Relief printing in digital collage

Although I love the flexibility of working digitally, I still like my work to retain a handmade feel so I often make elements of my collages using traditional art materials, then scan them and manipulate them digitally. What's especially nice about this is that I can use these elements again and again in as many pieces as I like

One of the things I like to use in my collages is relief printing. I tried making printing blocks in the shapes that I wanted in my collages, like, say, a teddy bear, or a little girl's hair, but I found it was difficult to get things exactly the way I wanted them, and I ended up trying over and over to get the look I wanted. I solved this problem by printing a large area of color and masking out the areas I didn't want in Photoshop.

I made my printing block by cutting out a piece of craft foam about 4" x 6," small enough to fit in my hand, but big enough to give me a substantial printing area, and used a glue stick to attach it to a piece of foamcore. I thought I was buying the self-adhesive type of craft foam, but didn't realize my mistake until it was too late. Fortunately the gluestick works well and is easy to use.


I used inexpensive grey craft paint for my printing (I like to use grey because it's so easy to colorize in Photoshop) and applied it with a cheap foam applicator, like the kind you get at Home Depot, brushing the paint on, then dabbing to get rid of stroke marks. I tried using my brayer, but I had difficulty getting the paint on evenly. I think it was because of the absorbent nature of the craft foam. After the paint was on, I flipped it over and pressed it onto a piece of cold press watercolor paper.


After it dried I scanned it and layered it behind a previously scanned pencil drawing that I had already colorized to a nice sepia tone in Photoshop.






Next, I added a layer mask and painted out everything outside the area of my drawing.






Finally, I added a levels adjustment layer to darken the area that would be brown, plus two hue and saturation adjustment layers, one for the dark brown body and one for yellowish snout. I checked the "colorize" box on both,  moved the sliders around 'til I found colors I liked, then used masks to limit the areas I applied color to, and voila! A teddy bear!



Sometimes I like to mask the printed area so that it doesn't align perfectly with my drawing, as I did here with the hair, giving the effect of a printed piece with imperfect registration. I think this is often more interesting than a perfectly "registered" image and adds to the handmade feel of the piece.



I'll write another post soon about one of my favorite handmade elements; in person it doesn't look like much more than a grubby piece of paper, but I like it so much, I use in nearly every piece I make!