How to print your own Christmas cards with Susie Hetherington

How to print your own Christmas cards with Susie Hetherington

Learn how to lino print cards and read our short Q & A with our guest blogger and tutor, Susie Hetherington, as she shares her top tips and passion for lino printing.

Do you print your own Christmas cards every year without fail? Or have you always wanted to give it a go but run out of time?

We have peppered this blog with lino printing kits, printing inks and tools that you will need to get you started. We sell a very good selection in our online shop and in our warehouse shop near Stroud.

Susie Hetherington in her studio.
Susie Hetherington in her studio

When do you start thinking about making your lino print handmade Christmas cards?

Always far too late! Every single year I see other designers getting started on their lino print cards to sell, much much earlier than me. This is especially clever of them; getting stock ready in the summer means they can photograph it and promote the markets/websites they sell at in advance. It allows them to promote in magazines who all collected photos for their Christmas shopping pages before the end of July. But for me, I just can’t feel inspired until the weather changes a bit.

print your own Christmas cards
Even the most simple design can make a really effective Christmas card

Autumn comes, and at that point I can bear to look at photos I took the previous winter, and that starts me thinking what might work on a card. I have just cut my first wintery scene and it is late October. I always have more in mind that I would like to do, and every year I run out of time. My Christmas Card workshop in November marks the end of my ‘window’ to get any of my own lino print cards done.

The beginner's guide to linocut by Susan Yeates.
Available to buy on our website for £9.99

What is it about lino print that you particularly love, compared to other printmaking techniques?

I find carving Lino is very absorbing. It can be almost addictive; the drive to see the first print can make it hard to put the tools down until it is done. I find doing something so hands-on can be therapeutic. In an age where we are on screens far too much, carving lino is one of the ways I can be distracted from that. I also think I am just very drawn to the end result of a lino print, for it’s texture and imperfections.

My drawing style is quite tight and I would like it to be looser; with lino print I am less in control of the final image so it tends to be a bit more crude, and also more exciting. I don’t know how well a lino print has worked until I lift the first proof, and that anticipation is very appealing. Of course it can be equally frustrating when it doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped.

The reason I got into block printing was because I wanted to work with repeat pattern and textiles. I carved my first lino print (a bird and some wild flowers) in repeat and now I have many collections of fabric that I sell by the metre. For practicality they are digitally printed in the end, but they all start with a drawing and then a Lino block. Even the simplest, smallest block of lino can create a really striking and effective pattern in repeat, and the hand printed imperfections really add to a design, in my opinion.

Simple linocut motifs by Susie Hetherington.
Simple linocut motifs by Susie Hetherington

What equipment do you recommend buying for those who are giving lino print a go for the first time?

I mainly used just one tool when I first started out; a simple v-shaped gauge. You can pick one of these up as part of a beginners set, or you can spend a bit more and buy them with a wooden ‘mushroom’ shaped handle that sits nicely in your hand. Pfeil is a brand that lots of suppliers stock. My favourite tool has a very narrow channel that works well cutting straight lines. This works well with the very fine details in my style of carving.

Browse the Pegasus Art website for an excellent range of lino printing sets, tools, inks, woodblock and lino, and card sets to get you started.

Essdee supplies Pegasus Art with top quality linoprinting kits.
We sell a complete lino cutting set from Essdee which includes everything you need for £30

Do your Christmas traditions always involve something handmade?

Every year our family tries to limit present buying to children only, and anything else I try to make. My sister has had two prints from me recently; one of her house and one of her dog in the hollow of a tree-lined path. I had the right photos, and I couldn’t help but want to seem them as a print. I am a bit addicted to giving things that are unique to that person, if I have time, partly because it costs less but mainly because it is more rewarding.

At the very least, I try and make sure my Christmas cards hand made. Also our Christmas tree is covered in hand made decorations but most of these are made by the children. It wouldn’t win awards for styling, but each thing on the heavily laden branches means more to me than something shop bought.

Cards and envelopes available to buy online at Pegasus Art.
Beautiful Italian and Indian paper cards and envelopes available to buy online at Pegasus Art

Are you asked to lino print house commissions?

I am really drawn to period buildings and often photograph houses round my village. I love nothing more than nature, but I sometimes feel the detail or placing of an attractive house in amongst the nature, can make a view. Last year a friend asked me to carve a block of her brother’s beautiful house as a wedding gift, and I enjoyed it so much I have since done a few more, after showing the print at Open Studios and getting a good reaction.

With printing you learn something with every block you carve, and architectural details can be quite challenging. Getting the texture of stone or brickwork, or the detail of a window shape right, is not always easy. So again, when I feel I have captured something, it is very satisfying. I have also learnt more about getting the right photo to work from at the offset. I need strong light, that provides definite contrast between light and dark.

So now my camera is full of hundreds of pictures of the same house, as I try and get the right weather conditions and angle to catch the house at its best. Working on local houses is therefore a bit of a dream as I can walk past again and again until I work out what time of day is best to get the light on the right bit of the house. Once I have printed a house I feel like I have got to know that building really well, and I feel attached to it.

If you would like to commission a lino print of your own house, contact Susie here.

Carve a stamp kit for children. Ideal printing kits for Christmas.
We also sell printing sets for children including this Carve a stamp kit for £13.99

Where do you find inspiration for your lino printing?

I am spoilt by where I live, on National Trust common land above Nailsworth. Walking my kids to school each day invariably involves photographing something on the way, whether it be a wild flower in the hedgerow or a tree or a building. I am drawn to pattern and nearly all my textile designs are drawn from photos I have taken on walks round the village. I may revisit a photo years after I took it, remembering a shape or a natural pattern in some foliage, and that becomes the start point for a design.

Lovely views on Rodborough Common.
Rodborough National Trust Common

Can you share your top tips that you have acquired over the years?

I started out using an ink that came in an amazing range of colours, but I found it took ages to dry. I tried Aqua Linoldruck paint by Schminke (from Pegasus Art) and have never looked back. The drying time was far quicker, and they are water based so it is very easy to wash tools and blocks. I use an soft cut Lino rather than traditional Lino now, as I feel it’s a bit easier to cut. Some of my traditional blocks have perished and gone a bit crumbly a bit over time.

I sometimes use the cream coloured Esddee Soft Cut Lino, but it can sometimes be hard to read an image as you cut it, against the light colour. I prefer a dark grey block. When you cut through it, there is more of a contrast between what you have cut and the untouched surface, and this helps you to see the image and it’s light/dark elements emerge as you work. 

I still feel like I have lots to learn; the printing part of my work is not my strong point. Multi-block images with lots of colour, and getting the registration right, is something I haven’t really embarked upon yet, so I would love to do a course at some point. I also don’t have a press, and would love to see what a difference that makes.

Print your own Christmas cards with Susie Hetherington.
Robin cards made by a student at Susie’s workshop

Does the quality of the cards make a difference for printing your own Christmas cards?

I like printing on both white greetings cards and Kraft (brown) cards, but I am don’t buy particularly fancy ones… there needs to be some margin for error and experimentation when printing by hand so it helps if you don’t have to be too precious. I try and use recycled paper, as long as it is nice and smooth. The surface you print on is very relevant to the effect you can get, but its trial and error that gets you to the right results. Having a go is the main thing that matters. Click here to browse our cards.

Do you use your designs on anything other than cards?

Printing on fabric came before paper for me, and I really love the naively printed cushions I have round my house, from when I first started out. That work feels honest and far removed from the need to make money; I was just having fun and making things that appealed to me. I have recently printed on parcel boxes to send out fabric samples in and I hope these appeal to the recipients. Once you have a block cut, there is no real limit to what you could print it on.

Using different types of paper, or old books, or collage, creates excellent results. Sometimes a crop of a pattern block can make a really lovely gift tag, and the tea towels I sell (which are actually screen printed, outsourced, from my original Lino printed designs) have been turned into all sorts of things by imaginative customers: bunting, seat covers, children’s clothes.

For a time I made Christmas stockings from my fabric collections, but they were a real labour of love for the price the could command, so now the ones out there are limited edition, as I am not selling more. I really want to do a handprinted wall calendar one year. Wallpaper is high on the wish list too.

Tell us about your lino printing workshops….

I still have a few places left on my Lino printing workshop on November 2nd, at Pegasus, which costs £65 and includes a set of Lino printing tools to take home with you. We are making Christmas cards, which is always fun, and anyone is welcome.

Book a lino printing workshop by contacting me here.

Lino printing workshops at Pegasus Art.
Susie teaching a lino printing workshop in the Attic Studio at Pegasus Art.

Next year I will set some dates for further workshops, and I would like to do one making hand printed lampshades in the future too. Watch this space! 

Recently I gave my daughter some tools and some Lino and let her loose. She’s only nine and the results were great. It encouraged me that I could do this with children as well as adults.

Essdee block printing set for kids
Essdee Block Printing Set for kids – available to buy online for £13.99

For more information about Susie’s beautiful textiles, head to her website here:

Book a lino printing workshop by contacting Susie here.

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