Friday, April 29, 2011

What You Need to Get Started

This Sunday I will be doing a trunk show and demonstration at Nana in Mt. Pleasant, where I'll be showing how to carve and print linoleum blocks. If you're in the area, stop by and take a look, it's going to be a really great event (surrounded by all their amazing clothes and jewelery)!

If DC is too far for you, I thought I would do a roundup of the basic materials you need for block printing. All of these materials can be purchased at your local art store.


Linoleum is the material you use to carve the design. It comes in hundreds of different textures, but this is very different from the flooring material. I prefer linoleum that's a little bit softer, because it's easier to carve and easier to print without a press. Harder linoleum sometimes needs to be heated on a special plate before carving, so stick with something softer if you don't have one.

A lot of people use the soft pink rubber material for block printing. This is fine if you are just doing a few prints, but it won't hold up very long, and you can't get as much detail, so avoid it if you are doing something you want to last for a long time.

Carving Tools

I use a variety of different tools with different sized blades, and each one is good for a different type of carving. But for most pieces, you can get by with just a small and large v-shaped tip, one for details and one for carving out the background.

Everyone says it is important to change the blades frequently, but I actually rarely change the blades. I've had the wooden handled knives for about five years, and they are still extremely sharp. Just change them when they are obviously dull.


 There are also hundreds of types of ink, but I stick to one (and one other type when I am using a press). After trying a huge range of inks, I found that Speedball oil-based inks are my favorite (there are many other brands of nice oil-based ink but these are about $6 cheaper per tube). I use oil-based ink because of its durability. With water based ink, it will smudge even after its been dry for months, and it will never stay on fabric. I found this out when I carried the first block printed bag I made through a rainstorm and had red ink all over my clothes once I got inside.

The oil-based ink takes much longer to dry (the red in particular can take up to five days to dry, depending on the moisture in the air) but it's worth it. Your prints will stay put for much, much longer.

Roller/Brayer and Palette Knife

Rollers come in all sizes and textures, but I like to use a small one with a hard surface because it applies the ink more evenly than a soft roller. Use the palette knife for mixing colors and cleaning up the ink at the end.


The glass is for rolling out your ink. You want a very thin layer so that it doesn't get into the grooves when you apply it to the block. I use glass from an old picture frame, but you can also get it specially cut (an old picture frame is much more cost effective).


Instead of using paper towels to clean up, I use rags which I throw away after a few months. They soak up a lot more ink and cut down on a huge amount of waste.

Mineral Spirits 

If you are using oil-based inks, then you will need mineral spirits to clean up after. I use Gamsol because I like it and it's odor-free, but you can use any brand from the art store or hardware store.

And there you have it! A round up of the tools you need to get started. To see how to put them all to use, stop by Nana this Sunday between 12 and 5. See you there!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stationery Show Chaos

The National Stationery Show is only three weeks away, and my life is completely revolving around preparation. My 700 square foot apartment, which has always seemed so luxuriously spacious, is starting to feel extremely cramped as more and more boxes full of display materials, order forms and supplies arrive. The shelves, desk, dining room table and floor are all completely covered with materials.

I definitely need to take a break from my to-do list and organize all the boxes. They are completely filling the apartment, but I need to re-pack all the supplies in them to fill the car so I can't recycle them. I can't wait to load up the car and stretch out again.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm on Poppytalk this Month!

In anticipation of the upcoming National Stationery Show in May, Poppytalk Handmade is having a paper-themed marketplace this month, and I'm in it! Head over to Poppytalk to take a look at all the talented vendors that are included.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Weavers at Work

To continue my coverage of The IOU Project, I thought I would share a few of their videos of weavers working today. Watching fabric being woven is so mesmerizing, it happens so quickly you almost can't see what's happening, but you can see the piece taking shape in front of you.

Just try not be hypnotized while you are watching.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Visit the New Shop!

Another big announcement today, everyone: my online shop has moved! I've moved from KathPrints to ShopKatharineWatson, so come on over and take a look!

As a special incentive, I will be adding a free single card to every purchase made before May 1st, so head over to the shop and take a look!

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Store: Paper Source!

I have some very exciting news to share today: on Friday, I shipped out a big order to Paper Source for their stores around the country! They should be hitting the shelves soon, so stop by your local Paper Source and pick up a card! I thought I would share a few pictures of the process:

Friday, April 15, 2011

The IOU Project

Take a look at this great video from The IOU Project. The company plans to offer clothes that are made from fabric that is hand-woven in India, supporting independent weavers rather than mass-produced textiles.

They haven't launched their line yet, but from the few preview images I've seen, it looks very promising. I really hope they can find the right balance between style and price, since all of the sustainable or fair trade clothes available right now seem to be designed without a sense of style (I am picturing a long hemp skirt and vest combo).

I really hope the idea works, because there is such a huge potential market of people who want to buy stylish clothes that support independent artisans. If it catches on, this could be huge for textile weavers around the world. So look out for the full line, I know I will be!

Photo from here

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Weekend In Review

This was an interesting weekend. There's nothing like a terrible show to send you looking in a new direction. I went into into it with very high hopes: the November show I did in Gaithersburg was one of my best experiences, so I was expecting this to be similar. It's not Christmas, so I knew sales would be down, but I was not expecting it to bomb.

One thing I've always noticed at the "Fine Art" shows I do is the way people talk to me. There is always a handful of amazing people, who are genuinely interested in talking about my work or anything related to it, and I love these conversations. But this weekend I got a lot of pity comments. One woman walked by and said "This is that thing that little kids do when they scratch colors on to a board and make pictures."

I'm not saying I never hear negative comments; people have different opinions at every show. But I've never been to a show where people seemed so concerned for my well-being, and were trying to offer me advice even though they have no experience to speak from. One woman, who had never heard of block printing, told me I would definitely have to expand my line in order to sell anything. One man asked me if I could afford to buy food.

So when I found this TED talk on Girls Can Tell this morning, it really spoke to me. In the beginning of her talk, Elizabeth Gilbert describes the way people reacted when she told them she wanted to be a writer, and it seemed incredibly similar to some of the comments I heard this weekend.

I really enjoyed her insights on creative careers and the way people respond to them, and it seemed like an incredibly fitting way to start the week. I especially liked the line: "Is it rational that anyone is expected to be afraid of the work that they feel that they were put on this earth to do?"

It can be easy to hear negative comments and take them to heart, but I came home last night and got straight to work on researching new projects. To some extent, criticism is great for creating better work, but when that is all you hear, it's time to move on. I know there are plenty of people and venues that do appreciate what I do, and I will be working harder to find those from now on!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Colorblock Quilts

I love quilts, but it is rare to see something that goes beyond the fabric-store-floral look. When I found these quilts by Kim Eichler-Messmer, I was amazed at the way she uses dyes and shibori techniques to create these amazing patterns and colors. The gradients are inspired by paint chips, and she pulls off the designs beautifully. I think it's the simplicity that makes them stand out from other quilts, although you can tell that this kind of simplicity takes hundreds of hours to pull off.

I love the way the patterns and solids are coordinated in the quilt below, and the design seems effortless and complicated at the same time. Even the quilt stitching is based on the shibori pattern.
You can see Kim's full line of beautiful quilts right here. I can't wait to see what she comes out with next!

All photos via kimem on Etsy

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cherry Blossom Season

The cherry blossoms are blooming in DC, and the crowds of tourists are everywhere. I didn't venture down to the tidal basin to be squished in with the thousands of other people having a serene moment looking at the blossoms, but the trees in my neighborhood are just as spectacular, so I did a little local tourism instead.

There are lots of exciting projects happening around here that I can't wait to share, so look out for some exciting announcements in the coming weeks!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Gaithersburg this Weekend!

This weekend I will be heading out to Gaithersburg, MD for another Sugarloaf Craft Festival. I had an amazing time in Gaithersburg in November, and if this weekend is half as busy as that, I'll be very happy.

The regular entrance fee is $10, but if you would like a free ticket to visit all the amazing food and craft vendors, I will be giving away five free tickets! Just send an email to katharinegwatson [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address, and if you are one of the first five, I will get one in the mail to you!

All photos via thriftypyg on Etsy
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