Techniques and Genres

Woodcuts, woodblocks, wood engraving

Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An image is carved into the surface of a block of wood leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas cut away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block of wood is cut along the grain (unlike wood engraving, where the block is cut in the end-grain).

Multiple colours can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (using a different block for each colour). They became popular in Europe during the latter half of the 15th century. A single-sheet woodcut is a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration. Since its origins in China, the practice of woodcut has spread across the world from Europe to other parts of Asia, and to Latin America.

Woodblock printing was used in Europe from the twelfth century, at first for printing textiles, though images were printed on paper by the late fourteenth century. The woodcut process was widely used for popular illustrations in the 17th century, but no major artist employed it. In the early 19th century it was replaced by wood engraving, which reproduced paintings and sculpture more easily and accurately than woodcuts. However it lost it’s popularity in the mid-19th-century with the development of photoengraving. About that time, artists rediscovered the expressive potential of woodcuts.

I’ll be posting more on Printing Methods all next week as I launch my first Weekly Media slot this Monday. The above looks very similar to linocuts which many find much easier to use.