Art Break Wednesday: NEW “Book Nerd” Gift Pack

book nerd gift pack 1 with c

Greetings, Book, Letter, and Art Lovers!  Do you have a special bibliophile in your life?

As a new school year looms, I’ve got books, books, books on the brain.  How much does my family love books?  We are beginning to process of gradually relocating (more on that later), and pretty much the first things my husband has packed are boxes of books.  We need to donate some from our teetering stash, but how to decide?  I’m putting some of my zillions of children’s books aside for our oldest, who will be teaching young readers just two years from now (after she graduates and then completes her masters.)  We’ve already given our youngest some books to take to college, as if he won’t get enough there!

Well, if you know someone who can’t resist the turn of a page, the crisp smell of the latest bestseller or the musty aroma of a time-tested classic, the heft and weight of words in hands – all stitched up in a glorious volume of board, cloth, paper and ink – I’ve come up with a new gift package that might suit.

book nerd notecard angled with cFirst, a package of “Book Nerd” note cards.  I made the original design for these with my little book relief print carving and hand-stamped the words “BoOk NeRD” with vintage metal letterpress type, all on torn paper.  (The notecard reproductions suggest this texture, but are completely flat.)

These come in packs of eight cards, printed on premium cardstock from environmentally sustainable forests with gloss coating on the outside. White envelopes are included. (Packaged in clear, archival 2 ml polypropylene.)

Next is – what else?  A bookmark!  This design was made with the same vintage metal  letterpress type, and features a black relief print border.  It’s printed on premium cardstock from sustainable forests with a gloss coating, finished with a black ribbon and an antique brass-colored cord crimp.  It’s packaged in a cello nerd bookmark with c






Finally, who couldn’t use a fun magnet to keep track of all those reading lists?  A smaller image of the book design and stamped letters, printed on premium cardstock, is cut with a deckle edge and layered on a like-wise deckle-edged piece of copper cardstock.  These are collaged onto a 2″ X 2″ canvas board (painted black) and covered with acrylic gloss.  A strong 3/4″ magnet is secured to the back.

book nerd magnet 1 with c

book nerd gift pack items 2 with c

Each item is sold individually (just click on each picture if interested, and you’ll zoom over to the appropriate listing in my Etsy shop), but I’m offering a little bit of a break and a fun presentation for the whole bundle.  The cards, bookmark, and magnet, each wrapped in its own clear packaging, are placed in a clear cello bag with gold woven tissue. Gold and black raffia tie up the nerdy ensemble. book nerd gift pack 3 with c

Wishing you and yours a happy August.  I’ll be in and out of town, and working like crazy to stock up for the Decatur Book Festival street fair at the end of the month, so I’m declaring myself an honorary European and will take some of the month off re. blogging.  But only a couple of weeks –  I’ll see you back here before the festival!

Art Break Wednesday: Making Impressions with Printmaking


Earlier this year, I had the most wonderful surprise in my mailbox.  It included this card from Jama Rattigan, handmade by her sister-in-law, Alison.

lovely orignal handmade card by Alison

lovely orignal handmade card by Alison


Jama is an author, kidlit and food connoisseur, and blogger extraordinaire.  (If you don’t know her blog, Alphabet Soup, get thee there post-haste after reading this post!)  She has excellent taste in, well, everything – and she’s generous with her time and talent.

Back to my mailbox!  Jama is also from Hawaii.  On a trip there over the holidays, she was browsing in what looks like an incredible book and gift shop, Native Books in Honolulu, and found something she said made her think of me.  (How lovely is that?!) It was a pack of four hand printed note cards, with each block print representing something Hawaiin:  the Hawaiian hawksbill turtle, ‘ulu (a type of breadfruit tree), hula implements, and coral.

Palapala DESIGNS group of cards 579 X 384

The cards were made by Palapala Designs.  Here’s what you’ll learn on the website:

“Founded by artist Palapala (Barbara) Chung, Palapala Designs is a small company based in Maui, Hawaii. Barbara designs and carves original blockprints of Hawaiian motifs and subjects, combining them with contemporary form and function.”

I’ve loved browsing her beautiful designs! Palapala DESIGNS info card 2013 03 20

And I really love that I popped into Jama’s mind as she looked at them, too.  Thank you again, Jama (and Alison – for that colorful, cheerful card which makes me smile.)


One more printmaking gem I wanted to share was this video, ALL ABOUT PRINTS:

Click for more info.

Click for more info.

This 2009 54-minute DVD from  Steriopticon Pictures™ was produced and directed by Christopher Noey and “explores the collaborative nature of printmaking, the democratic character of multiples, and the deep-rooted traditions of the art form.”

It’s a guided journey through Western printmaking, with long stops in the 19th century (saying hello to Whistler and Homer) and even longer stops in the 20th.  Edward  Hopper’s influence is noted, and I really enjoyed the section about the influence of muralists from Mexico after the revolution there and through the 1930s.  Also fascinating was the role of the WPA in hiring artists as part of the Federal Art Project.    The last few decades are examined, too – the print “boom” of the 1960s and looks at what contemporary artists are creating now.  The documentary explores different kinds of Western printmaking available throughout history from the creation side as well as the collecting and curating sides.

I found this on the sale shelf (online!) of NorthLight Books, a dangerous destination for folks like me.  I don’t see it there now, but the producer has a terrific website, which includes a list of interviewed artists and experts, clips from the film, and purchasing info/links.

Thank you for coming by, and go make an impression!

Art Break Wednesday: The Magic of Doors

altered book door collage 1-2013  RHB reduced with cSo, today is my birthday.

One of those milestone ones.  Others in my family are having them, too: my daughter turned 21 this month, and my son will turn 18 this spring.  (Last year, my hubby got a head start on the milestone I’m hitting today.)

This past year has been particularly full of struggles and joys, losses and new adventures.  Maybe that’s the reason for my current obsession:  doors.  The poet in me is all about the metaphor, for myself and for each person in my family.   Doors closing (some slamming painfully shut; others slowly creaking closed until you realize you’re in a different place) and others opening (new experiences and things to learn, new art to make, new poems to write, new endeavors to launch, new friends to meet…).

The artist in me is all about a visual description of that metaphor – books as doors!  What better than a book to transport us to new worlds, open up new ways of thinking and dreaming and wondering?

Hence, my newest artistic adventures.  Vintage books-as-doors collages!  (With poetry inside, too.)

door ajar with c







For this piece, I hollowed out a vintage book, embellished it, and tucked in this Emily Dickinson poem from another vintage book:

door collage emily dickinson interior with c


Precious Words

He ate and drank the precious words

His spirit grew robust;

He knew no more that he was poor,

Nor that his frame was dust.

He danced along the dingy days,

And this bequest of wings

Was but a book.  What liberty

A loosened spirit brings!


The door is adorned with a round filigree find from an antique shop, and a vintage jewelry part I bought from a European dealer on Etsy.  The door knocker (also purchased on Etsy) is a vintage brass doll house door knocker. I’m stashing all kinds of fun vintage bits of hardware for these.

Surrounding the door, with sidelights and a fanlight, is relief print I carved.   It’s a simplified version of a doorway in Dublin, the kind I got to see in person when my father-in-law took our whole family to Ireland when our kids were little bitty.

This collage is 9 X 12, in a cradled wood panel painted glossy black. I’m excited about making these collages in different sizes and with different details. When I took this to show my art critique group this month, seeking their feedback, one of the members bought it!  That was pretty encouraging feedback.

(More coming soon for sale in my Etsy shop!  I’m making them now.  Really – working on them right now!)

Do you remember any particular doors from your past?  I remember the wrought iron gates to the small courtyard in the house I grew up in in Florida. I remember walking through the gi-normous jaws of an alligator to enter Gatorland there, too.  And the imposing entrance to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World!  How about you?  How about now?

Perhaps you’re facing big transitions soon – as we’ll be adjusting to our youngest leaving the nest over here.  Or perhaps your journey will be less jarring.  Whatever doors you walk through this year, I wish you blessings as you come and go, and joy and adventure on the other side.

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: 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!