The art of the woodcut print has a long tradition particularly in the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Woodcut printing is capable of a wide range of effects from the subtle, poetic, multicolor, detailed prints of the Oriental artists to the bold, expressive, graphic, black and white prints of the German Expressionist artists in the early twentieth century.
Making a woodcut print is simple, does not require expensive material and can even be done without a printing press.
Materials required for creating a woodcut print are as follows:
o Block printing ink – either water based or oil based
o Wood block – soft wood like pine or linoleum
o Ink roller – rubber
o Woodcutting tools – V-shaped, U-shaped and straight edged
o Printmaking paper – acid free printmaking paper – either standard white or handmade papers of any type
o Wood spoon or printing press – large wood spoon with a broad flat back surface or an etching press
o White pencil – conti or pastel pencil
STEP 1. Preparing the Block
Once you have your wood block and your cutting tools, you are ready to begin the creative process. One important factor to keep in mind when you begin is that the print will be a mirror image of the image you cave into your block. You should sketch out your idea on paper first, then coat your block with a thin layer of black ink using your ink roller and some black printing ink. Let the ink dry and then draw your image on the plate with a white pencil or a white ink pen. The coating of black ink on the block will make your image more visible while you are carving the image into the block.
STEP 2. Carving the Image
Using your carving tools, carve the image into the wood. If you want an expressive image, then cut and carve the wood aggressively using a broad cutting tool and don’t worry about the details and, conversely, if you want a more realistic detailed image using a smaller V-shaped tool, slowly and carefully cut your image into the block.
STEP 3. Proofing the Image
At any point during the carving process you can make a proof of your image so that you can evaluate the way your pr8int will look and so that you can adjust your process if necessary. You should be aware that proofing will make the lighter carved out areas of your block darker when you clean your block after proofing. This may be something you do not want because it will change the way you visualize your image on the block.
STEP 4. Inking the Block
Ok, you have carved your image and it looks awesome! You are now ready to print your masterpiece. Squeeze some ink onto a smooth flat, non-absorbent surface like glass, and using your roller, roll out a very thin layer of ink. Do not use a back and forth motion with the roller; roll the ink one say, lift up the roller and roll it the same way repeatedly until you have a thin layer of ink on your roller. Several layers of thin ink is what you are striving for on your block. Too much ink on the block will overflow into the carved out areas and your image will not print correctly, and conversely, too little ink on your block will make for a splotchy print and the edges of your image will not be sharp and crisp. You will have to experiment through trial and error to find the right inking technique.
STEP 5. Printing the Block
If you have access to a printing press, this is the best and easiest way to print your block. Ink your plate, place it on the press, cover the block with your print paper cover the paper with the press blanket, adjust the roller pressure and slowly roll the block through the press. Carefully lift the paper off the block and there you have it, your woodblock print masterpiece. Set it aside in a safe place to dry. Limit your edition to about 50 pints because the image quality will deteriorate after about that many prints. If you do not have access to a printing press, you can use a wooden spoon or similar tool to make your print. Ink your block, place your paper on top of your block and using a flat wooden surface, rub the paper against the block in a consistent circular motion until you feel the ink has been transferred to the paper. If in doubt, peel back the paper on one corner and judge your technique and make adjustments in pressure if necessary. Obviously, effectiveness of this technique is more suited to smaller block prints.