Art Break Wednesday: Words – with Friends!


©Robyn Hood Black

(Apologies for late post – could not get my blog to post this earlier this morning, and I was out all day.) Since my art is all about reading, writing, and letters, I thought it would be fun to look at games involving words and letters.

Last night my writers’ critique group, Bookbound, met for our annual Christmas party hosted by the wonderful and talented Donna H. Bowman. We shared our usual yummy food and “white elephant” gifts, and she also had us play games:  holiday-themed activity sheets for kids.  We had to unscramble words (I was pretty good at that), do a word search, and find hidden pictures.

front: Tracy, K. D., Robyn, Heather
back: Janice, Donna, Lisa, Paula
(photo by Danny Bowman)

Great time had by all, including Paula B. Puckett, K. D. Bryant Graham, Lisa Sterling, Tracy Walker, and our regular-honorary-invited-guest, Janice Hardy.  Heather Kolich mentioned that she and her family loved playing a game called Bethump’d.  I’ll have to check out that one.

In my house growing up, we played lots of Scrabble, and plenty of hand-drawn Hangman games.  Watched Wheel of Fortune.  I was never too great at crossword puzzles, but pretty good at Jumble.  By the way, I learned from‘s Word of the Day yesterday that a “cruciverbalist” is  a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles.  I also heard in a piece on NPR later in the day that a crossword puzzle writer might get $1000 to construct a Sunday puzzle for the New York Times, several hundred less for a daily puzzle.  And that a vital aspect of creating an acceptable puzzle is coming up with a clever theme. (I don’t think I dreamed any of that, but I can’t seem to find a link!)

Now I play Words with Friends on my iPhone.  Mostly with my college-age daughter, Morgan, my sister-in-law, Patti, and my author buddy Susan Rosson Spain.  Took me weeks to be able to beat Susan, but now I get in the occasional win.  Somehow playing that game is not terribly unlike working on poetry –  having to fit letters/words into structured spaces, I suppose.

How about you?  Any favorite word-related games, or favorite games your family might enjoy during these holidays? Do tell!

Art Break Wednesday: Holiday Cards – How Do You Do?


Holiday cards – do you send them?

Every year for as long as I can remember, I’ve designed and/or handmade our Christmas cards.  One of these years I’ll put them all together in that little album I bought for that purpose a decade ago or so.  Maybe.

Here is this year’s, fresh off the Fed Ex truck from the printer:

©Robyn Hood Black. All Rights Reserved.


Last year I hand printed and hand tinted a couple hundred of these from a design I carved:


©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.


Do you send out cards this time of year?  Purchased or handmade?  Or maybe you gather up the family for a photo card, so folks can keep up with how the children are growing?  Do you include a yearly letter?

I typically tuck in a photo of the four of us and don’t do a letter. 

Do tell – what holiday card traditions are on your kitchen table? (Or have you already gotten them out?  How organized!)

Wishing you and yours a lovely, inspiring December! 

Remember Etsy for some great, one-of-a-kind gifts.  (You can use the coupon code HOLIDAY2012 in my shop for 10 percent off!  Shhhh… don’t tell.  Nah, just kidding – you can tell your friends.)  PS – I do have free shipping on these holiday cards:


Art Break Wednesday: Woof!


My post this week for Art Break Wednesday is brief, as I’ve been covered up in dog issues among other things since last week.  So, we’ll take a peek at drawing dogs!

On the home front, we’ve been nursing an ill dog – one of our 13-year-old dachshund mixes (we have two males, littermates) is battling pancreatitis.  Back and forth to the vet, fluids at home, etc. etc.  He’s a trouper and we’re trying to get him over this episode and settled back into a routine.  Also, last Thursday night, I rescued a waif of a little creature from a very busy road in our town.  (Did not exercise the best judgment while driving to do it – thankful for those Thanksgiving guardian angels that must have been close by.)

She’s a little chihuahua.  Not even a real dog! ;0)  Actually, we’ve been unable to locate her owner and she has settled in just fine over here, charming everyone she meets.  Except one of the cats.  I look forward to having a few minutes one of these days to sit down and sketch her.

In the meantime, let me share a great little book I found a few years ago.  Our new diminutive doggie reminds me of some Disney character.  She could really be one.  While I’ll never be a Disney artist, I did grow up in the shadow of Disney World in Orlando and have always admired much of the art, especially in the classic movies.

DISNEY’S DOGS, concepted and designed by Ramara Khalaf and published by Disney editions, offers a great peek into famous and not-so-famous Disney canids throughout the decades.  The book appears to be out of print now, but you might find used copies online.

This book is part history, part art lesson, and a big part fun, with inspiring dog-related quotes sprinkled throughout.  The variety of art styles and personalities of the dogs themselves is a treat to peruse.

The anonymous quote in this spread of dalmatian pups reads, “A house is not a home without a dog in it.”

As an exercise, I have found myself sketching from Disney movies to explore the construction of those terrific, expressive animals.  (I still have my set of Disney album storybooks, which I “played” literally and figuratively, incessantly as a child.  Anyone else remember those?)

Many of our classic Disney movies are VHS tapes, since my kids came along in the 90s.  You can pop one in your VCR (assuming you still have one of those!) and stop the action at any point to do a quick sketch or two.

Some sketches scribbled while watching Disney’s BALTO

Or, sketch freely and quickly as the action unfolds, like a gesture drawing.






Do you have a favorite way to sketch animals?  Any favortie Disney dogs?  Thanks for coming by!

Art Break Wednesday – Thankful!



This week as I count my blessings, I’m especially thankful for my wonderfully creative, generous, and supportive art critique group.

Prescott Hill, Beth Rommel, Kathleen Bradshaw, and Paula Puckett – my fabulous artists critique group!

Robyn and Kathleen

These fine folks are:  Prescott Hill, Beth Rommel, Kathleen Bradshaw, and Paula B. Puckett.

We meet once a month at Beth’s lovely home (though we’ve promised her we’ll start spreading the hosting love).  We eat, sip coffee, nibble some more, and encourage one another as we share whatever is going on in our artistic lives.  It’s not all social – each month we share whatever we’ve been working on for feedback.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how much I appreciate their keen insights!  I’m beyond thankful that I stumbled into the fold of this group as it was forming last spring. It’s made a huge difference in my creative life and has been very instrumental in my getting artsyletters off the ground.

Oh, and we sometimes take field trips, too.  Of course, we can all be found at SCBWI Southern Breeze events, but we like our own side trips as well.

Here we are shopping researching markets and digging up inspiration and treasures at the Flowery Branch (Georgia) Antique market.




And Beth and I are shopping  researching and gathering art-making supplies yet again this past weekend in Buford, Ga., at the Revival Antique show.





We call ourselves “Harold’s Friends” after Beth’s cat, who usually deigns to supervise each meeting at some point.  I’m thankful for these friends and wish, for everyone who creates, a talented, honest little band of folks who speak the same language and encourage them on the journey.


Art Break Wednesday: Mini Ott Light Give-away – the Better to See you With!

Yay Images

 Perhaps THE most important resource a visual artist has is light.

I’m lucky to have two windows in my office/studio.  Neither one faces north, from which streams the best light for artists so they say, but I’ll take them. I also have overhead lights which came with our circa ’70s house, and which now have compact fluorescent bulbs in them, a few lamps with various types of bulbs, and a couple of those clip-on task lamps for my drawing table and big work desk.

My favorite one of those is my flexible Ott task lamp which hovers over my small drafting table.  It offers a high quality of light which seems most like daylight to me.  Even so, especially if I’m working with color, I prefer to produce art during the day than at night.

Does that have anything to do with my nearing-50-year-old eyes?  Probably.  Also, I have to wear reading glasses for close-up tasks now, and pay attention to small details.  Case in point: One recent evening, I made a couple of illuminated letter “S’s” in an Ottonian style, in which gouache is used inside and around the gold leaf.  I put them in vintage gold frames, whose double mats I painted gold, and sold one at an art show.  The other I photographed to list on Etsy.

Now the letter, only 2 inches tall and 1 1/4 inches wide was not perfect, but it looked fine to me at a small distance.  I don’t mind slight variations in hand-lettered art – that can add to its charm.  But when I uploaded the photographs and my little letter was magnified dramatically on my computer screen, I saw a couple of areas I couldn’t live with.  The red gouache had been thinned just a bit too much and left a drippy effect near the top of the letter (and I’d missed a wee spot elsewhere to boot!).

Detail – illuminated S with drippy outline

I carefully un-framed the letter and took it back to my drawing table.  Daylight, and this time a magnifying glass, did the trick.

That’s better!

I touched up the areas, took new photos and reframed the piece, and now it’s up on Etsy.

Illuminated S ©Robyn Hood Black

I’ve also discovered that for fine work, I enjoy using a mini Ott flip light right beside whatever I’m working on.  It can be clipped to the side of a small box or jar or piece of matboard to illuminate a project while I’m working.  I like these so much, I bought one to share with you!  Just leave a comment by midnight EST Monday night, Nov. 19, sharing what kind of light you like for  your work or hobby, and you’ll be randomly entered to win.

A fun way to brighten your day!

In other news, I’m beyond honored to be featured today on Julie Hedlund’s terrific blog, talking about writing and artsyletters.


Art Break Wednesday: Let’s Talk Displays


‘Tis the season for holiday marketplaces.  This past weekend, I had the privilege of exhibiting and selling my wares at the All Saints Fall Festival,

Thanks, Brother-in-law!

a church-sponsored art and gift show benefitting the youth of All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, where my brother-in-law Tim happens to be a new priest working with the youth.  (Thanks for letting me know about the show, Tim!)





This was the first time I’ve done an art show in an indoor venue.  Ahhh – no worries about wind, rain, or fluctuating temperatures!  I could get used to that.  The space was smaller than the standard 10 X 10 outdoor show space, but I culled some items and squeezed in a bit.




Probably my favorite investments for the few shows I’ve done this fall have been:

A decent tent.  I ordered a Caravan tent and have been please with how sturdy it is and how nice it looks.  It was pricier than what you’ll find at WalMart, but I think it’s worth it.

Decent panels.  I  knew I wanted a couple of panels to hang framed pieces on, and I did some online research.  The Pro Panels system seemed to get consistently good reviews.  I took my hubby to a couple of art shows and had him help me compare the carpet colors on Pro Panels in different exhibitors’ booths!  We liked the dark gray the best, so that’s what I ordered for mine.  I’m glad I got the six-foot ones (not the very tallest) because I can just squeeze these into the back of my 2004 Honda Pilot.

A narrow display table (and a smaller one as well).  I found a lightweight long, narrow table for trade show use and it’s been a great investment and easy to carry and set up.  Google “trade show displays” and compare items from different vendors. Also, shop around online for a good price on table cloths.  I opted for classy old black.  (If they’re a bit large, just tuck them up and in with bulldog clips or safety pins.)

Magazine racks.  I found lightweight folding magazine racks online and they’ve been great to set up displays of cards and small items in the outdoor tent spaces.  It’s easiest to keep them in the box for transport, because those wire “shelves” will otherwise catch on everything.  A folding display rack (lightweight metal legs and canvas) available from online art supply stores is perfect for matted prints.

Banners.  I had a canvas banner made to stretch across the top of my tent with “artsyletters” big enough to catch the attention of folks walking around.  Then for this indoor show, I had one made about half that size to stretch across my table.  I read recently that it’s great to have your business name outside your booth AND inside of it, so I’ll keep using both.  In my neck of the woods, you can get a nice long banner for less than $100 and a shorter one for less than $50 at local sign/printing shops.

Signs.  After putting up a couple of hand-made ones, I had a few smaller signs made with real typesetting with phrases such as “Art for Your Literary Side,” “Gifts for Readers and Writers,” “Teacher Gifts,” and “Book Club” printed on them.  They’re printed on a strong foam core type base, so they are not indestructible – but they’re lightweight and can be stuck any place with Velcro.

Lights.  I’ve gotten positive comments on some delightful little battery-operated strings of lights I picked up at a shop in Greenville, SC.  Should have gotten more.  They were about $10 apiece and you can bend or wrap them around anything.  I also use a few battery-operated “eye” lights I can twist around the tops of the panels.  Found some on clearance at Office Depot and a couple more at Target.

Vintage, repurposed items.  For my bookmarks, I found two vintage metal receipt holders.  These would have been used years ago in a general store for families to keep track of their running tabs.  They weren’t cheap – maybe $35-$40 apiece? – but they are so unique and they draw customers in to investigate.  They also perfectly display the bookmarks.

Also, I found an chic-shabby shallow hanging shelf with great chippy paint.  It fits right beside the receipt holders on one side of my panels.  A few small nails in the outside edges of the racks, and, Voilà!  More bookmark display space.

Oh – and when I display small refrigerator magnets, a small mid-century metal vanity shelf I found in an antique store does the trick!  It even has little sliding doors I can store more inventory in, and it’s a nice height for the table.



Probably my favorite item is an old spinning card rack I got many moons ago from a store closing its doors.  It holds 48 packs of cards and is narrow enough for easy transport, plus it comes apart and is easy to set back up.  And you can put a sign on top! (I’d given this to my son, now 17, to put his baseball caps on – then took it back when I started my art business this fall.  Sorry, Seth.)

I transport my items for sale in plastic tubs that can be stored under my tables.  Remember, rain makes all the ground wet!  So you don’t want cardboard boxes as your only storage option.

The cost of setting up a travelling shop can be a little daunting, but sales at my first couple of shows this fall just made up the cost of display fixtures.  I think it was a good investment.

If you’re an exhibitor, what do you think are the most important things to think about when setting up for art shows?  Do you have some favorite ways to display your work?

Do tell! :0)


Art Break Wednesday: Happy Halloween!

Wishing you and yours more treats than tricks.

What makes certain images spooky?  Subject matter, of course – but it’s also color, quality of line, and what the piece conjures up in the imagination.

I carved the above relief print to accompany a poem I wrote for Jama Rattigan’s amazing blog, Alphabet Soup.  I was honored to be one of her guest poets for April. The poem is called “Spooky Brew.”

My brother and I LOVED Halloween growing up.  We turned our suburban home into a haunted house every year and the neighbor kids piled through.  Our wonderful mom played right along – I think she enjoyed it as much as we did. (Thanks, Mom!)

I can remember drawing Halloween pictures as a kid – witches on brooms, black cats, jack-o-lanterns.

I’ve always had a thing for black cats. This one is actually a panther, I guess, but it was all I could find handily. I must have drawn it at about age 10 or 11.

These all had sharp edges and bold, jagged, pointy lines.  Mwwahahahahahaha….






And somewhat related, a confession:  my brother and I were afraid of a certain letter Y in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  (Remember that, Mike?)  I think the top of it was curved in some way.  Whatever it looked like, it spooked us!  That’s likely one reason I’m so crazy about lettering and fonts and such to this day.  There is great power in a few strokes of black, a few marks on paper.

Whose spooky art do you admire?  Edward Gorey?

Maybe some of Tomi Ungerer’s?

Tim Burton?

Share your thoughts below!  (No tricks, now….)

Here are some more  frightfully wonderful suggestions from your comments:

Bernie Wrightson

The terrifically talented Toni deTerlizzi

I’ll toss in another – the work of Mary GrandPré on the Harry Potter …more?

Art Break Wednesday: Painter and Illustration Contest Winner Beth Rommel!


This past spring, I had the lovely good fortune to fall into a wonderful artists’ critique group.  We met through our amazing SCBWI Southern Breeze region.  I’ll share more about our small band in future posts  (Beth Rommel, Kathleen Bradshaw, Prescott Hill, Paula Puckett, and yours truly).

Beth Rommel

Beth came to see me at Mule Camp!

TODAY, I want to celebrate our “fearless leader” – or, at least, the one of us brave enough to host us in her home each month and keep our calendar on track. Why are we celebrating?  Because BETH ROMMEL just won first place in the SCBWI Southern Breeze 2012 illustration contest, as announced this past weekend at our fall conference in Birmingham!  Woo-hoooo!!!!!  The contest was judged by Debra Kaplan, Vice President and Executive Art Director at Penguin Young Readers.  (Yes, you should be impressed!)

Beth came to the Atlanta area in June 2011.  She grew up in Louisiana, and her work has been widely exhibited in Texas and the Southwest, and in Florida, where she later lived.  Her work experience includes graphic design, editorial, production, public relations, and education.  Now you can find Beth and her wonderful paintings here in Georgia!

The prompt for this year’s contest (coordinated by our own Kathleen Bradshaw, by the way) was:  “PJ tried and tried…”

Wouldn’t you know it, Beth was not able to attend this weekend because she was the special guest at another art event in Atlanta featuring her oil paintings. So I snapped a quick picture on my iPhone of her work up on the BIG screen:

image ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.








Here’s a better picture of her painting:

“PJ tried and tried to make friends with the horses.” ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.

Beth kindly offers this peek into how she created her winning picture:

I am so surprised to have won this because as a painter my style is very different from traditional children’s book illustration, which I really admire.

In coming up with a way to complete the prompt “P.J. tried and tried” I spoke with fellow artist Prescott Hill who said he was trying to remember things he had done as a child.  I was always doing something with horses in my childhood, riding them, showing them, trying to catch them in a field, make them my friends (carrots and apples always helped that process). 

Because of that constant contact their form is intuitive. It is well embedded in my Visual Catalogue, a term I coined recently. (I define it as a registry of the images kept in one’s mind. The images are derived from experiences of all descriptions.) I wanted to convey the feeling of being in a field surrounded by horses, some are friends, some are a little wild, some threatening, and others completely ignore you. This whole cast of characters I knew as a child. Wearing mismatched clothes was not an issue in the country early in the morning when all I wanted to do was get outside and get on a horse. In my dad’s big jackets or a flannel shirt I would walk the wet fields in Louisiana trying to track down these creatures and hope they wouldn’t run away before I could catch one for the ride home.

I used a palette of mixed media: acrylic paint, white ink, collage papers on coldpress 140 lb. watercolor paper. The original is proportionally twice the size as the final printed piece as I work better in a large format. I have tried to imagine what it would have been like to see my horses on a large screen at the conference! I sure wish I had been there; thank you again for sending me the photo. I am walking on air.

Thanks so much for this behind-the-scenes look, Beth!

Here is a taste of some more of Beth’s vibrant works.  These are all oil paintings.

portraits: Co-Directors of the World Shakespeare Project. ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.

Admired Woman. ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.

Nancy and Andy. ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.








The Big Chicken was Back Again. ©Beth Rommel. All rights reserved.

Can’t wait to see what else Beth has in store.  You can keep up with Beth at her new art blog,

What feelings does Beth’s artwork evoke in YOU?  Let her know in your congratulations in the comments!

Art Break Wednesday: Q and A with Melanie Hall and Book Give-away

**First, congratulations to Jo, whose name was randomly picked from last week’s commenters to receive a pack of notecards.** :0)

Melanie Hall and yours truly at a Highlights Founders Workshop, May 2012

Today we have a lively treat. Melanie Hall is an artist, illustrator and teacher from New York’s Hudson River Valley.  Her 25 children’s books have garnered many awards including the Parents’ Choice Award for an outstanding picture book and the Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2011, as well as favorable reviews from the New York Times Book Review.  Her work, often described as sophisticated and whimsical,  has been exhibited at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators (NY) and in many galleries.  She teaches graduate courses in children’s book illustration at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as professional workshops.

I met Melanie at the 2011 Highlights Founders Workshop for Advanced Illustrators at Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, led by an esteemed team of amazing illustrators:  Melanie, Lindsay Barrett George, Eric Rohman, Floyd Cooper, and Suzanne Bloom.

Suzanne Bloom taking pictures as Melanie Hall and Lindsay Barrett George chat at the 2011 Highlights Founders Advanced Illustrators Workshop

The Highlights workshops are tremendous.  Little cabins to create and relax in are heavenly, and the new “Barn” is a terrific facility for group gatherings.  The natural setting is rejuvenating.  But the best thing about these workshops is the faculty.   I cornered Melanie toward the end of the workshop to discuss her poetry book projects, since poetry is my first love and I’d love to illustrate my own poems.  She kindly looked at my work and offered helpful insights.  What struck me most about Melanie was not just her expertise and her ability to articulate concepts, but the joy that emanates from her work and her person.  She looked at a couple of pieces I’d made and said, “You had fun creating that, didn’t you?”  She challenged us to make the kind of work we took joy in, which reflected our personalities.

One of my favorite books Melanie has illustrated is EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS – POEMS FOR THE MIND AND SENSES (selected by Christine San José and Bill Johnson.)  I had the good fortune to meet Bill Johnson at the Highlights Founders “Poetry for All” workshop this past May.  Melanie was a guest presenter there, and it was wonderful to catch up with her and hear about her process of illustrating poetry.  Her collages, paintings, and drawings reflect the variety of voices in EVERY SECOND…, which includes the work of renowned poets and also poems from children.  (See my blog post for more about the book.)  And, drumroll…. I’m offering a copy to one lucky commenter randomly selected this week! (See details below.)

Melanie kindly offered to drop by here today and answer a few questions about herself and her art.

Welcome, Melanie!  Tell us a little bit about your background.  Were you one of those kids who doodled your way through class?

Yup. The girls asked me to draw horses for them in grade school. No one else could figure out how to draw them. They thought it was cool the way the images just came out of my pencil. I did, too.

“Fireworks” – ©Melanie Hall, HIGHLIGHTS magazine illustration

How and when did you decide to pursue art as a career?

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to go to art school. Dad was not happy. He said I would “starve in a garret.” He was very proud of me when I became an editorial illustrator and did annual reports and magazine and newspaper illustrations.

What is it about mixed media that you particularly enjoy?

 I love being surprised how things turn out. It’s not always what I intended, because the right side of the brain is a genius , and if I just get out of the way, my images become inventive, freer,  exciting and filled with spirit.

©Melanie Hall – Clock Doll, assemblage

You wear many hats  berets – artist, illustrator, teacher.  How do you balance the different requirements for each of these pursuits?  (Do you need time away from people in order to create, or do you need to get away from the studio to be with other people?)

Great question. I have to carve up my time to pursue all my interests. Sometimes it means that I work on several different projects in one day: in the morning I’ll do one thing, and then after lunch I’ll do something else, and then at the end of the day I’ll reward myself with personal art.

I used to think it was nutty of me, but I realized it works for me!

In my notes from one of your workshops , I wrote that you said, “What turns my buttons on is to play.”  How do you free yourself to play when approaching a new work?

I arrange some of my favorite pieces of artwork near my drawing table to look at while I’m working so I can get back into that frame of mind.

I also love to look at the masters of both fine art and illustration. For instance, I’ll look at a book of Toulouse Lautrec’s posters or a Martin and Alice Provensen picturebook.

So I guess it’s visual inspiration that gets me going.

Do you have favorite sources of inspiration?

 From time to time, I need to spend the day at a museum to feast my eyes and breathe in that incredible atmosphere; the Metropolitan is one of my favorites. That’s where you’ll find me every year on my birthday to celebrate life.

©Melanie Hall – “Hen Party,” mixed media on board

What are the tools you can’t live without – the items you use over and over again in your studio?

My electric eraser, my“Black Warrior” pencil, and Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper with the wonderful deckled edge.


(I love that deckled edge, too!) Looking ahead, are there any works-in-progress or plans floating out there you’d like to share with us?

Yes, I am writing and illustrating a picture book. I’m on Revision # 6. Each version is better than the one that came before.

Thank you for playing along, Melanie!

Visit Melanie at her website and her Etsy shop.

To read more about the Highlights Illustrators workshop from last year, here’s my blog post about it.

To be entered to win a copy of EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS, please leave a comment below by midnight EST Monday, Oct. 22.  Do you have a favorite way to “play” to free up your creative side? One lucky art lover will be randomly selected and notified next week.

Art Break Wednesday: Relief Printmaking Photo-Demo


First, CONGRATULATIONS to Rebecca for being the randomly chosen winner of Pam Carriker’s ART AT THE SPEED OF LIFE.  Thanks to everyone for leaving comments on that first Art Break Wednesday post.  Keep checking back for more give-aways!  (Today it’s a pack of notecards….)

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher in Arizona emailed me to ask permission to use a few relief prints posted on my author website in a power point for fourth graders. (I love fourth graders!) She’s doing an art unit.

I decided it’s high time I also make a simple photo-demonstration of the process.  I’ll post this info here now, and soon on my author website and on this one as part of a forthcoming page featuring technique demos.

©2012 Robyn Hood Black


Here’s how I made a 4 in. X 6 in. relief print last week.  I wanted to create an image that might brighten a teacher’s day. (I love teachers!)

I set up a small still life in my studio with vintage books and a good ol’ red delicious apple.  After a rough sketch, I fine-tuned one.  Often I’ll use my light table or scan the sketch into the computer to reverse the image.  I don’t do digital art, but this speeds along the process.  (You can transfer the image without reversing if you don’t mind that the direction will be the opposite.  Otherwise, the final sketch you see needs to be the reverse of what you want as a printed image.)


I rub the back of the final sketch with a big pencil or graphite, then place it over a blank block to outline.   I don’t go into great detail when transferring the drawing; for me, the magic always happens in the carving.  Especially if I have some lively Celtic music playing on Pandora.

Carving blocks come in many varieties these days. There’s traditional linoleum of course, but also products from manufacturers designed to make carving easier.  Try out several.  For this project, I used a 4 X 6 block of Speedball Speedy-Carve.  Smaller plates or stamps can be made with erasers!

Here are tools for woodcuts – a topic for another day! It’s a good idea to keep these carving tools just for wood.





Carving tools must be handled with great care. A few handles will make carving easier, as you won’t have to stop all the time to change blades.  I most often use a v-gouge.  Speedball also has a set of modified blades (“Linozips”) which are designed to be a little safer, but I don’t personally like them as well as the traditional ones.  Also, you have to pull them toward you rather than push them away.  I wouldn’t allow young children to use any of them.  They could experiment with making impressions in Styrofoam with pencils, or other introductory methods.  Older students would need safety instruction before carving.  I use a bench hook – these grab onto the edge of your work surface and have notches which will hold corners of your block as you are carving it.



This is a ticket to the ER. Never carve with your supporting hand in front of the blade.


There, that’s better!










As I carve the design, and again when I think I’m done, I rub graphite over the surface to get a sense of how it will work – dark areas are where the ink will be. I use either Speedball water-based ink (if time is a factor) or, my favorite, Caligo Safe-Wash Relief Ink.  It’s oil-based, but cleans up with water!  It does take a few days to fully dry, however.  And, though I love the smell of ink, I do open windows and recommend using with good ventilation.  I use a piece of glass (should be tempered on edges for safety) to roll out the ink on.  A healthy dab or two to start is good. It takes a little practice to get the “feel” of when the brayer is “charged” and ready.  To me, there’s a way the ink snaps (!) – I can feel it and hear it as well.  I roll the ink onto the block, varying direction with each set of passes until it’s covered.




Try out different papers.  My favorites are Stonehenge and Rives printmaking papers.  You can get a pack of Speedball Mulberry paper at the large art/craft supply stores that works well, too.  Here’s the tricky part:  If your work is small enough like this one, you can simply lay the paper over the top to print it.  Larger works or works with more than one color of ink, which require registration, will need a support.  For these small prints, I turn the paper over, visualize the borders I want, let it hover just a sec to make sure it is an even distance from the block, then I gently lay it on top.  (Don’t jiggle or move it in any way.)  I usually secure it with a tip of a fingernail in the middle, then rub the back of the paper with a baren.  (I do this by feel, too – trying to apply even pressure in circles.) These can be official barens, like this Japanese-made one below, or the back of a worn wooden spoon.  If you are printing on thin paper, you’ll want a barrier between the paper and the baren (Glassine or a paper that won’t stick to any seeping ink.)

Of course, you can use a printing press if you have access to one.  For small prints, I enjoy making each one by hand the whole way.  Oh, and I don’t have a printing press anyway… .


Now for the reveal – carefully pull up your paper, and, Voila! I do this in a slow but deliberate motion so the paper comes right up.  See?  A lovely, we hope, print which is the reverse image of the carving on the block.


The masterpiece needs to dry.  And, you’ll want to make more copies, called an edition.  (I find I have to wash off the block every 5 to 10 prints and thoroughly dry it before printing more, if I want a uniform edition that’s not muddy.  That goes for the inking plate too if I’m printing a lot.) The edition can be open (as many prints as your block can make cleanly before showing wear), or limited to a certain number, which you would likely note when you signed them.  (5/20 would mean it’s the fifth print of an edition of 20.)  Many artists destroy the block after the edition is printed.  You can certainly buy fancy drying racks, but for my prints which range in size up to about 9 X 12 or so, I improvise.  I’m cheap resourceful. I use metal sorters from the office supply store, turned on their sides and, for larger prints, placed opposite each other.

Sometimes I add a finishing touch – just a hint of a color or two in thinned gouache.  Here it is on the apple, a bit of juicy red.  Many prints I prefer in their simple black and white glory.

When your print is dry, sign it in pencil and enjoy!

I’m offering this image in my Etsy shop as a hand-pulled print and also commercially printed on notecards.  Said notecards are scheduled to arrive in a big brown truck in my driveway any day now.  If you’d like to be entered into a random drawing to receive a package of 8 from moi, please leave a comment anytime by next Monday, Oct. 15, at midnight EST.  I’ll email the winner for his/her address and announce it next week.

Oh, and my favorite sources for printmaking supplies?  Try McClains and Stampeaz.  Thanks, and happy printmaking!