Custom print edition for Sophia

closeup view of a block printed image, in brown ink on white paper. The image depicts four animals, a sheep, rooster, boar, and rabbit, within a dark circle. Maple leaves, geometric patterns, mountains, and cherry leaves surround the circle. A colorful peach is depicted in the bottom right of the image. The signature line 'L. Nishizaki' is just visible at bottom right.

This entire process has been a dream! Lauren is such an incredible artist. I described to her that I was looking for a custom piece for my family. She was so wonderful to work with and communicated to me during the entire creative process sharing her progress and asking if I wanted any changes or for her to add anything.

The final prints were everything I could have asked for and more! Lauren was even sweet enough to give me advice and ideas on a frame choice for the piece. I would 100% work with Lauren again and would recommend her to anyone looking to collaborate with an artist.


Last year, Sophia reached out to me with a custom design request. The prompt: a small edition of prints to give as Christmas gifts to her family. She asked that I depict each member of her family as a zodiac animal, using a similar art style as my “Moon & Rabbits” print.

I started by sending over a questionaire to get to know her family members better: character traits that I could depict through animal poses, shared hobbies and activities, favorite locations. For visual inspiration, I turned to the online resources and library books. My research books covered topics such as Hokusai and his woodblock prints, Japanese stencils for textile dying, and kimono patterns and history.

Lots of research turned into lots of sketches, which, after many iterations, turned into a design I was proud to share with Sophia. After listening to her feedback, I incorporated some changes and we agreed that the final design was ready to carve.

A white sketchbook page filled with preliminary pencil sketches of boar, sheep, roosters, rabbits, and animal tracks.
Fingers at bottom left hold down multiple layers of tracing paper. On the tracing paper are drawn mountains, streams, and tree branches, in either pen or pencil.
A tabletop view of the uncarved grey linoleum block with the block pattern drawn in black pencil. To the left sits the reference image and piles of tracing paper. To the right are several pens.
My sketchbook filled up with animal sketches, mountain ranges, and many other elements that didn't make it into the final design. Certain elements were drawn and redrawn on tracing paper. After the design was finalized, I transfered the image onto the linoleum block and went over all lines in pen.

Carving is a slow and careful process. I always start by carving the eyes of my main subjects—if I make a mistake at such a crucial step, it’s easier to start over if I haven’t already invested hours into carving. Once carving is done, I clean the pen marks off the block so they don’t affect the final print; this is the last time the block will look so clean.

The partially carved block. The animals at the center of the circle are carved away and therefore appear lighter than the surrounding block, which has been darkened using an ink wash.
The carved block, with more material carved away compared to the previous picture. The border of the block appears as a dark grey, and still remains to be carved away.
The block after carving is finished. Much of the contrast has been removed, and the block appears a uniform pale grey with subtle shadows for carved detail.
It always feels like magic to watch a 3D design emerge from the flat linoleum. I'll be carving away, lost in details, and then I'll take a step back to rest my hand and marvel at the progress I've made.

After carving comes time for test prints! I’ll try out multiple hand-mixed ink colors; sometimes I can follow color ratios for a favorite color that I recorded during a previous print session, but usually it’s an iterative process as I mix–test–remix.

Two scraps of paper have been printed with a corner of the block, the bottom paper with blue and the top one with brown. A watercolor palette and watercolor brush sit next to the papers, and the peach visible in both scraps has been colored in pink and green.
A closeup view of the carved block, showing the carved peach and surrounding details. The high points of the block are stained brown; the carved-away areas are light grey with some black staining.
I experimented with printing the block in both brown and blue, and at Sophia's suggestion, I tried adding subtle color to the peach. The final linoleum block is covered in carving marks. Everywhere that was touched by the blockprinting ink retains a trace of color, even after cleaning.

After creating test prints, I sat with the images for a couple of days before picking the final color—in this case, a rich dark brown. I printed a handful of prints, enough so that I could sort through them and edition the best three for Sophia, and save one or two for my own records. Once the ink was dry a couple of days after printing, I numbered, titled, and signed the prints before carefully packing them up and mailing them off.

Sophia adored the final prints, and her family loved their Christmas gifts!

A top-down view of the final print, sitting on a bamboo table. The print is on white paper and all details are a dark brown. The bottom of the print is signed 'AP' and 'L. Nishizaki 2020'.
A customer image showing the print float-framed above a black matboard, within a dark wood frame. The frame sits on a striped table-runner.
The final deliverable was an edition of three prints. Each print measures 8×10" and is printed in dark brown ink on white paper. Watercolor accents in the bottom right add a tiny pop of color. Sophia took the prints to a custom frame shop where she requested a float-framed job, seen in the second image.