What is a Woodcut? How is it made?

These are woodcuts, woodblock prints, derived from an ancient Chinese and Japanese art, created by carving a design into wood. The image is carefully carved in reverse so that it is correct when applied to paper. 

When hand printed, the carved woodblock is inked with a roller and paper placed on top. Pressure is applied with a baren or a wooden spoon to transfer the image.

As many copies as desired are made of the first color before moving on.

With the simplest designs a different block is created for each color and image. However, most are created in a process called "reduction."

After each impression, further carving adds more details and the process is repeated with a new color, layer by layer, color by color, waiting for each color to dry, until the print is finished. Two or more woodblocks may be used, one for lighter colors, one for darker.

By the end the woodblock has been reduced so that only the last details remain on the block and that particular print cannot be produced again.

The entire process always involves many days or even weeks.

In this way the variations in inking and printing, along with those of the wood grain, mean each print is unique and original, and cannot be reproduced again.

The result you see is very different from other art forms, requiring a strong combination of artistic design and mechanical skills.

I place the ink onto a piece of glass, spread the ink with a roller (a brayer) and then roll the ink onto the block.
The paper is placed face down onto the block, registered accurately by the guides along the bottom and corner, and then the ink is transfered by pressing it down, using a baren and/or wooden spoon.
The same block is used over and over, alternately carving and printing, layer by layer, darker colors over lighter colors, and gradually carving it away as new images take shape and new colors are printed.
Many copies are made of each image and dried on my rack, before the next image and color is added.
I often mask off the rest of the block with a piece of cardstock cut to shape, in order to keep it clean as I apply the ink and print the image.
And now - It's almost done. I just need to add the black. See the completed woodcut called "Rocks Along the Shore."

Walking along the beach near our house I was fascinated by the rocks, their contours, textures and colors. Knowing it would make an interesting print,  I took some photos. Back to my computer I cropped and reversed the image in my photo editor, and then "posterized" it in order to simplify the color scheme.

I began by drawing my design onto the wood block. It is a special plywood made for woodblock printing. The outer plies are Shina, like basswood, made in Japan. Because it is soft, it is easy to carve but that also means it flakes off easily. The carving tools are mostly gouges and I sharpen them often using leather. I carve away everything except my lines. It is those raised portions which transfer the ink to the paper. Before carving I shellacked and sanded it twice in order to preserve my lines for future reference and keep my drawn lines from bleeding into the ink.
Sand River Art
Woodblock Prints (Woodcuts)
by Ben Bohnsack

3140 State Highway M28 East
Marquette, Michigan 49855
(c) Ben Bohnsack, 2019
All rights reserved.
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