Monday, May 23, 2016

A Little About Printmaking

Welcome back to the blog! Have you ever tried printmaking before? It is a great method not only for completing entire illustrations, but for creating unique textures and patterns as well. Prints can be used in drawings, paintings, and collage.

In this post, I am going to share my process of creating illustrations using the linocut printmaking technique. But first a little history….

Printmaking is an ancient technique that originated in China around AD 105 after paper was invented. It all began as stone rubbings so that the Chinese scholars could study their holy scriptures. They started creating woodcarvings in the 9th century and their method spread throughout the world by the 15th century. Since then, the process has evolved to include linocuts as well. 

The linocut printmaking technique was first used in 1905 by a German artist named Die Brucke. It has provided relief printers with a quicker, cheaper alternative to the woodcuts that have been used to create art for centuries. I often use the linocut technique when I am creating prints for illustrations. It is a much quicker process because the material is easier to carve. 
Here are the supplies you will need to create a linocut print.

Supplies from left to right: rice paper, japanese carving tools, linoleum, glass with 
the edges taped, oil-based ink, water based ink, brayer, baren, Cobalt dryer

Like all illustrations, this method begins with an idea and a LOT of thumbnails.


After you have a solid composition it’s time to work out a final sketch. I like working on tracing paper for my final sketch because it is easier to transfer to the linoleum piece (or pieces) I use to make the finals. 

After the final sketch is finished, I cut my linoleum to the size that I need with a sharp knife (if you use a dull one, you might lose part of a finger….) and tape my tracing paper, face down onto the block. Using a mechanical pencil, I carefully trace over all of my pencil lines. I use a mechanical pencil because it creates darker, sharper lines on the linoleum.

When I am finished with this step, I remove the tracing paper (I normally save it just in case something goes wrong later on down the line.) and re-trace the lines with a thin Sharpie. Sharpies is the only material I have found that holds up through multiple layers of oil based ink and clean-up. Every other ink dissolves during the clean-up phase.

Once the Sharpie has been used to go over all of the pencil lines, it is time to start color studies!
When printing, I often try to keep my color palette very limited (1-3 colors). Color studies really help me see how few colors I can get away with so that I can keep my carving to a minimum. Deadlines can come up pretty quickly and if I spend too much time carving multiple blocks or carving away from one block more than twice (this is called Reductive Printing) then I tend to rush the rest of the printing process in order to meet the deadline set. Color studies help me to plan all of this ahead of time so that I am spending less time carving and more time actually printing. Here are a few of my color studies for various projects:

I normally struggle with limited palette color studies a bit because there are so many options! A lot of times, I will complete a set of 3 or 4 studies and hang them up where I can look at them over and over again before making my final choice. If you are struggling, Pinterest has a lot of great information. Also, the Color Index ( has been an invaluable resource for me.

After my color studies are complete it is time to start carving! I hand carve all of my prints using Japanese carving tools that I bought here:

I have also found that Speedball makes a pretty good starter set if you are interested in experimenting with printmaking, but don’t want to invest in a high end carving set. You can find it here: This set does not work for wood, but it works great for rubber and linoleum.

Although carving often ends up being the most time consuming part of the printmaking process, it is my favorite part of the process. When carving linoleum it is wise to think about every gouge made. I often create spirals or straight lines going a specific way because when the linoleum is inked up, the carved places can still pick up some ink. If those places have been carved into a pattern, it will just contribute additional texture to a piece rather than ruining it.

After the carving is finished, I prepare for pulling the final prints. When pulling prints, I often use rice paper or Mulberry paper. The traditional way to prepare paper is to wet and tear it…

but sometimes I cheat and cut it with an x-acto blade instead. The clean lines help me with my registration (especially if I am pulling a multi-colored print). Normally, I cut my paper the exact size of my block so I can line up all of the edges when I lay the paper face down on the inked linoleum piece.

Once the paper has been prepared, I mix the ink.  I use Graphic Chemical & Ink Co oil based relief printing inks, but Speedball works pretty good too and it is easier to clean up because you can use water instead of vegetable oil. When mixing,  I use  a palette knife to help loosen up the ink (it gets stickier the more you scoop it around) and then roll it onto a brayer (which is like a fancy rolling pin covered in rubber). After the brayer is completely covered in ink, I roll it all over my carving and place on of my pieces of paper on top.

Using a metal spoon or a baren (a flat, handheld tool traditionally used by the Japanese), it is time to pull the print! I hold the paper in place with one hand and move in smooth circles with the baren my other hand. I try my best to apply the same amount of pressure to the entire piece to get a nice, graphic finish. If you are trying this and your first print comes out a little light or fuzzy don’t worry. Prints are like pancakes: the first one is always a bit funky. Just ink up your block and try again.

When I am printing for children’s illustration, I typically pull 5 prints before cleaning everything up. This way I have lots of duplicates in case I make a mistake. That is one of the really great things about printmaking!

If you have never experimented with printmaking before, I would encourage you to try it! You can use this method to print all kinds of unique patterns and textures for collage; however, you can get crazy and print with found objects glued to a board for unique collagraphs. You can even use foam pieces cut into shapes for quick, easy stamps! Once you know the basics, the sky is the limit. Take a day to play and let me know what you think. 

 ~Jeslyn Kate
Jeslyn Kate writes/illustrates for children and teaches art.
You can find her work at 
these different locations:
Twitter: @jeslynkate

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Printing Variations on a Theme

HP Envy 4520

Recently I purchased an inexpensive black and white printer to facilitate the process of character development. Using graphite transfer has been a mainstay for many years but I wanted to speed up the steps involved and save my hands for the actual drawing part. 

I go through reams of the Georgia-Pacific 110lb white card stock, filling a 2 inch three ring binder almost every month with sketches. I find the surface pleasing to draw on because it has a bit of tooth but is smooth enough to hold detail.

About a week ago a couple of little girls faces popped out onto my paper. Curious as to who they were, I pushed them around a bit and got the feeling they were European street kids from the earlier part of the 20th century. "Rag Girls" as well as the word "Gypsy" kept popping into my head. 

I scanned the first sketches and taking them into Photoshop, I set up a document with repeated faces. Before printing I placed a layer filled with white over the top and slid the opacity down to about 80 percent, just barely enough to the faces coming through. The image above is darker than I would print, but for the purpose of showing up here, I made it a bit darker, you get the idea. 

Some too old
By having the pale image on the page, I could shift the facial features slightly while retaining the overall shape. It is extremely easy at small sizes to add just a bit of a crisp edge to a nose which instantly makes the character appear older. Having the profile image faintly printed I could erase easily without removing the entire structure. I specifically chose profile for this part of the exploration because I was trying to nail down certain ages, between 8 and 12. To me the nose and forehead in profile help establish the age.

I generally create a super quick character template for each face and body type, and again using the scanner and printer I can create many variations on a theme without losing the basic shapes.

There were three distinct girls that came out to play over those few days and I wanted to know who they were, and of course to eventually draw them happier. The first two original girls seemed sad or concerned which can be seen in the lineups below. I don't know what the influence was, they just came out of my pencil that day.

Pardon the transparent dress on the girl below. After I had quickly sketched her and decided to spend more time on her, I erased out her dress and sketched in the basic body shape to see if the proportions were correct underneath. Sure enough her upper arm was too short so her elbow did not fall at the waist, which I corrected in the next group.

The Far Left on Top and Bottom are 
the 2 Original Girls

Second Batch

While I was working on them I saw an Instagram image stating it was Holocaust Memorial day, and suddenly I knew who they were. They were the lost children of World War II. In a conversation on Instagram I commented on a quote I saw in a holocaust article, they were "the children the Nazis hated. . . Jewish, Romani, and African".

As always, I cut all of my sketches apart to view them independently and sort into like kind. Sometimes a new direction will show itself and by having them sorted I can decide if I want to follow it. I literally have piles and piles of little sketches that are generally half print and half fresh graphite experiments. 

Yeah, I don't think so, but fun
And of course there are always those crazy pages like the ones above where I go out of a limb with my playing but those go in the scrap pile if unusable or into a stack for use in perhaps another story. I had planned to sketch teenage older sisters but was probably watching a contemporary BBC drama which influenced the age and time period. So I just had a bit of fun with them.

When I have devoted 12 to 14 hours a day for days of hyper focus (can't seem to stop myself until I have finished the process), I am able to sit down and sketch the character out quickly without any prints because I have memorized their facial characteristics and proportions. In fact I see their faces when I close my eyes. . . they become real to me.

And the bonus is I have tons of sketches for my mother to choose from. The one below, or very similar to it, followed her home on Mother's Day! It is the best of both worlds, traditional and digital, and allows me to have created tangible pieces of process art instead of only tracing paper scraps or purely digital images.

Cheap printer, card stock, and mechanical pencils for the win! 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tsundoku: Unread Piles of Books as a Working Tool

I have a lot of books. Despite a cross-country move a few years ago that involved a massive book cull, I still find myself with three overstuffed bookcases, loaded shelves, no fewer than two books on my bed while I sleep, and several piles of books around my apartment, on the floor. 

A visiting friend observed my book collection and told me about a Japanese word, tsundoku. It translates to collecting literal piles of books you don’t read. 

I started to develop some shame around my tsundoku; all those books I was buying without reading. I subsequently made a rule for myself that I wouldn't buy another book until I began whittle down my piles. I had gotten to the point where I was buying books constantly, including through Instagram, and felt like I should probably slow things down. 

Then I came across an essay by Umberto Eco called How to Justify a Private Library about why you should have a library of books you don’t read; why you should have tsundoku: 

 “...There are still people who consider a bookshelf as a mere storage place for already-read books and do not think of the library as a working tool… I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized be the anguish of learning...” 

I no longer felt shame about my tsundoku because to me they represented potential; new ways to learn, grow, inform my practice, enrich my perspective, and add tools to my toolbox. A library as a working tool. 

I started to ask some fellow kidlit folks about their tsundoku, and not surprisingly, many of them had them. Here's what's current:

Robin Rosenthal, also an author at Pen & Oink

Sarah Jacoby, who added, “I'm trying to do a couple things with this pile of books by my bed. Two book recent covers have caught my attention: Klassen/Pennypacker's Pax and Peter Brown's The Wild Robot. Now I want to know all about what's going on with middle grade books. Other than the Wildwood Chronicles, I haven't paid much attention to the genre lately but now, given how gorgeous these books are, I'm very curious. So after I read Pax and The Wild Robot, I'm planning on re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's  A Wrinkle in Time series, A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan, and The Brother's Lionheart  by Astrid Lindgren-all books that I recall being completely entranced by when I was of middle grade age…”

And Katie Kath wrote up her list:
  • The Biblical Canon: It's Origins
  • Transmission and Authority
  • Moby Dick
  • Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages
  • The Once and Future King
  • The Murder of William of Norwich
  • Dr. Syn On The High Seas

Maybe in a way these tsundoku represent the ways we’re all exploring and growing. I was excited about pulling these lists together and talking about them with their owners. Often we chatted about each other’s lists (“that book is amazing” or “I always wanted to read that!”). 

What is your tsundoku?


K-Fai Steele is a writer/illustrator based in San Francisco. She writes and draws with watercolor and ink about anthropomorphized animals who find themselves in sticky situations. 

Follow her on instagram or twitter.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What are Archetypes, exactly?

I find the subject of archetypes fascinating. The Hero, the Sidekick, the Villain—these are labels—archetypes— we all know. But what are archetypes, exactly? Carl Jung, who came up with the term, used it to describe universal character patterns and imagery, which he believed originated in the collective unconscious. The Hero, the Sidekick and the Villain aren't just labels—they're symbols in a universal language. So as we engage archetypal characters and imagery in our work, we, as artists, writers and the audience, all benefit from this collective understanding!

In addition to exploring and using archetypes in our work, I find it fun to analyze the archetypal characters that I personally can relate to. For example, some archetypes that we, (as KidLit artists), probably can relate to are the Artist, the Storyteller, and the Student (the Mentee!) One of my favorite archetypes is the Wizard. Wizards have many aspects—they can be Alchemists, Magicians, Scientists, Counselors—but I keep my own personal Alchemist Wizard as an inner ally. The Alchemist turns raw metals into gold—so first, the obvious—as an artist, as I take raw materials and turn them into art. But I like to think of any creative transformation as an act of alchemy! The act of seeing something in the world, or having an idea and putting it down on paper, can feel like alchemy. Sometimes I engage my Wizard to help me maneuver an upsetting situation. Finding the silver (or gold!) lining can really help transform the experience.

On a side note, I’d like to add that it’s important, (or at least interesting!), to know the difference between an archetype and a stereotype. Both are characters drawn from a set of character attributes, which you can think of as a template—but the difference is in the use of the template. The archetypal character is built onto the template—individuality is added; whereas a stereotypical character stops at the template—it is simple and often clichéd. For example, both Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins are “The Unwilling Hero” archetype, but they can’t be switched into each other’s stories. If they could, they’d be stereotypes.*

Think about archetypes that play a role in your life. Which ones are your favorites? Which ones do you draw? Which ones do you dress up as, for Halloween? I find that identifying the archetypes I personally relate to not only is fun, but can help me get inside characters I am trying to understand, or create.

Here are some brief descriptions of a few familiar archetypes:

The Angel: The Angel embodies a loving and nurturing quality. Angels may also play the role of a Fairy Godmother or Godfather by helping someone in need, either anonymously or with no expectation of any return.**

The Damsel (Princess): The Damsel in Distress may be the oldest female archetype in all of popular literature and the movies. She is always beautiful, vulnerable, and in need of rescue, specifically by a Knight and, once rescued, she is taken care of in lavish style.** 

The Goddess (Heroine): The oldest religious tradition on earth may well be Goddess worship, which some archaeologists trace back further than 30,000 years. The Goddess embodies wisdom, guidance, physical grace, athletic prowess, and sensuality.**
The Knight (Warrior, Rescuer): The Knight is primarily associated with chivalry, courtly romance, protection of the Princess, and going to battle only for honorable causes. Loyalty and self-sacrifice are the Knight’s great virtues.**

The Rebel (Nonconformist, Anarchist, Pirate): The Rebel follows his or her own beliefs. They do not obey rules nor do they accept normal standards of behavior—resisting authority, control, social pressure and tradition. They are a key component of growth and development.** 

Monsters (the Vampire, the Werewolf, the Zombie, the Destroyer, etc.): Monster archetypes represent the part of our being that is least familiar to our conscious mind. They become hostile when they are ignored or misunderstood—expressing themselves through behavior that sabotages our wishes or self image. Some basic attributes: The Vampire: Feeds off the life force of another; The Werewolf: Has something festering inside that is struggling to get out; The Zombie: Has been hurt in life and has "died inside";*** The Destroyer: The Destroyer generates death, madness, and abuse. It can also refer to releasing that which is destroying. The power of positive destruction is enormously healing and liberating.**

There are many, many archetypes, and always something to learn from them. I highly recommend exploring them!


Molly Ruttan
twitter: mollyillo
FB: Molly Ruttan/Molly Ruttan Illustration

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Introducing #digital art #Photoshop tips #Tutorials


This is my second post and I was thinking about what would be a good post to write and share for visitors of this blog who I assume are illustrators, writers, or people who are interested in making children's book.

I've attended SCBWI several times, went to Critique meet ups and attended picture book class last year. I've noticed that there are a few people who were interested in digital painting and wanted to use Photoshop as digital tool for their art.

So, I thought it will be nice to share what I use to create illustrations on Photoshop.

These tool I am explaining below are what I'm using at work and I have learned from working in animation studios. It is very helpful and you will save lots of time if you know the right tools to use! :)

In this post, I break down into Brush / Layer / Adjustment.

Here are some tips I'd like to share here and I hope everyone finds this information helpful! :)

Firstly, I want to talk about Brush and some brush setting you can play around with.

If you want to give some texture to your work, what you can do is, you can grab texture online and copy and paste on the layer. Here, you might change the normal layer to overlay and bring the opacity down to make it look more natural.

However, it's really up to you as an artist to decide!

Does this happen to you, that you are making over 100 layers and having a hard time finding the layer you want?

Here is a little tip for that one.

Short key for this tool is "V"

Let's say you are on the other layer and want to find the layer you want quickly. While pressing the Control key, click the image on the layer you are working on and it will automatically find your layer. See how comfortable that is! (It was really a struggle for me before I knew about this tool..:/)

Snapping layer tool

How to use it?: Press the ALT key on the layer below you want to snap on.

What it does? : It will only allow you to paint that layer that is snapped on.

Masking tool

How to use it?:Click this box shape thing

What it does? : You can use it to erase only the layer which you have selected.
These tools give you control over the layers you are working on.

Lastly, I want to talk about quick adjustment tools that will help you find value and color, either saturation or desaturated color. Curve, color balance and level adjustment layers are found in small icons on the bottom of layers. Curve is quick way to make adjustment in value and color brightness.

Color balance is a very good tool to make the color harmonized into warm or cool tone. It's great for getting overall mood out from illustration. Level adjustment is similar to Curve but I prefer to use Curve. It's personal choice so you can choose whichever works for you.

I hope this was helpful for some of you who are interested in learning about Photoshop tools.

Here is also my Photoshop Brush tool preset I am using for illustrating my work, please check it out if anyone interested in it!

Thanks and Happy illustrating! :)

Designer | Illustrator