the surface of the paper using a flat hard surface like a wooden spoon or a burnishing tool) the soft blocks, but they also don't hold a line as well as the hard stuff. That said, if I avoid fine lines in the drawings for the soft blocks, it's not a big problem.
The middle print above was done on a soft "easy carve" block from Speedball. While it's easy to lose detail, you can still make some really nice images with it, and I am actually really pleased with the 4x6" postcard print of 3 sisters mountain range. The one on the far right is a more traditional mounted block, and the one on the left of the mama bear is actually on a material that I have been unable to find again since my first purchase, but that's ok because I would not get it again as it had some surface imperfections that affected my prints. The mounted block on the right was great to carve on, but also a bit more difficult to hand burnish, but I still really like the results.
What I am hoping for...
My hope is that people have an appreciation for the imperfect, but hand made prints more so than the Giclee prints (which are excellent reproductions of original art, but lack the hand of the artist outside of the original image). With handmade prints, what I like is that the hand of the artist is still present, and I feel the art appreciator shares a deeper connection to the art and artist. Rather than the prints being an after thought to just trying to make money off of an image, the prints themselves are the final product, they are the art!
That said, I still love Giclee prints, I even have some of my own work where I no longer own the original, I just like the added dimension of including handmade, traditional prints to my catalog of work, and I hope you will as well!
For sale at Market Collective May 24-26 at BMO Center in Calgary
If you are interested in any of the work you see, it will be available for sale at Market Collective, just a couple weeks from now. Come down and see me, I will be selling VERY AFFORDABLE hand made prints, some as low as $5!!!
Hi all, please take the time to check out the new Etsy Store:
I have been working to make more art work available for both originals and prints! I am also working on getting all my stuff on a print to order basis so I can provide more prints to you at a cheaper cost!
Prior to this, I only had available the prints I personally had in stock, but now I am able to provide all images on a print on demand basis! So if there's a print you want, and you don't want to pay the premium of an original, please let me know if you don't see it on the Etsy site yet, and I will make it available to you!
The latest time lapse video. This one is from start to finish (not including the initial drawing). I did make the mistake of shooting the video from the right, and I am right handed, so bare with me as I am fairly new to these sort of videos!
If you are enjoying these, please go to my Youtube channel and subscribe, as more subscribers will encourage me to do more, and possible talk/walk through videos.
Hope you enjoy!
The Last 30 minutes of a line and wash drawing compressed into 3 minutes using time lapse video.