November 20, 2012

Potato Prints

        Potato printing used to be a staple of the preschool classroom, but in the current generation it seems to have been replaced by pre-made foam and rubber stamps.  If the children aren't doing the carving anyway, that probably makes more sense, but the use of potatoes as a viable printing block has not been entirely forgotten.  The best champion of potato printing is probably Diana Pomeroy, who has done two gorgeous books illustrated with potatoes.  I love the way she arranges the repeated stamps in such a way that they don't look repetitious, as in this illustration of radishes.  She

also does some interesting mixes of intaglio and relief, where her incised lines carry ink of their own.  You can see this in the veins of the leaves.  These are no preschool potato prints.
        I thought I'd fool around a little with potatoes just to illustrate the process, and P helped me out.  (T preferred to keep reading her book - fantasy, of course.)  Really the method is basically the same as with any relief print, but potatoes do have a couple of advantages.  They're easy and inexpensive to obtain, and if you mess
up you can always get more to try again.  You can use shaped cookie cutters to give yourself a basic shape to work in, as I did with my hexagonal block (though this would be more useful with a more complicated shape.)  They're soft and easy to cut
with a knife, incise with a wooden skewer, or carve with lino cutters, as P is doing in the photo above.  And when you're all done, you can use anything that didn't get inked for mashed potatoes for dinner, as we did last night!
        After you've carved, you'll need to blot the potato surface dry before you ink.  I didn't feel like getting out the good ink and brayers for this, so we tried inking with a paintbrush.  This is more prone to uneven inking
and ink in the lines, but works very quickly and easily if you don't have a brayer or plate to roll ink on.  It might also have been interesting to try with an ink pad, but I think you'd have to devote that pad to potatoes only, because it would get starchy.
        A book with excellent instructions for a variety of potato printing projects is Potato Printing by Helen R. Haddad.  Potato Printing looks rather dated with its two-color printing instead of the glossy full-color photos we're used to nowadays, but it includes all kinds of great tips and techniques, arranged from the most basic to the more advanced.  (One Potato by Pomeroy also includes some very basic instructions at the end.)
        Potatoes are an excellent illustration of the principle that anything that can be carved can be used for relief printing.  And the more relief printing the merrier!

[Pictures: Radishes, potato prints by Diana Pomeroy from One Potato: A Counting Book of Potato Prints, 1996;
P carving; Using a knife; Carved potato blocks, photos by AEGN, 2012;
P inking; P printing; AEGN printing, photos by AEGN, 2012;
Fish and whale, potato prints by Helen R. Haddad from Potato Printing, 1981;
Potato print by AEGN; Potato print by PGN, 2012.]

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