Relief Printmaking – Woodcut

Introduction

Woodcut has similarities with linocut and mokuhanga (Japanese for ‘wood’ and ‘printmaking’) as all three techniques use a variety of tools (knives, gouges and V-tools) to cut into the printing plate (block). The main difference is that woodcut and mokuhanga use plywood as the printing block rather than linoleum.

Tools and Materials

  • Plywood
  • Sandpaper
  • Selection of wood cutting tools (v-tool, gouge etc)
  • Stanley knife / craft knife
  • Relief printing ink (either water-based or ink-based)
  • Palette knife
  • Roller
  • Glass slab / printing surface for rolling out ink
  • Printing paper (smooth surface)
  • Cartridge paper
  • Roller, baren or wooden spoon for burnishing
  • Pencil

Process

The general principle is that any wood material removed by the cutting tools will not print. This makes it a negative mark-making process. Once the mark making has been completed, ink is applied all over the plate with the roller. The inked-up plate is positioned centrally on a sheet of backing paper and the printing paper gently lowered over the top of the plate, lining it up with the backing sheet.

Having carefully pressed the printing paper onto the plate using your hand, firmly hold the paper so it does not slip and burnish the back of the printing paper using one of the burnishing tools. Check to make sure the ink has been properly applied by peeling back one corner to see. When the print is complete, gently peel the paper back to clear the plate.

You can then re-ink the plate and repeat the process on as many printing sheets as you have chosen to use. Note that each print will be the same subject to correct inking and burnishing.

Although only one colour was discussed in this module, there were suggestions regarding different inks, paper and tools. I chose to prepare a three-colour reduction block, as shown below.

Lighthouse

With mokuhanga, water coloured inks are used, rather than traditional relief inks, on damp paper together with a unique registration system. This technique will be covered on more detail in a subsequent post.

Conclusion and comments

Plywood can have a strong grain and/or knots that can provide for interesting backgrounds to the finished prints (something you do not get with linoleum). You might be able to see the grain effect on the left hand side of the image (in blue ink).

It is possible to use linocut tools as well as specialist wood tools. Either way, it is important to keep any tools as sharp as possible to aid cutting (and reduce the chances of splintering the wood).

Recommended Reading

Chesterman, M. & Nelson, R. (2015). “Making Woodblock Prints”. Published by The Crowood Press (ISBN 978-1-84797-903-2)