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Every year on the day after Thanksgiving I begin the process of making the annual Christmas card — a family portrait to send to friends and family.  To be honest, when I started this in 1984 I thought printing my own cards would save both time and money.  It does NOT save time unless you compare it to hand-painting cards for each person on your list.  And I was wrong about saving money, too.  Rice paper, custom envelopes, printing inks, cutting tools, and mis-prints really add up.

But it’s a tradition, so I can’t stop now.  Besides, I really enjoy it.

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The process takes about three weeks from start to finish.  I begin with rough sketches and talking about various ideas with my wife Melissa “Sasi” Chambers.  Then I sit down at my work table and surround myself with family photos and Christmas cards from over the years.  I crank up “The Nutcracker,” pour a glass of egg nog, and start the final drawing to work out the composition.  This serves as the basis for a watercolor painting on a fresh, clean linoleum block.

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The funnest and most dangerous part of the process is the next step: the carving.  Not life-and-limb dangerous, just puncture-wound dangerous.  When you make a linocut you use sharp tools like woodcutting knives that sometimes slip.  By “sometimes” I mean “often.”  Cutting linoleum is a lot easier than cutting wood, but you can’t get as fine of a line. Just carve away all the parts that aren’t painted and you’ve got yourself a block that you can print. Easy as pie!

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Each print takes about fifteen minutes to cut and fold the paper, roll the ink onto the block, press the paper onto the block with a spoon (yep, a spoon), peel off the print, place it on a shelf for drying, wash the ink off the block, and dry it.  One down, 64 to go!  Woo hoo!

I always enjoy this process, though there have been years when it doesn’t go as smoothly as I’d like because either I start late or I can’t think of a clever image or it just doesn’t look like the family.  But it’s so nice to finally get the cards in the mail, pack up my tools for another year, and get back to something easier — like painting!

Here’s the final version of this year’s card.  Happy Holidays!

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Mike Chambers

I paint bikes, doors, floors, cobblestones, chairs, ghosts, everyday saints, angels, windows, easels, shadows, and stripes.

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