tree graffiti

Carved into the bark of a tall tree by the lake, now so overgrown that we cannot make it out, there is an aged message.

carved initial tree graffiti

Unmistakably, a heart; perhaps, some letters, that old declaration, one plus the other. Did a young lover cut initials into the tree? Was it the old botanist, great-grandfather of the lake, who built our cottage, and the great-grandmother who designed the place? Such a sweet old fashioned sculptural proclamation of love.

handcarved stamp

Amazing, how a project gets lost under a stack of other things, and resurfaces much later. I’m learning to accept this as part of a creative process, and really, how learning happens. Pick it up, put it down, forget about it, progress it a little more. You may remember our summer’s day of handcutting linoleum. Well, on a stormy autumn’s day I got round to printmaking.


The linocuts are thin and unwieldy, much easier to handle when mounted on a block of wood. We cut a piece and sanded it a little.


White glue and some pressure should suffice to attach the linoleum. A bigger linocut might like to be left under something heavy until the glue dries.


Not having come across a white inkpad, I decided to make one to go with the handcarved stamp. I reused a couple of piece of foam, cut to fit a lidded plastic box. Squeezing the block-printing ink between the piece of foam, and then harassing it until the ink spread out and bled through, worked very well.


Stamping is so basic a type of printmaking, I often forget that’s what it is. The envelopes and brown-paper packets I send from the appleturnovershop are now rendered glamourous with a bit of ornamentation, how nice.

linocut carving

We gathered our newly acquired printmaking tools around a shady table in the garden, and spent the afternoon carving the linocuts. Would you like to try it?

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Have a couple of blades, a v-blade and a rounded gouging blade, and a handle or two, a pencil and eraser, and a sheet of printing linoleum. Our table had an uneven spot where we could brace the linoleum as we worked, but a bench is ideal. Strong shears to cut the piece to size later are also useful. Draw a simple design, nothing too detailed, keeping in mind that you’ll be working with subtractive cutting – slicing away around the image, leaving the drawing raised to take the ink. I’ve begun by translating a bit of my logo.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

We were working on a very warm day, otherwise it is a great idea to carefully warm the linoleum near a lightbulb, or with a hairdryer, to make it easier to work. Following our wood-carving practices, we outlined the shapes with the v-shaped blade. Always cut away from you! (Mind that children are carefully supervised and taught to keep little hands out of the way of blades. A good first aid kit is worth having nearby!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Wiggle the blade a little as you cut to help it move without jumping away with the pressure. Slow and steady. Once all the lines are cut, take them a little deeper with the little v-blade. Like wood, if the cuts are nice and deep, it will prevent the drawn area from being lifted or damaged as the material in the negative space is cut away from the image.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Use the rounded blade to begin to lift the linoleum from around your image, again with a slow wiggle, working away from you.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

If your first cuts are deep enough, you can cut right up to them without fear of nicking the image. Begin to clear a low-relief of linoleum.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

I sheared the piece down to size with some heavy snips, as I was working a petite image. Later I’ll mount the matrix on a block of wood for easy stamping, but this isn’t necessary. My tall girl was capable of cutting her own subtractive pieces, but I carved the small one’s drawings out with her, holding the tool together, usually just cutting away the drawing itself.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

A flat-sided blade seemed just the thing to smooth out the negative space. Do you think that’s what it was for? Sometimes I’d rather go ahead and do it, with a guess, than wait to be correct, and never do it! (Yes, I did later attack the surface of my piece to give it texture, it wasn’t a mistake!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

All ready for inking, or mounting on a block and stamping! I’m delighted with linocut carving. Carving, drawing, printmaking are such pleasurable old skills. Working with my hands is a meditation for me. Next, printing! Will you join me? Back with that soon.

linocut tools

Roughly twenty years ago I first used the linocut in my studies of printmaking. My mother is a printmaker, so I’ve grown up surrounded by her beautiful work in etching, drypoint, collagraphy and digital print methods. At art school I fell in love with lithography, though I experimented with silkscreening and watched the woodcut printers with great interest. I’d love to return to all of it. Linocutting seems like a good place to begin, and I’m delighted to have acquired a gorgeous set of old tools and a stack of linoleum out of my mother’s studio.

linocut © elisa rathje 2012

Amazingly, I never noticed that linoleum is a word created from linseed and oil, its main component. For a human-made product, it is surprisingly organic. I love that the prints made a hundred years ago were called woodcuts, to sound respectable, and I love it even more that Picasso and Matisse just went ahead and called it linocut. That it is the printmaking tool of choice for children is also pretty fabulous. I’m going to begin with a few experiments with these linocut tools, in small, ornate designs, with more resemblance to rubber stamping. If they work, they’ll adorn the little parcels that enclose the homemade projects from the shop. Ah, and I find myself revisiting mail art!

Don’t miss the preview of the old school movies that support homemade projects in my appleturnovershop.

wooden candlesticks

Oak and cherry wood, rounded with an axe, smoothed with a drawknife, and turned on a pole lathe.

lathed wooden candlesticks © elisa rathje 2012

These pieces were so much happiness to make. The oak needed some wrestling at first, it is such a hard wood, but I loved working with the possibilities for shaping a bigger piece. I experimented with various chisels to cut under and form simple lines. Elation! Such good work. Our homemade candles will look quite elegant, I should think. I must wait til I reach my father’s woodshop in Canada in June, to make bases for these candlesticks.

I’m awfully sorry to say that I must save up all my stories of boat-building, cheesemaking, plant-dyeing wool and upholstering chairs, for June and the summer beyond it. Now I must give my attention to packing up the old cottage, our beloved English home, and sending it off in a boat for a new life on the west coast of Canada. I’m full of sorrow and joy about this! I’ll be making photographs of my last adventures here, and tweeting, if you’d like to follow my last days in England. Do page through appleturnover’s spring archives and look for me here again in the very first week of June.