Thursday, July 23, 2015

Styrofoam Relief Printmaking - Ottawa Alleys

Today I finally made some proof runs of an Ottawa alley (off Bank) that I had imagined as a styrofoam relief print.

Ottawa Alley
(The image had been flipped horizontally)

Proof #1
I used Scratch-Foam Board that is generally used for teaching children relief printmaking because no sharp tools are required. I liked the idea that styrofoam could be used to interpret an alley way. Its that piece of material that we generally discard when we unwrap whatever it had been protecting.

Scratch-Foam Board
I have also done prints using the styrofoam that butchers use in grocery stores to wrap meat. In the styrofoam relief below (a print of my daughter holding a camera) I used a piece of styrofoam that was discarded from the chicken we had purchased for dinner.

Styrofoam relief made from common butcher's styrofoam
I used a number of different tools on this first practice run: a scratch etch stylus and clay modelling tools but the best tool of all was an old discarded chopstick (top).


Carved styrofoam on the right (after inking)
In my original carving, I had used the chopstick to indicate bricks. When I ran a couple of prints, I found it much too busy and when I added watercolour later, it became a bit of a muddy mess.

I used Speedball water soluble printing ink: black (3400).

This is one of the original runs
showing the brick effect
The bricks were easy to eliminate just by smoothing out the styrofoam with the chopstick until the "bricks" were gone. Below is a proof without bricks.

This is one of the original runs
without the brick effect
Below is my first proof with watercolour added. I plan to experiment with more colours (the more intense the better) and with different papers. 

I used Subi (white) block printing paper this time but I wonder what effects could be achieved using other papers?

That will have to wait for the next time I play.

Proof #1

Inspiration Notes

I love sketching and I love printmaking and I wondered if there wasn't a way that I could do both?

I was inspired when I came across this styrofoam jigsaw block print at 
Brian Holden's "Printmaking Journey" blog:

Source: Brian Holden's blog post:
"demo relief print made from Styrofoam - jigsaw block technique"

It seemed to me that styrofoam was well suited for this type of project - it is a commonly discarded material; it is fast to carve on location (unlike linoleum) and it's lightweight and easy to  pack.

I revisited my Pinterest "Linocut" board for some more ideas and inspiration.

I think this concept can work. I will continue to look in alleys for a subject matter
that lends itself as beautifully as Brian Holden's crow in the garbage does.

The Sketch

Art journal sketch from photograph
(mixed media on 100% cotton paper)


  1. Cindi! I've been wanting to get into print making recently and I'm so glad I found this post before I spent all the money on lino and cutting tools at Wallacks. Hopefully I'll be able to show you some prints next alley sketch session :)

    1. So glad you like the post! You can really play and have fun with styrofoam! I can't wait to see what you create. I should add that the inspiration for the print I did of my daughter came after I read this post about a cat print made from a takeout container:

    2. I should also mention that I am off to the Ottawa Art Gallery today for a free relief printing class with Anne Wanda Tessier - it's full unfortunately, but next time its offered I will give you a "heads up" now that I know you are interested