Create in Place - Speedball Art

How to make a Botanical Block Print

This tutorial goes through the basics of how to create your own botanical inspired block print at home. I decided to share this project because I absolutely love carving organic shapes and they are very easy to find within your own home or garden.

I love to draw from life, so for reference for this design, I used herbs that I have grown on my balcony at home. You can just as easily grab some potted herbs in your local supermarket or if you dont have this option then the Biodiversity Library tumblr has thousands of scientific images to choose from as inspiration.


Materials List

  • Linoleum - For this project I am using Speedballs Speedy carve which is fantastic for beginners all the way up to advanced level 

  • Lino Carving Tools - My go to tools are my flexcut and pfeil branded tools however if you are a beginner, I would recommend speedballs carving tools, as you can interchange the blades very easily, and do not need to sharpen them at all.

  • Slip Strop and Polishing Compound - To sharpen tools if you dont have interchangeable blades.

  • Block Printing Ink - I am using Speedballs Professional relief ink in supergraphic black. 

  • Baren - for burnishing prints (if you dont have one of these you can also use a wooden spoon)

  • Roller/ Brayer - I am using Speedballs 3 inch deluxe brayer and I also have the 6 inch one also for larger prints. 

  • Paper- You will need a fine printmaking paper for this project as the thicker the paper the harder it is to hand burnish - I am using mulberry black ink paper. 

  • Acrylic plastic or toughened glass - This is to roll your ink onto.

  • Cutting Mat and Blade

  • Permanent Sharpie Markers 

  • Pencils 2B and 4B

  • Scotch Tape 

  • Printer Paper

  • Metal Spoon


Getting Started With Sketching

Cut your piece lino to size ( in this case, I wanted a small border on the final print so I cut the lino down slightly) and then cut a piece of printer paper to the same size as your lino. Printer paper is easy to draw onto and is simple to transfer to the lino afterwards. 

If you are using real plants you could at this point arrange them on your lino to figure out your preferred composition. 

Draw your design onto the paper finely with a 2B pencil and then when you are happy with the layout you can go out the lines with a darker 4B pencil ( this is to make sure the lines transfer properly onto the lino)

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Transfer to the Block

There are many ways of transferring a drawing onto a piece of lino. My preferred method is to hand burnish with a metal kitchen spoon. Plus this is the easiest to do at home and with minimal effort. 

Flip the pencil design upside down and fix onto the top of block with scotch tape. Then use the back of the metal spoon to burnish the design onto the lino. The great thing about using the speedy carve rubber is that you dont have to push down really hard to transfer the design like you do with traditional linoleum. 

After burnishing just lift the paper slightly to see if the whole design has transferred, dont remove the tape yet as you might need to burnish certain areas a little more. 

After removing the paper go over the lines with either a 4B pencil or fine sharpie marker so the lines are clear and you know where you need to carve. 

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Let's Talk Tools

One of questions I get asked most about is which tools I use. I have used every tool under the sun and what I found is that its not about the tools your use its about how you use them. Keeping your tools sharp is the most important thing and if you dont do this properly, it really doesn't matter how much you spent on your nice new tools if they are completely blunt.

My go to tools are my Flexcut Micro Palm set and I also have a Pfeil U shaped tool. Give yourself a combination of V shape and U shaped tools with at least one very small V shaped tool for detail. For more information on how to sharpen your tools correctly check out my Instagram highlight where I show you how to properly hone your tools. 

If you are not quite ready to shed out the big bucks for tools like these then speedball have a fantastic set of interchangeable tools then you dont have to sharpen at all and include all the chisel shapes in one!


Carry on Carving!

You've transferred your design and sharpened your tools, now for the fun part! Get yourself a bench hook or cutting mat to stop yourself from slipping. You can very easily make a bench hook from MDF and wood or if you cant be bothered with that then just use a non slip flat surface. 

My method of carving is to carve all the outlines with a medium V tool, then I draw on the block with permanent marker so I can see where to carve the finer detail. I use the smallest V shaped tool for this. Then after all the detail is carved I use my wider U shaped tool to remove all the blank space in between.

Its important to use a flat U tool as any ridges that are left in the carving process will be inked up. ( this might be a style that you love and want to try it out, many artists use it and the lovely marks are called "chatter". 

I then use a craft knife to slice around the very edges of the block making sure there are no ridges left. 

Top Tip- Carving is a form of expression so there is no "right" way to do it however make sure you are always carving away from your body and moving the blok around as you go to avoid any slip ups!


Printing your Botanical Block

If you are using the same table/surface to print as you did for carving then make sure you thoroughly sweep the surface so that no little bits of lino shaving get stuck in the ink. You might also want to lay down some newsprint or scrap paper to protect your surface. 

Get your piece of plastic or glass ( a lot of printmakers use the plastic from inside picture frames as its cheap and easy to clean ) For this project I am using Speedballs metal bench hook which conveniently doubles as an inking plate!

Apply a small blob of ink at the top of your plate and roll down a small amount of ink. Pick your roller up as you are doing this to evenly disperse the ink ( you can also roll the ink out in the other direction. 

The ink should be thin enough so that you can see the shine on the roller and hear a "hissing" sounds when rolling. If you can hear this sound your ink is too thick!

Roll the ink onto the block in thin layers keeping the ink on the top surface and not dipping down into your carved lines.  

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Place your paper on top on the lino by lining it up with the block. This takes a little practice and if you want to tape it in place onto the surface beforehand then go for it. Smooth the paper out with your hands and grab your baren/ wooden spoon.

When burnishing the back of the print, make sure if you are using a fiber based paper like mulberry, not to push too hard as to take the top layer or paper off. You can also use the baren to press down in one place if you dont think the ink has transferred properly. 

When you have burnished the whole surface then get ready for the most exciting part! Gentle peel your paper back and reveal your beaitiful botanical block print!


And there you have it! You're very own hand printed botanical design! Thankyou for joining me for this tutor