Thursday, October 11, 2007


Woodcuts are an interesting practice. Not to say I have the skill to do them myself, but they are a relatively interesting source of information on the period I'm studying. With this in mind, I've been doing some woodcut searches the last few days and here's what I've found thus far.

I find this one rather interesting. It's a 16th century woodcut on the process of making woodcuts. :D

Fifteenth Century: A Heavenly Craft - The Woodcut in Early Printed Books gives a nice overview of the history of German woodcuts.

A Brief History of the Woodcut

I found someone else's blog that show's a decent 'how to', A Woodcut How To that I have decided to copy here. For some reason, carving and such have been interesting to me recently, but I don't know that I have the skill to do them myself. I guess I'll find out somewhat after this weekend. We have Fall RUSH this weekend and I'm wanting to go to Ferd's soapstone/pewter classes. We'll see what comes of them. :) At any rate, here's the transcription without pictures.

I spent last night and this morning working on a woodcut of Jenny, rediscovered the sheer joy of printmaking and decided to post a how-to in case anyone is interested in trying one on their own. This here Jenny is 5x7", an edition of 12, some of which will be mailed out to unsuspecting victims this week (or as soon as I can get to the post office). Normally printmaking requires a press...lithography, acid-etching, even linoleum usually needs to be run through a press to transfer ink from your plate to your page, but with a woodcut, all you need is a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. It can get complicated for some people, because it is a reductive process, but I prefer to work reductively (especially with charcoal...I usually cover the page black, then erase away the image).
First let's talk supplies. You'll need wood (nothing too hard or you'll wear yourself out carving), paper (any kind really, though Japanese papers or rice papers work best), a tear-bar for tearing your paper, ink (which comes water-based and oil-based), a brayer (basically a rubber rolling pin), a flat surface to roll out ink (glass or plexi is best because it won't absorb the ink as you are working), and some carving tools.I'm discussing a one-color print here, doing multiple colors is much more complicated, I'll explain at the end. Start off by drawing the image onto your wood plate. Keep in mind that carving is easiest if you go WITH the grain of the wood. You can draw in graphite but the graphite marks will sometimes transfer to your paper when you print, so it is best to use a sharpie or permanent marker to draw your image, and will be easier to see that way...I usually draw in graphite then go over with a marker...also keep in mind that the image when printed will be a mirror reflection of the plate, so lettering, etc. needs to be drawn backwards. Check the composition of your image by holding the plate up to a mirror, then if you're satisfied, start carving away the negative space. I chose a fairly soft wood, so I was able to use my dremel with a very small drill bit to outline the hair and carve away the smallest details in Jenny, then used wood-carving tools on the rest of the plate.
Once the plate is carved its time to print. Prepare your paper, you usually want a border around the image, with about twice as much space at the bottom of the page so the image can 'breathe' a bit. Figure out what size each piece of paper should my plate is 5x7", so my paper is about 7x8.5", Rives BFK, leftover scraps that I had sitting around. Don't CUT the paper to the size you want, TEAR it so that you have a sort of fuzzy edge...most fine drawing papers have fuzzy edges, and its a nicer presentation if the rest of the edges are similar. I don't have a tear-bar (a large metal bar with a beveled edge) so I used a T-square...mark your paper where it will be torn, line up the bar, and tear the piece quickly, one swift whoosh.
Now you're ready...squeeze a small amount of ink out onto your rolling surface. I used a water-soluble black Speedball ink here, just slightly more viscous than acrylic paint. Use the brayer to spread out the ink, like rolling out dough for a pizza, until the brayer is evenly coated, then roll the ink onto your plate, not too will need to print a couple of APs (artist proofs) because the wood plate will absorb much of the ink on the first few prints, and your image will be light. You can also use the AP to make sure everything is carved the way you want it. Here's a comparison between my AP and the final print of the series...
After you roll the ink onto your wood, place a piece of your paper on top of it. You can register the paper to make sure it is lined up properly, and will have to if you are doing multiple colors, but here I just sort of eyed it up. Press the paper down a bit with the palm of your hand, then take the wooden spoon and start rubbing, putting as much pressure on the spoon as you can handle.

I usually get all of the edges and corners first, then rub horizontally across, then vertically, then diagonally, to make sure that I have rubbed the whole plate. Then peel off the paper, and Voila! Your first print. Keep doing this for each piece...the more you print the less ink you will need toward the end, because the plate will hold a lot of ink.
Technically I could do another run off of this plate (I won't) because it is one color. For multiple colors, it gets a little complicated. Here is an example of a three-color woodcut that I did of my Grandmother when she was ill.

First I carved away only what I wanted to remain white, the white of the page. Then rolled the block in yellow and printed 10 copies. Then I carved away wherever I wanted the yellow to show, rolled the plate in light green, and printed again, directly on top of the previous color drop (which is where registering the paper comes in, to make sure you place the page in the same spot)...then I carved away what would stay lt. green, rolled the plate with dark green, and did the final color drop. The cool thing here is that once you're done, that's it. You can never print the plate again in the same way because of the in-between carving, unless you do each color on a separate plate, which is even more complicated, because then not only do you have to line up the paper properly, but you have to make sure that the image is in the same place on each plate.
My next Jenny print :) will be multiple colors...
Hope you learned something useful...with stop-motion, I am such an information leech that its nice to feel like I'm giving something back for a change...

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