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Spoon Prints - tips and advice

A short note on the print technique known as "spoon printing". Possibly a helpful note with some tips and advice:

Below, three prints on one sheet. Please click to view in larger size.

Click for bigger size.
Spoon prints (Endless Knot #24). Linoleum. 2020. 3 x 5x5 cm.

These prints are "spoon prints", ie done with a spoon in stead of a press.

Most of my knot prints are spoon prints (and quite a few of the others too). I find that the spoon print process gives the best control of the result by far as compared to a press, but it has certain requirements that must be adhered to in order to produce a well controlled result.

So, I wrote up this little note thinking that I could perhaps offer a few helpful tips for those that want to experiment with relief printmaking without using a press.

The process is straightforward and can be applied to various types of printmaking (linoleum, woodcut, etc.) - probably most or all types of relief print.

Spoon vs Press

While usually not as unique as to become Monotypes spoon printing does produce unique prints as compared to a press. A press typically will produce quite similar prints.

With spoon printing you have the option of eg. changing the amount of pressure applied to some parts of the print relative to other parts - that is an option that can hardly be chosen with a press.

Also, you will do this regardless if you choose to or not. It is an integrated part of the technique. Subtle variations in the process (eg. your movements while physically doing the printing) will produce different results. The results may be very different, or they may be less different.


Just like standard printmaking you start by cutting your relief block, or board. Then you choose the print medium (aka. the "colour" or "ink") and apply it to the cut part of the block surface, typically using a roller.

You will aim for an even layer covering all the "upper" parts of the relief, and you will try to do this using as little print medium as possible in order for it not to fill the gaps that you have cut away. Or, you may experiment. All steps up to the printing itself are precisely equal to the steps you take using a print press.

Printing is done like this:

You put your block with applied paint medium on a flat and stable surface, paint medium facing up ("coloured side up").

Then you carefully put your paper on top. Do not rush this. This part is extremely critical.

For best results, start by aligning the paper to the block while holding it a little distance above the block so that the paper does not touch the block. Then, slowly lower one side of the paper onto the block, and "roll" or "slide" the paper onto the remaining part of the block while being careful to avoid folds in the paper as well as air gaps between paper and block.

Caution: Once your paper has touched even the smallest part of the wet side of your block there is no return!

If you manage to push or slide the paper across the block somehow in this part of the process your print will become quite unlike your expectations, and you will probably have to start all over.

Once the paper lies flatly on your board you may optionally want to apply a broad, flat, and vey soft brush very gently over the paper. I repeat: very gently. The aim is to make the print medium bind the paper to the block just a very little bit in order to make it fix the paper in place so that it does not slide as easily once the print process starts.

Some people (me included) occasionally also do this when using a press, and some experienced printmakers even apply an extremely light stroke of the hand in stead of using a brush. If you are in doubt I recommend omitting this step, as by doing it you do risk pushing your paper across the block ruining your print before you have even started.

Next the printing. You do this by applying very modest pressure using the underside of a - very clean and smooth - table spoon on top of the paper that lies on top of the wet side of the block (or, actually, any concave spoon-like implement will do). Note the words "very modest" before the word "pressure".

If you press too hard you risk that the paper will slide across the block ruining your print and/or that the paper will physically break (as you usually will want to use quite thin paper).

Some people move the spoon back and forth quite fast, others apply a slower pace. The important thing is to keep the pressure onto the paper low enough that you don't destroy your print and still high enough that you will achieve the print quality that you desire.

Personally I often tend to employ a circular motion whn doing "surfaces" and "following the lines" when doing linework - that is I use different types of movoment for different (parts of) different prints. This works well for me. You should find your own preferred way of doing it.

Doing this you will use one hand for the spoon and the other hand for keeping the block and paper fixed in place (typically with a clean piece of cloth and/or gloves between your fingers and any part of the print process)

Print size

While it is not a requirement that the physial print size must be small, small formats are much better suited to this technique than very large formats. I have successfully used this technique in formats up to and a little larger than DIN A4. These are the formats I tend to work with anyway, press or not, but I would think twice using spoon printing for much larger formats.

There is no physical maximum format. It is only that the physical difficulties involved in producing a successful print will increase dramatically with larger size. I assume that DIN A3 will probably still be "doable" for most people. Here, "doable" means only that a print can physically be done; print quality is another matter.

Double that to DIN A2, and all kinds of problems will start to arise. Here, physical fatigue as well as constraints as basic as body proportions (mostly arms length), space required for printmaking, etc will begin to make the process extremely complicated.

Paper quality

First, the paper quality. For this technique, thin paper is really a must. So-called "Japan Paper" is arguably among the best because it is very thin.

The paper used in the photo above was bordering too heavy (too thick). I do not recall the specific g/m2 value but ordinary printing/copier paper with a weight of around 85 g/m2 is usually bordering on "too heavy" for this unless you are skilled and/experienced.

Me, assuming I was both, used "heavy" paper above, that is "heavier than copier paper", perhaps 140-160 grams or so. Problably still the type of paper that would be considered "normal/average/standard" for a print press print.

I've done this multiple times, and even used much heavier paper for experiments. It does require extra effort in the process. So, this is what usually happens :

Look closely at the leftmost knot print, especially the upper right corner. See the "shadows"? This is it. If you use paper that is too heavy your prints will have shadows all over (the shadows here are very modest, I have to say).

I was a little relaxed here, but this was an experiment and I fully knew what I was doing, so I wouldn't say the print is "ruined", rather it has some "accents", or "oddities" (like them or not).

The cause of these shadows is that a heavy paper does not attach well to the print board when subject to pressure-in-motion after color has been applied. So, while applying the spoon motion the paper will dislocate and you will have multiple prints of the same partial image more or less offset. Usually "more", rarely "less".

So, use thin paper for best results.

Another advantage of using very thin paper is that it will be partially transparent. This is a great help when initially aligning the paper to the print block. You only have one attempt at getting the perfect alignment between paper and block, and if you use paper that is too thick you will simply not be able to see what you are doing.

Heavy paper

Typically the "heavy paper prolem" is dealt with by putting the paper onto a flat clean surface first, and then layering the block on top "face down". Then applying force onto the block in stead of the paper.

I've done this multiple times. You will need to use significantly more force than if done "the right way" (thin paper on top). You may want to use a heavier implement than a spoon for this (I've tried using eg a baking roller, a heavy stone, and other things).

I have to say that using heavy paper -- regardelss of what method you choose -- the rate of failure is much higher than the rate of success. Getting prints in a quality as nice as the three prints on the photo above using heavy paper is not easy at all. It does require quite some experience.

The words above are just a few bits of advice. I could elaborate more. Still I hope somebody may find this helpful.

2021.06.16 11:52 in Graphics

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