In this series of blog posts I am going to talk a little about what some of the printmaking techniques are that we use throughout our classes and courses. In the first blog post, I discussed linocut, as an introduction to relief printmaking, so logically, I will swiftly progress to another relief printing technique – woodcut.
What is Woodcut?
Woodcut or woodblock is a type of relief printing, created by using a piece of wood as the block that you cut into, instead of linoleum. With woodcut the material that is removed using your cutting tools does not print, therefore making it a negative mark-making technique.
To cut into the wood block you can use a sharp knife or traditional woodcut tools. Once the cuts have been made into the wood block, it is inked up using a roller and then printed onto paper. Woodcut is a fairly inexpensive technique suitable for working at home. Printing via hand burnishing can be done as only a low pressure is needed to produce an image i.e. printing without a relief printing press.
The textures and effects created from a woodcut vary depending on the type of wood and the type of cuts you make. Plywood is a great starting point as it is fairly soft to cut and inexpensive to buy. However, any sort of wood can be used and differing or interesting grains may produce very textural and exciting results. Many printmakers choose woodcut as a method over lino as it has a harder surface than the softer lino and will hold an image and fine detail slightly better. It also has the characteristic grain running along it adding a particular character to each print.
We love the bold black and white woodcuts of the German Expressionists such as Max Beckmann, Heinrich Campendonk, Erich Heckel, Franz M. Jansen, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, César Klein, Käthe Kollwitz & Edvard Munch. (note: the Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin is amazing!) We also love examples of Japanese woodblock prints, which use a slightly different technique and tools but are beautiful with their colour washes and accurate use of black line. One of the most famous being The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai
Types of Wood Used
The type of wood that you use is fairly important in creating the exact finish that you want in your final print.
Softwoods and Hardwoods – Softwoods include pine, spruce, cedar and fir and are less expensive than hardwoods and generally thought to be easier to carve into. Materials like pine often have a very strong grain and knots, which can be incorporated into your design.
Hardwoods including basswood, maple and cherry are harder woods and will enable fine detail to be carved into them. They are slightly more expensive and will mean your tools need sharpening (or throwing away) more regularly.
Plywood – Plywood panels are composed of thin layers of wood glued together at right angles to create a thicker, flatter sheet. Plywood is available in many different thicknesses and the thicker the plywood the more expensive and flat the wood. It can be purchased from most hardware stores but we would generally recommend that you purchase your wood from a printmaking supplier / specialist supplier as this wood will be the right softness, and quality for printmaking.
If you are interested in learning more, download our FREE factsheet about woodcut or come along to one of our regular classes or courses. Bespoke classes are also available for anyone wanting individual tuition.
Thanks for reading!