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Notes from the Studio

Printmaking in a Pandemic: How I Designed Our Newest Greeting Cards

Printmaking in a Pandemic: How I Designed Our Newest Greeting Cards

by Rachel Kroh

A month ago


Covid-19 has brought changes to every aspect of our industry this year. For Heartell it has meant scaling back my hours since we took our two-year-old out of daycare and staggering my time in the studio with the other members of our team so that we can maintain social distancing and keep one another safe. Those changes meant that woodblock printing has not been a viable option for how to produce new cards. Carving requires more hours than I have, and proofing and printing requires working too closely with my team. So I decided to think of this time as an opportunity to try something new. 

Relief printing (the category that includes woodblock and linoleum printing) is only one of many techniques available to printmakers and after some experimentation I landed on monotype printing (where one print at a time is made by applying ink to a plate using brushes or brayers) as an exciting new way to make images for our designs. I was partly inspired by making art with my son at home during the quarantine. Painting and printing with a toddler reminded me just how much fun it can be to make marks without planning or trying to control the outcome. The final process involved quickly making tons of prints, some with no planning and some with layering in mind. I used my computer to collage my favorite of those images together into our new release of greeting cards, many of which I designed in response to the strange and particular times we now find ourselves living in. They were printed using an Indigo digital press on thick, smooth 100% recycled paper.

Here are some photos to give you a feel for the process. 

I start by rolling ink with a brayer onto a thin plastic plate. I've been using Akua inks, they are non-toxic and wash up easily with soap and water (perfect since I am currently pregnant with our second child).



The next step is to remove the ink in order to create the design. This is a subtractive technique - you can also make an additive monoprint by brushing/smudging/drawing the ink on the plate to create the design. The subtractive method came more naturally to me because it is closer to what I'm used to with woodblock printing, where wood is carved away in order to create the design. I use all kinds of tools to remove the ink (coming up with ways to do this was one of the most creative parts of this process): brushes, sponges, q-tips, blades and scrapers, even makeup sponges and eyelash brushes! For the prints I planned to layer, I used a light table with a drawing placed underneath my plate as a guide for where I wanted to remove the ink.



I used Arnhem 1618 paper and an Akua Pin Press to print each monotype by hand. I dampened the paper first to make it more receptive to the ink since I only had the pressure I could create myself to lift it off the plate.



I combined this fireplace print with another darker print to create our new You Are Dear card.



You can see the whole collection of new cards here. Thanks for reading!

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