Welcome to Monday Methods! This week we’ll look at one of my absolute favorite printmaking mediums. Like whittling? Have a dead tree in your backyard? Have I got the medium for you.
Woodcut is a relief printmaking technique, in which an image is carved into a block of wood. The raised parts in the image print as positives, and the carved out parts form the negative space. You use gouges and chisels to remove material from the block, which is typically cut along the grain of the wood.
|Rhinoceros, Albrecht Durer|
There is a strong tradition of woodcuts in both East and West going back centuries. In Europe, woodcut has been practiced since around 1400, both for cheap, crude illustrations and fine prints by a master of the medium like Albrecht Durer. Since woodcuts can be easily printed along moveable type, they became a prime medium for the illustration of books in the West. Contemporary artists like Gaylord Schanilec, Cannonball Press, and Christiane Baumgartner are continuing the tradition.
It was in Asia that woodblock printing reached its highest levels of technical and artistic accomplishment. The Chinese were the first to use the process to print solid text. Because Chinese has a character set running into the several thousands, woodblock printing can be a more practical choice than movable type, as the characters only need to be created as they occur in the text. In Japan, woodblock printing is traditionally know as “moku hanga“, and has been used for book printing and fine art printing since the seventeenth century. The technique became best known as the technique used in the ukiyo-e artistic genre, to produce popular images of landscapes, tales from history, and an entertainment world featuring courtesans, actors and bulky sumo wrestlers.
|via University of Vienna|
The biggest difference between the Western and Eastern woodcut traditions is the type of ink used. Moku hanga uses water-based inks, and can take advantage of a wide range of intense color glazes and transparencies. Western-style woodcuts are often printed on a press, and are often printed letterpress alongside a block of type. Moku hanga prints are printed by hand using a small object called a baren, which would be used to press or burnish the paper against the inked woodblock, thus transferring the ink onto the paper.
| Takuji Hamanaka
Black & Blue
Are you curious now to try your hand at woodcut? We’ve got a weeklong intensive with a master coming up this August. Recent NYFA fellow Takuji Hamanaka will be teaching Japanese Water-Based Woodblock Printing the week of August 13-17. This is a really great opportunity to immerse yourself in a fascinating techinque! Registration details are here. You can see samples of Takuji’s amazing work on his website here.