how to woodcut prints

Two Color Woodcut Prints Marcy Davy Art 331, Student #3 Visual Arts Education Eastern Michigan University

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Page 1: How to Woodcut Prints

Two Color

Woodcut Prints

Marcy DavyArt 331, Student #3Visual Arts Education

Eastern Michigan University

Page 2: How to Woodcut Prints

History: Japanese Woodcut Prints First achieved popularity in 17th Century Japan in Edo (present day Tokyo)

Also referred to as Ukiyo, or “floating world” prints were first and distributed at temples order to encourage the idea that worldly joys and aspirations are transient.

Prints were introduced to Europe and America in the 19th Century-- they became the most popular Japanese art form in the Western world.

Utagawa Hiroshige53 Stations on the Tokaido; Lake by Hakone

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German Expressionist


A resurgence in the woodcut print format occurred during the early 20th Century; with the work of the Die Brucke group.

Led by notable artists like Ernest Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Hackel; the woodcut became a primary means by which artists in the group could explore emotions through abstracted forms.

Die Brucke means “the bridge”— artists created the group out of a need to bridge former artistic movements with the avant-garde of present day.

German expressionists also invented linocuts.

Kathe KollwitzDie Witwe I (The Widow I)

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Contemporary Woodcut Prints

Below: Jean Eger Womack; Mountaintop Experience #1Left: Betty Bowen; Trivoli

Contemporary woodcuts depicts a variety of subject matter, both representational and abstract.

Both of these prints were created by art educators.

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Vocabulary: The Print Room







Page 6: How to Woodcut Prints

VocabularyEdition: Prints created at the same time that are as identical as possible.

Plate/Matrix: The flat surface an image is created on. In this case the plate is the woodblock.

Register: A visual plan for aligning the plate with the paper.

Ink: Pigment spread onto the plate that transfers the image to paper.

Proof: A ‘working print’ completed prior to committing to an edition.

Paper: The flat surface ink is transferred to.

Chatter: Raised areas in the negative space left over after cutting away. These areas will often print along with the positive space.

Brayer: The rubber rolling mechanism used to spread ink onto the plate.

Relief: A form of printmaking where the raised image is inked and printed.

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Cutting Supplies

Small Power or Manual Saw

Safety Goggles

Rotary Tool with Sanding Attachments

Birch Plywood

Manual Tool with Attachments


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Printing Supplies

Plus basic studio marking tools like pencils, charcoal/chalk, and permanent marker.

Ceramic plate or small sheet of glass


Printmaking Paper (Rives BFK)

Oil-Based Block Printing Inks

Palate Knife


Latex Gloves (if desired)

Metal Ruler

Wooden Spoon

Page 9: How to Woodcut Prints

Creating a Plate

Start with a sheet of birch plywood

Determine size of woodcut plate

Using a T-square, draw the shape onto a corner of the wood

Cut out the plate using a circular or manual saw

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Tip: You can also create a reverse image by using the ‘flip’ function in any photo editing program & printing it on a laser printer. Applying nail polish remover to the back of the image while it rests on the plate will transfer the ink from the copy directly to the woodblock.

Preparing the Image

Flip the image so that the impression faces the correct way.

Tape the original drawing to a window face out, and using this ‘natural light box’ trace over the image on a new sheet of paper.

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Transferring the Image

Apply charcoal or chalk to the back of the newly created flip image.

Lay the drawing chalk face down onto the plate.

Trace over the drawing.

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Cutting Out the Image

Using a plug-in rotary tool with sanding blades (shown at right) remove negative space from the plate by wearing down the surface.

Any raised surfaces left in the negative space will print. This is called chatter.

You may also use a hand tool to complete this process, but it will take much longer.

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Preparing to Print: Create a Register

Place the plate on a sheet of paper and outline the edges with marker.

Measure 1” around the top and sides and 1.5” Draw this border with marker.

Note: More or less space can be left as the artist deems fit.

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Preparing to Print: Tear Paper Use the outline border of the register to determine paper size.

Measure paper size with a T-square

Place a heavy metal ruler along the lines, use one hand to hold ruler on paper and the other hand to tear a clean edge.

Tip: If you desire a more deckled edge, use an old wooden ruler with some inconsistency.

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Creating a Proof: Inking the Plate

Use pallet knife to mix colors together and smear a line at the bottom of glass/ceramic plate.

Use brayer to roll ink line into a clean solid area.

Apply ink to plate in smooth vertical and horizontal motions. Pick up the brayer each time and recharge it often.

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Use a wooden spoon to push the ink on the image into the paper.

Pull away the paper and begin an internal mini critique. Some questions to ask yourself:

* Is my inking method well done?* How much ink is on the paper? Is the ink thick or runny?* How do I feel about the image? Should I change anything before I make an edition? * How much chatter is there? Do I want less?

Creating a Proof: Deep Observation Stage

Apply changes to the plate or printing technique if the proof is undesirable.

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Creating an Edition: Printing Background

Color Position back side of plate on the register.

Create a background color and apply it to the plate with the brayer.

Position paper on the register boundaries

Using a wooden spoon, press on the paper to push ink from the plate onto it.

Peel back the paper at each corner to check for inconsistencies.

Tip: A new plate will require more ink than a plate that has been printed from several times.

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Creating an Edition: Adding the Image

Do not attempt until ink from the background plate is more or less dry (around 30 minutes)

Repeat the same inking and printing process from the back of the plate

Check the image carefully before peeling the paper off– this is where mistakes will show.

Repeat until all prints in the edition are finished.

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Creating a Finished Print: Signing the Print

Label the edition using a fraction

o1/3 suggests this print was the first made of 3 in the edition.

Add a title to the center area under the print.

Sign and date in lower right.

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Mat, Frame,


Create a finished

look by matting

the piece and/or

placing it in a



entering other

members of your

edition into print

exchanges or

swapping with

your friends!

Page 21: How to Woodcut Prints

Quiz: Know Your Print Room

Question 1:

What do you call the raised parts of negative space that leave marks when printed?

a)Chitterb)Plate Bumpsc)Chatterd)Background

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Quiz: Know Your Print Room

Question 2:

This rolling tool is used to transfer ink onto the plate. Its technical name is:

a)Rubber Rollerb)Matrixc)Inkie Guyd)Brayer

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• German Expressionism


• MOMA Die Brucke Group

• Japanese Prints. Taschen, 2001.

• How to Look at Japanese Art. Abrams, 1996.

• Jean Eager Personal Website.

• Betty Bower Personal Website

Page 24: How to Woodcut Prints

Woodcut Lesson Plans “Kathe Kollwitz : Never Again War!”

Holocaust Lesson Plan for Art and Social Studies

Florida Center for Instructional Technology Grades: 6-12<

war.htm> “Woodblocks and their Japanese History”

Methods and Techniques of Japanese Woodblock PrintsCleveland Museum of Art Grades: 6-8<

asianodyssey/pdf/ woodblocksmi.pdf>

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Way to Go!

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Better Luck Next Time!