Q & A with Lena Corwin, author of Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils, and Silk Screens


Printing by Hand is your first book. What was your favorite part of making it?

Probably the first time I made the projects, just figuring out how I wanted to do them. My intern Sian Keegan helped me, and we had a lot of fun experimenting and trying out different ideas.


Printing by Hand covers three printing techniques – stamping, stenciling, and screen printing. How did you decide to include these three techniques?

All methods of printing fall into those three fundamental categories, so it just happened that way naturally. During the early stages of working on the book, I figured out which particular methods of stamping, stenciling, and screen printing I wanted to include. In the stenciling chapter, for example, I give instructions for how to make stencils using freezer paper, contact paper, and Mylar. Other materials can be used for stenciling, but these are my favorite methods, the ones I have found to be the most versatile, and have given me the best results.


The projects in Printing by Hand range from stationery and tote bags to bed sheets and upholstery. What were your criteria for deciding on the projects to include?

Originally, I wanted to do all fabric projects, because that’s what I print on most. My editor encouraged me to include other surfaces, such as paper, walls, even lampshades. When I began to think beyond printing on fabric, I knew that I wanted to use items that people might already have in their homes, like plain bed sheets or an apron, or that they could buy easily, such as a blank journal or an unfinished wooden dresser.


Printing by Hand is one of only a few books available that teaches readers how to make their own printing tools. How does knowing how to do this change the printing process?

Printing with readymade tools can be great, but it’s limiting. Once you know how to make your own tools, you can use your own artwork to explore so many more options. Printing by Hand includes my artwork for each project, so that if readers want to recreate the projects exactly as I made them, they can do that. But I also hope that people will learn the printing techniques and use them to create printing tools with their own artwork, so they can create something truly unique.


Any advice for a novice looking to start creating his or her own artwork?

It’s very important to always keep in mind what works best for the technique you’re intending to use. For example, if you draw a very intricate design for a rubber block stamp, you might never be able to carve out the detail that you created with a pen and paper. In Printing by Hand, I explain which type of designs work best with each technique, so that the reader, hopefully, won’t waste time and feel frustrated by designing something that just won’t work.


To come up with design ideas, I have inspiration boards where I pin up magazines pages, photocopies from vintage books, photographs I’ve taken, fabric scraps, and other inspiring imagery. For me, ideas for a design usually stem from one thing (or a combination of things) that I’ve seen. It’s okay to find inspiration in what you see around you, to look at something and not copy it but use it as a jumping-off point for your own creativity.


A lot of the artwork you created for the projects in Printing by Hand is drawn from nature. Is that an ongoing theme in your work? Are there other themes you find yourself returning to? Nature is always a theme. I also like geometric shapes, which you can see in the baby quilt and tote bag projects. A lot of my work is inspired by ‘50s and ‘60s style, when single-color prints were common. I’m always inspired by the work of Alexander Girard, Lucienne Day, and Marimekko.


The photo shoot for Printing by Hand took place in your home. What was that like?

It was good and bad. It was hard because for those two weeks my house was really turned upside-down. It would have been nice to go somewhere else, work and make a mess, and then come home. But it was good because we could pull any tools and props that we needed or wanted from my house and the photos ended up really feeling like my style and my home. The photo shoot was fun; it was stressful, but I had a great time.


What items from the shoot have you kept?

I have the baby quilt on my couch as a throw blanket. Gus uses the dog bed every day. I use the dresser in my studio.


Did you keep the stenciled wall?

Yes, but I will probably paint over it soon. I’ll be sad to see it go! But since it was inspired the Cole & Sons wallpaper that I have in my living room, which has a similar motif and colors, it is a little repetitive.


We’re definitely seeing a resurgence of interest in the process of printing by hand. To what do you attribute this trend?

Patterns have been very popular in home design and fashion lately, so I think it’s natural that when people see so many beautiful patterns around them, they start to wonder if they can create those patterns themselves. Just like knitting and sewing, which are so popular now, printing gives you a chance to work with your hands. All of this is probably a reaction to how much time we spend in front of our computers and televisions, and a desire to make things in an old-fashioned kind of way.


What’s the next printing challenge you intend to tackle?

I’m doing a lot of printing now, but it’s stuff I’m pretty comfortable with, not really new challenges. I plan to move my studio soon, to a larger space, so I am looking forward to finally having room to print fabric yardage, using very large silk screens. That will be challenging, I’m sure. And If I had the time, I would love to experiment more with stamping on wood.