photo of painting which this page is about

From the Torrey Pine Forest on Santa Rosa Island


he Woodcut, a form of Relief printmaking, was the first printmaking technology invented for making an image, the artist Albrect Durer (German: 21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528), having worked in this media. It was also invented in Asia around the same time. The oldest form of relief printmaking for text goes back even further, as explained in this Wikipedia page on the Cylinders of Nabonidus, but we are concerning ourselves here with methods of creating images.

The next printmaking process that came along was the etching process. With this invention, you could get finer detail and it required less physical work, but if you were not careful, the chemicals would eventually kill you. see Rembrant (15 July 1606[1] – 4 October 1669). Still several hundred ears ago.

This was followed by the invention of stone lithography. Wikipedia says: ...It was invented in 1796 by German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. Check out Henri De Toulouse Lautrec (French, 1864–1901)

I say "Stone" lithography to differentiate it from modern offset lithography, which also uses the principle that oil and water repel each other to make the marks, but the Litho part, the use of actual stones, like Lautrec used to use, are not involved. Except for some fine art printers.

Then came silkscreen. Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987). used this process. While Warhol and others made use of the newer printmaking methods, Helen Frankenthaler"s work with the woodcut medium showed that it could still be used to create relevant and cutting edged contemporary works.


etting back to the main topic at hand, Woodcut Printmaking is said to have been developed independently in both Europe and in Asia, and it falls, along with linocuts and collography, under the general heading of Relief Printmaking. The relief processes all use physical difference in elevation to make the print work. In Collography the image is created by building up areas, usually by gluing things onto the substrate*.

                Thus, it is considered an additive process. With woodcuts and linocuts, cutting away at the surface creates the image, and each stroke carved out of the surface makes a white line. Thus one is said to work " From Dark to Light" Areas that are to print (black or otherwise colors) are left alone. This is why woodcut printmaking is know as a subtractive process. They all also involved spreading the ink or other pigment on the remaining surface area, where it would be transfered to a piece of paper through the use of pressure exerted onto the back of the paper.

In Japan, where they used water-based pigments, the "Golden Age" of woodcut printmaking happened in the 19th century. An example you are probably already familiar with would be Katsushika Hokusai's "Great Wave off Kanagawa"

In Europe, Albrect Durer made some very fine black and white woodcuts in the Northern Renaissance.
A couple of centuries later, KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF and the other artists of the group who called themselves "Die Brüke" came up with a much looser, more expressive way of working with the same media.

Making the marks

THE TECHNIQUE I USE for the majority of the woodcuts on this website is really a combination of Woodcut Printing and Watercolor painting.
Here's how it's done:

First of all, I make a design on a piece of paper. Then I take a piece of wood that I have prepared by sanding it and oiling it with linseed oil, and, using tracing paper, I transfer the design onto that piece of wood.

Then I am ready to carve the design. Every part of the block that I carve away will make what artists call "negative space" and every part that I leave alone will print positive (black).
The principle by which the print is made is the same as with a common rubber stamp: the areas of higher relief do the printing, while the lower areas are completely ignored.

When you print a woodcut print, it comes out backwards, like a mirror image. That's where the tracing paper comes in handy. After I trace the original design, I flip the tracing paper over and transfer it onto the woodblock with carbon paper. By turning it over, I am drawing the design backwards on the block, so that, having been reversed twice, it will print forwards in the final print

AFTER THE CARVING PROCESS IS FINISHED, the printing process begins.
The woodblock is secured face up, on a workbench and rolled with just the right amount of ink. Then the paper is carefully lowered onto the block. Pressure is applied to the back of the paper. This transfers the ink from the raised surfaces onto the paper

I use an oil based printing ink, which takes a couple weeks to dry, but once it dries, it will not run when it gets wet.
In my sunset silhouettes, I only print the black silhouette. the colors are painted on to every print by hand, after the printing is done

AFTER THE PRINTING PROCESS IS THROUGH, I add the colors with many thin wet-in-wet watercolor washes.The watercolors will puddle up up on top of the largest black areas, like the trees, so I have to take a wrung-out brush and squeegee this up each time I do a wash.
Many of these designs have been traced from photographs I have taken, some are traced from my sketches, and some are a combination of the two.

Links to other relief printmaking artists.

Belinda Del Pesco

Betsy Bowen

Kirsten Francis

Patti Jaquemain

Tom Killion

Sandy Walker

Supplies/Info sites

The Baren


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