“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up for you.”
When I was in my 20s, I decided I was going to learn to play the violin. I bought a cheap student violin with a warped bow off of eBay and a beginner’s book with a CD to get started. As I waited for my order to arrive, I had visions of being able to play beautifully from the first stroke. It would be an intuitive talent that was built into my DNA. Well, I pulled my violin out of the case and, just as you would expect, I needed to learn everything. It was disappointingly unfamiliar. I had to learn to set up the bridge, rosin the bow, and the finger placements. I had to go through the painful screeching and notes that were too flat or sharp. I had to be a beginner.
Being a beginner at something is exciting, but it can also be frustrating, especially if you’re proficient in similar disciplines. So many times, I wanted to put down the violin and just play guitar, something I was comfortable with that will actually sound like music.
I’ve learned that I hate pretty much any new art medium after the first use. I feel like I can get better results if I just go back to a medium I feel more confident in. While that is true, I’ve also learned that if I push past that stage, I start to enjoy that new medium and use it more and more often. As the quote states above, then the whole world is open to me. I won’t be good at everything, but I can try anything.
So, when I was unexpectedly introduced to lino (linoleum) cutting & printing in a Jeanne Oliver art class I’m taking from Melissa Fink (Beneath the Surface), I was ready to try something new. I have taken a class from Melissa before and this one wasn’t specifically for lino cutting & printing, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came up in the class materials list and the course schedule. And I think I embraced it much more than I would’ve had it been offered in a lino cutting class.
Melissa was introducing lino cutting & printing as a way to create a foundation layer in a mixed media painting. The idea of creating a piece once and using it over and over again appealed to me. So, I happily bought some new art supplies to get set up and started carving.
I started by carving an embroidery pattern from the 1700s. I’ve had this pattern printed for a while and it just seemed suited to lino cutting. It’s detailed, but not overly ambitious for a beginner.
I ended up adding more detail to the print with an ink pen, but I was pleased with how it turned out overall. I used a natural watercolor, which sort of pooled into droplets, so it created an interesting look but not one that really showed the details of the lino block. I’ve now ordered some ink so I can get a better result.
I enjoyed carving the first one so much that I carved a second one. This time, I did a landscape and I used some watered-down acrylic paint for the “ink.”
I also got some better tools that my friend, Julia, suggested to me.
Creating has been a little bit more challenging for me over the past month. I’ve been avoiding my oil paints because I feel a little drained and not sure that I would be able to create something I’m proud of. But taking this class and working on something totally new, just for me, just to learn and grow, got me motivated and excited to revisit my favorite mediums and start working on commissions and pieces for my next sale again.
I don’t know where the lino cutting/block printing will lead, but I know that it’s what I needed at this particular time and I’m excited about all of the possibilities! Prints, patterns, creative play…
If you’re interested in dipping your toe into lino cutting, here are the tools I started with. I bought THESE white rubber lino blocks that are easier to carve than actual linoleum. That seemed like a good place to start! I also bought THIS Speedball lino cutting set that Melissa recommended. At $12, it is a great starter set. The blades worked well, but it is a little fiddly to change them out.
I purchased THIS Powergrip set (recommended by Julia) when I enjoyed carving the first block and decided it was worth getting a nicer set. You also hold these like a pencil, so they work a little bit differently than the Speedball set.
I also bought a SlipStrop for sharpening my cutting blades. If I do lino cutting often enough, I’ll likely invest in THIS beautiful set of carving tools that are suggested in the book below. I am all for investing in good tools, but I want to make sure I am doing that particular art enough to justify the splurge.
And, of course, I need a book for a new creative endeavor! I decided to purchase Block Print Magic and it is excellent. It has great information to get you started and a wide variety of projects.
And, I happened to have an empty drawer in the studio for just this occasion – delving into a new craft and needing a place to store the supplies.
As a word of encouragement to leave you with – if you find yourself feeling stuck or uninspired, trying something new, an art or discipline you’re curious about, might just be the spark you need. Those periods of creative stuckness are a great time to take classes, read books, and be a beginner at something again. The time is then not wasted, but filled with things that will fill you up and further your growth.