Welcome to part 3 of our series explaining about printmaking techniques. This week we are discussing wood engraving.

What is Wood Engraving?

Wood engraving is a type of relief printing created by using a small piece of wood that you cut into using very fine metal engraving tools such as spitstickers or tint tools. The material that is removed does not print, therefore making it a negative mark-making technique. Once the cuts have been made, the block is inked up using a roller and then printed onto paper. Printing a wood engraving can be done by hand without a printing press or using a book press or letterpress. Wood engraving traditionally was used as a form of book illustration.

Wood engraving can easily be produced from home, as the blocks are very small and transportable. Any sort of wood prepared especially for wood engraving such as lemonwood, maple or boxwood can be used for engraving. There are also some plastic alternatives to wood that can be bought from printmaking suppliers that will be a little cheaper and are a good starting point. Unlike a woodcut, (that uses the side grain of the wood) wood engraving shows no grain and uses the compact end grain of the block of wood. The illustration here demonstrates the difference between the two ways that wood can be used.

Thomas Bewick developed the wood engraving technique at the end of the 18th century. It was a development / progression from printing using woodcut and other forms of printmaking such as metal engraving. The wood engraving blocks Berwick used would have been the same height as letterpress blocks so that they could be printed in the same fashion. This is why wood engraving blocks are the same height still today. Do take a look at some of Thomas Bewick’s engraving of the natural world as they are beautiful examples of the art and a perfect place to get inspired.

Tiger by Thomas Bewick

Wood engraving is identifiable from other forms of printmaking by its fine detailed lines and that the works are usually small – sometimes just a few inches wide and usually black and white only. This fine nature of the print is what takes engravers a long time to complete each work. With wood engraving it is the contract of white against black and use of lines and marks to create varying levels of shades and tones that really makes a print successful. Take a look at some wood engravings close up. Really study the marks made in one area to see how the shade has been created and then compare it to another section in the print – fascinating!

Wood Engraving Resources

I always believe that understanding the basics of wood engraving is quite simple but truly mastering the technique can take years of practice to control the use of the tools and understand how to create successful tone and shade. But don’t let that put you off, wood engraving is a very rewarding technique and you can visit some absolutely beautiful prints in printmaking exhibitions across the UK.

One of the first books I read on wood engraving was a book called ‘Wood Engraving: How to Do It’ by Simon Brett. A fantastic and detailed introduction to the art – inspiring! This can be bought online at Amazon.co.uk along with lots of other great books on wood engraving. A chance to stock up your bookshelf!

Another great place to continue your adventure into wood engraving is to look at the website of the society of wood engravers. They have regular news and exhibitions listed on there and a DVD all about wood engraving today, that is well worth a watch.

If you are interested in learning more about wood engraving, download our FREE factsheet about how to do wood engraving, or come along to one of our regular classes or courses. Bespoke classes are also available for anyone wanting individual tuition.

Thanks for reading!


If you want to learn Wood Engraving, why not take a look at our online course Introduction to Wood Engraving?


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