I got a bit of press in the past little while. Woot!

Artist Profile on Open Book Toronto as part of Graphic Novel Month (May)

My dear pal Sara Titanic writes about her studio visits with upcoming Toronto artists for the daily online section of Toronto’s lovely free newspaper, NOW. She did one with me and we had a lovely time.

She also made a video of me cutting a lino block, which has been accelerated and put to a twangy banjo tune (which replaced the original audio track, a silly conversation about star trek and who’s-dating-who)!

photo by Sara Titanic

photo by Sara Titanic




Often, when I describe the process I used to create the prints for Back and Forth people ask, “why did you do that?”. Admittedly, in the age of hi-res scanning and  photography, adobe illustrator, corel draw and MS paint (still a personal favourite), I could have made this book in a variety of ways that would have taken less time and labour.

Well, here is the secret that pushed me to take on this process: I really love to do it. There is a building tension when working on a (block) print, a mystery about so many aspects of the process, how it will develop and differ from what you expected, how you negotiate with what comes. There is something good about things that need time to develop. Over the months, the narrative evolved as well as my style and carving capabilities.

img016vancouver wreck

Some words on the process:

It all began with a freaking huge piece of linoleum.

Actually, it began with 100 tiny boxes drawn on five sheets of paper, with stick figure pencil depictions of the story. (It started before that, with an inkling, inspiration, desire and then support from my professor and peers, but these are more amorphous parts of the process.)

I tried to get feedback on the story, but the tiny scribbles were only understandable to my own eyes and I had to forge on believing that I wasn’t chasing down a lost cause. I ordered 5 feet of linoleum from a wonderful flooring store at College and Ossington Ave. I picked it up a few days later and carried the heaviest roll of anything home (I took the streetcar most of the way).

At home I unrolled the gray linoleum on my living room floor. It barely fit between the couches. With a ruler, knife and carpenter’s square, I cut the lino into long strips and then cut the strips into smaller pieces, a bit bigger than 8×10 inches.

I went to a hardware store and bought the most gorgeous piece of high-grade birch plywood you’ve ever seen. I had it cut down to 30 8x10ish pieces on their super cool  automated saw.

I  glued the linoleum to the wood, clamping each block in a book press until it dried. With the assistance of the lovely George Walker and the wonderful Justin Labine, the pieces were cut down on a table saw to roughly 4×5.

At this point, I had about 120 pieces of mounted lino.  A few blocks were cut too small or crooked and I put them aside for future projects.

The tools!

I started working on the blocks in sections of ten. First I would sand the linoleum with 3 grits of sand paper to get rid of its bumpy texture which would have shown up in the print. Then I would translate the stick-scribbles into drawings directly onto the linoleum.

Block printing is a backwards process. You carve away the parts of the print that will be white, whatever you don’t cut will be black. The print will also be in reverse of what you have carved on the block, like a mirror, meaning everything you draw is done backwards. Because of this, a lot of people work out their images first, then transfer them in reverse onto the lino block.  I like to live on the experimental side of things. I thought that the images would have more life if they were immediate rather than reworked, mastered. Personally, the emotive, expressionistic aspect of art objects has always appealed to me more than the ability to replicate reality through realistic representation.

Once I drew out ten blocks, I would then carve them, at the same time starting the sanding and drawings of the next ten blocks. The carved blocks would be test-printed. With a test print, I could evaluate what needed to be emphasized or changed. Almost every block required additional carving before it was finished.

The Vandercook press mid-printing

Finally, when all the blocks were carved and tested and edited, I printed the whole book in three glorious days on a Vandercook Press. First, you clamp the block into the press bed using metal shapes called furniture to keep it in place. Then, you put ink on the rollers, and feed the paper into the press and make a print. Seems simple, but with 90 blocks at 20 prints per block, it quickly adds up to 1800 prints! Wild! All in less thank a week, thanks to the wonderful help of my shop assistants: Sara Titanic, Emily Doyle-Yamaguchi and Sarah Feldbloom. You guys were the best and saved me in my time of need!


Back and Forth is a book created in Canada, inspired by the vast contours of this grand old land.

When I immigrated to this country as a small child, these great distances were beyond even my fertile imagination. For years I stayed cloistered in the suburbs, developing an ever irritating itch to discover what lay beyond the invisible walls of subdivisions. When it came time for me to start university, I took my first opportunity to scratch. I headed West.

In British Columbia I first began to marvel at the great differences between the beautiful cities of Canada. Vancouver had a completely new set of values, social norms and activities to learn. The air was moist, the horizon was mountainous and the faces were fresh and smiling. It felt like a new life.

At this time, I was reading a lot of Douglas Coupland, a Canadian authour who situated many of his novels in the Vancouver area. Reading his books on location had a profound effect on me. Many of my previous experiences with media (books, movies, tv, etc) featured plots situated in major American cities. I had fantasies about the wonders of New York City and Los Angeles because these were the cities where things most often happened. But here was an authour doing something different. When he wrote about the Lion’s Gate Bridge or north Van, I felt more connected to the story because I had been there myself. They were stories about my home (however temporary it was) not some glitzy, idealized other place.

I decided that what Coupland was doing was too important to be forgotten. I swore that when it came time for me to write my books, I would use my personal experiences of location rather than trying to create an imagined NYC. More than anything, I wanted someone do for Toronto what Coupland had done for Vancouver, to place it within the cultural imagination. Toronto seemed just as exciting and full of potential as other places, yet the popular attitude towards it was of ambivalence or disdain. I wanted someone to reveal its hidden gems, local favourites, those things that make the city itself and only itself. It turned out that someone was me.

Back and Forth does not follow a linear structure of time, but rather hops “back and forth” between two cities, two timelines. My reasoning for this structure comes from my personal experiences living in Western Canada. I mentioned before that being in Vancouver felt like a new life. I had new friends, a new home and new surroundings. Beyond long distance phone calls from family and friends, no part of my previous life came with me to the West. Once, sitting on an airplane back to Vancouver from winter holidays, I identified myself as ‘bicoastal’ and felt as if I had two separate lives that could never become one. (Turns out I was wrong, but that’s a whole other story). It was this experience of feeling split in two that inspired  me to create the disjointed narrative of Back and Forth.



Back and Forth lino blocks

You have come here because you are interested in the new  graphic novel Back and Forth by Marta Chudolinska. Congratulations! You are in the right place.

Back and Forth is a story told without words. The narrative is shown in 90 black and white images, made by printing carved linoleum blocks. Carving (or ‘cutting’) involves removing everything that will be white in the final picture,  a (semi-masochistic) backwards way of making an image. The blocks also print mirror backwards when transferred onto paper.

This blog will be used to provide updates about the book and book related events. I’m also excited to use this as a place to discuss the book and the stories it tells. Back and Forth is about Canadian cities, mental and physical travel, and the complexity of loneliness and intimacy, among other things. At times, it flirts with time travel.

Look for Back and Forth to be published by the Porcupine’s Quill in April 2009.

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