My journey – how I got started with block printing

My journey – how I got started with block printing

Can I tell you something? My block printing journey almost did not happen!

It’s hard to believe now – several years into this journey, but I was veeeery close to not even trying (and this happened more than once during the first months of block printing). So here is my journey of getting started with block printing and making repeat patterns—a story of convincing myself that I could do it (which I could!).

Table of Contents

How I got started before I actually started

As a lifelong hobby creative (I’m an engineer by education), becoming a mother was probably my least creative time (or let’s say I used my creativity differently).

I was about to return to my day job after maternity leave with my little printmaker (aka my daughter). So, I researched how to stamp a small symbol into little printmaker’s clothes (instead of writing names on clothes tags as asked by the daycare). Investigating if this was even possible (yes, I doubted that stamping on fabric was possible …) and what ink I needed, I stumbled upon a stamp carving video. I was hooked (thank you, Google, for de-touring my search 🥳). I was utterly mesmerized that one could carve their own stamps 💙 (no, I did not end up carving a stamp for those clothes) and print patterns with it.

My first reaction was to run to an art supplies store immediately. Knowing that I was returning to my day job as a fresh mother, a loud inner voice kept telling me:

  • You won’t have time. Don’t be stupid.”
  • “Those carving videos might look fun, but it’s for sure going to be harder than it looks.”
  • Stop thinking about it.
  • “You will not have time next to the day job and baby! What a waste of money.”

What a pain, that voice 🥺…

What happened next? Despite these thoughts, I kept being drawn to those carving and block printing videos. I finally gave in and started to figure out what I needed. I found it challenging to find out which tools and materials I really needed and should invest in. This experience is also why I later created a free-mini guide to help you get started and show you all the tools I am using; that’s a different story. So back to the my story. Once I had figured out what I needed, I sneaked off to the store.

In the evenings, I researched: watched videos and read blog posts to find out how stamp carving worked – and ordered books (but I was too curious even to wait for them to arrive). I finally tried carving a couple of blocks and LOVED it.

The first two blocks I ever carved. Can you spot the error in the practice block to the right 😊?

Next, I “only” had to solve how to find the time for more practice. I decided to prescribe myself a #52weeksproject of printmaking to make one print a week. I envisioned sneaking off on weekends for an hour or so to get some carving & printing me-time. Honestly, I did not think it would work timewise (talk confidence🤭). In a quest to keep myself motivated by sharing my work and interacting with other people doing a 52-week project, I decided to start my Instagram account in August of 2018 to share my weekly prints. At that time, I had carved two blocks (a block to test my tools and a “hello” stamp).

How I really got started with block printing

When I opened this Instagram account (again, I was overthinking if I really should open this account – it all boiled down to the time factor as a new mom with a more or less full-time job), I finally decided on @3dottedpenguins as my IG handle – for those of you asking: (in short), it’s a reference to my little printmaker 💙.

Within days I was blown away by this supportive printmaking community on Instagram. I learned so much! I was motivated by what other block printers were making because it showed me what was possible. I managed to keep up with my #52weekproject for the first 6 – 8 weeks, concentrating on getting the hang of fabric printing (my original goal). I even took an online class on fabric block printing by the fabulous Jen Hewitt.

I soon realized that weekends were not my perfect carving slots, but evenings worked great for my inner night owl (and a good chance that little printmaker would be sound asleep 😴).

October came, and my feed was full of people talking about #printinktober, a month-long block printing challenge hosted by Julie Balzers. It sounded fun and daunting at the same time. To make a new print every day (and carve a new stamp most days) felt overwhelming. But I loved seeing what other people came up with. I started. I figured the worst thing that could happen was to miss a few days or stop altogether (nobody would even notice, I tried to convince myself). “Just give it a try,” I told myself.

I struggled with what to carve and mainly did some basic leaves and shapes… And then I went on vacation WITH my carving tools, and everything changed 😆 🙌 

Some of the first blocks I carved BEFORE I went on that vacation to Northern Italy.

How I found my passion within my passion

I had been amazed by repeat patterns for the longest time. But I never managed to access the creative process of making repeat patterns for myself – until I found block printing, and everything seemed to fall into place. So when I saw photos of repeating blocks and the resulting stunning repeat patterns, I knew this was something for me, and I absolutely wanted to try this.

Honestly, the thought of making a square block that would repeat (in a tesselating manner, like any square block will) felt taunting. I did not feel ready. In my mind, it just had to be hard (talk about confidence in my abilities 🥺).

On the first evening of my vacation, sitting at the dining table of a rented apartment in Northern Italy under terrible kitchen light shining right onto me from directly above (aka worst carving conditions), I challenged myself to try. And I did. It was a simple block, but I had printed my first square repeating layout. 🎉 My passion for block-printed repeat patterns manifested right that evening in Italy… 

The first repeat stamp I carved under the harsh kitchen light of my north Italian vacation apartment

Why am I sharing this?

Because sometimes, you have to give yourself a gentle (or not quite so gentle) push to get started with something that feels hard, no matter how big or small. You could have someone else help you with that first step:

  • a supportive family member or friend;
  • you can mention me in your post, and I will try to cheer as many of you on as possible;
  • lean into a creative community (on Instagram or locally, if you are part of one);
  • join likeminded people in a month-long challenge, or
  • perhaps attend a class or workshop

to help you with those first steps that might feel hard…

Why I made progress quickly

While my love for block printing repeat patterns was manifested during that vacation in Northern Italy, it did not end there.

The opposite happened; I was so inspired by repeat patterns that I sketched and carved a new block or printed a new pattern almost daily for the first year, especially when joining month-long challenges.

I am 100% certain that my progress would have been much slower without being part of these challenges. Why?

  • Because challenges reminded me (and subtly pressured me) to create daily.
  • I learned what it meant to create daily (and that it was possible);
  • it helped me find my creative process and workflow and
  • showed me what worked and did not work for me.
  • I worked through creative blocks and
  • learned how to deal with little time.
  • And as a bonus – by showing up regularly – I made a lot of progress (because of all the practice I got).
  • And the community aspect of such challenges – even if it is just seeing what other participants made that day – can be so motivating.
My first 30day project (#printinktober in 2018, left) and my 2019 #100dayproject

Have you ever been part of a creative challenge (not necessarily about block printing) where you worked on something every day for a limited time? I would love to hear from you in the comments 💙

I would not be where I am today without you

I would not be where I am today without constantly showing my work. This also meant that many of you had questions (or requests) about my tools, buying my prints or stamps, or getting my designs on fabric. After answering the questions and declining all requests (I did not feel ready), I took the plunge in the summer of 2019 (still not feeling prepared) and started selling my prints – first on a request basis only and then followed by the opening of my Etsy shop.

With my followers’ repeated questions about my tools, I wanted to share my answers in one place. So I made a free multi-page guide on all the tools I use (and what you need to get started). It’s now available in its 3rd (!) edition. Oh, and I made a few more free guides over time (I love making them, but I always underestimate how much work goes into them).

Many of you kept asking for workshops – I started hunting for workshop locations (I liked the challenge of figuring all of this out but thought I would not enjoy teaching – how wrong I was). Next, our world entered a pandemic, and I was forced to rethink the format. I gave my first online workshops in the spring of 2020. And I realized how much I enjoy sharing my knowledge. It makes my heart jump whenever I see my students print their first stamp, realizing that carving is not as complicated as they thought. The joy in their eyes when their repeat patterns come to life, seeing the possibilities and versatility of their blocks.

block printing on the road - travel supplies


Get started with block printing or dive deep into the world of block-printed repeat patterns in one of my live online block printing workshops this April (the only ones this year) or one of my classes


Learn about the tools you need for block printing (including my favorite brands of tools) in this free 1o+ page guide. 

One big thing I learned from it: it’s always worth trying something new, even when we think we are not made for it – in many cases, we are. It’s simply our brain trying to protect us from the unknown. So I now like to ask myself: what is the worst thing that can happen?

Which questions do you have?

That’s how I got started (and ended up building the basis that led me to today). I would have never imagined where this first initial step would lead me. Never ever!

Let me know in the comments below which additional questions you have (about my journey or other topics) you want me to answer in a future blog post.

You might also like these posts

Blog post: The power of Block Printing

What block printing is and what you can do with it.

Blog POst: creative challenges

All about challenges and how they can help you reach your (creative) goals.

Blog Post: Materials to get started

What tools and materials you need to get started with block printing.

  • Yari Urbina
    Posted at 16:37h, 18 April Reply

    This is very helpful! You’re right when you say that sometimes we need a “not so gentle push”. I’m at that point, organizing everything so I can open a store on Etsy, and most of the time I’m just thinking and having arguments with myself on how and when to do it.

    • Ali | 3 Dotted Penguins
      Posted at 07:04h, 19 April Reply

      Oh yes, Yari – I know this too well! You are already so far! Make a list of steps you need to do at a minimum to get the Etsy store up and running, order/prioritize those tasks and then assign yourself one (or multiple) of these tasks a day to complete – you will gain so much momentum and have your Etsy store up in no time! On top of that, I always work best if I jot down my tasks for the next day at the end of the previous workday or evening and put them in the correct order of priority. Then, the following day, I just have to look at that list and go, “Oh right, that’s my first task of the day” (I often might have my mind set on a different task when I get up). Good luck with the launch of your Etsy shop!

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