Friday, November 6, 2009

Um..? Linoleum?

Many of you have heard of, or even tried, linoleum block printing. Linoleum is a very convenient type of relief print (often cheaper and easier to manipulate than wood for woodcuts). So, linoleum, when associated with printmaking, is usually the "means" not the "ends in itself." However, in an attempt to print on a nontraditional surface, I came across these cheap ($.68 a tile!) linoleum squares at Home Depot. I looked them over: they were super smooth and uniformly square. They came in a wide range of colors. What more could a silk-screen artist ask for?

As you may have noticed, I am doing a study on popular Jewish culture. The floor pattern I wanted to recreate was something a little more subtle than the wallpaper, but still fun and lively. I looked at various photographs of floors from synagogues. One of the things about Jews is they do not come from one country but are spread throughout the world. For that reason, there really is not one single Jewish style. They style is often molded by the culture of origin or the fleeting trends of the moment. In short, I couldn't find a really iconically Jewish floor pattern. The most interesting ones, I found, looked more Moroccan than anything.

The really exciting colors had to be special ordered (same price, though). I have in mind to do a few more floors after this one. In fact, I just received 3 boxes of hot pink and 1 box of bright lemon yellow tiles yesterday, so the flooring projects will surely continue. But back on track , for this tile, I had to use the neutral colored tiles on hand at the store. And I settled on some gray toned tiles.

So, with a Moroccan slant, a Jewish icon, and a gray tile, I set out to print. Linoleum has a third dimension, a thickness, so I created a key out of cardboard in order to keep the edges from puncturing my screen or putting too much stress on the stencil in my screen. The key also helped me to keep the tiles perfectly registered.

I printed the white under-color first. Not knowing how much ink it would take to print 90 tiles, I wanted to make sure I used colors straight out of the can so I wouldn't have to mix a new one and have inconsistencies in tone. And right away I noticed some of the difficulties of printing on linoleum.

Each tile is pretty heavy. I realized early I couldn't put them on the drying rack for fear of breaking it. Also, my studio is a non-toxic, water-based environment. The inks I used were typical Speedball inks. Usually, when you use those inks on paper or fabric, they dry very quickly between the absorbtion of the substrate and the evaporation of the water into the air. But on the linoleum, because the surface is made of vinyl, the water could only go into the air. Basically, the tiles took forever to dry!

I started printing these in the late hours of the evening in an empty studio. So, I took advantage of the empty space and used all the print stations as drying space. I did color 1 and then color 2. And then, at like 3 am, I decided I had had enough and wanted to go home. But the damn suckers wouldn't dry! And I knew I would want to sleep in the next morning, so I had to find a safer place to stash them to dry.

For the next two hours, I slowly moved the tiles from the silk-screen room to my studio, the graduate printing studio, and finally, left some in the print room. It was terribly annoying.

The next day, when I set out to do the last color, I set some paper on the floor in the hallway. That paper was to be my drying rack--no more moving these things. I needed to find a place where they could stay for a long time. It was definitely the way to go because they were not in anyone's way. So, my advice, if you want to recreate this project: be sure to find a safe place to let your tiles dry. You will not be able to move them for a while. And since you have a lot of them, perhaps cornering off a place on the floor is the best option.

Additionally, because I did not use a solvent based ink made for vinyl, I needed to keep the ink from scratching off the tiles. I used a clear polyacrylic to protect the print. My first layer of the polyacrylic was applied on the tiles where I put them to dry ultimately. After a day, I was able to finally pick them up and stack them.

The printing portion of the floor was done over a very time intensive weekend, but the long part of the work really took place applying layers of polyacrylic. And I get bored pretty easily. So, I thought, is there one last little thing I can do to these tiles to make this whole shellacking step more exciting? I started thinking of the kind of furniture I associated with Moroccan design and I kept coming back to the dark wood furniture with the mother of pearl inlay. I wanted to recreate that look, again, using inexpensive, nontraditional material. So, I cut circles out of aluminum foil and decoupaged the circles into the centers of the tiles. Under the layers of polyacrylic, the foil caught light in much the same way that mother of pearl does in those pieces of furniture.

In short, I was really impressed with the overall effect of my flooring experiment. I am planning to do another floor on my hot pink tile about sukkot, the Jewish holiday of the harvest. This floor will look much more Parisian and have a more dining room effect. I'd like to include something like the foil, something outside of the printing, but I have not completely come up with a solution.


  1. I LOVE THIS! and I also love sukkot! favorite jewish holiday.

  2. Aww, shucks! Thanks! The Sukkot tiles officially started today. Hot pink, white, lime green, orange, and red. They are going to be AMAZING.

  3. looks amazing leslie.
    i might have to copy you on this one!

  4. Absolutely gorgeous! You impress me everytime I read your blog. Thanks for keeping your fans posted. Keep on printing and writing.