Thinking back to art classes in middle school, you may have carved a linoleum block with a little, U-shaped knife. You were creating a relief plate, but you may not have called it that. This is one of the most common forms of printmaking, and linoleum and wood are likely the most widely used materials.
I carve my relief plates in a thin PVC foamcore board used for signage, called “Sintra”. This substance is easily carved and cut with an exacto knife, and I find it very versatile.
Typically, an image is carved into the plate using sharp implements (my fingers always suffer after a carving session), and ink is then rolled over the plate, placed face down on paper and passed through an etching press. That creates a crisp, graphic image. Additional layers can be printed over this image.
I use a process I call “textured relief” to create multi-layered prints. I ink one plate, then press a different plate face-to-face onto the first plate, rub the back to create some suction, and peel the two apart. This makes mottled gaps in the inked plane, creating lighter and darker areas which translate as light through the translucent palmetto fronds when the plate is printed to paper.
You can see the printed results on the palmetto leaves at the bottom and top of the print at right. By pressing plate against plate, the ink roll is somewhat corrupted, producing a soft, textural line. I think it creates a result that looks more organic and irregular than direct ink-to-paper printing.
Below, you can see the difference between the two methods — on the left, I’ve made a straight, ink-to-plate relief print, and on the right you can see what happens to the ink when another plate is pressed onto an inked plate before printing to paper. The effect adds a bit of value and dimension.