WOODCUT Prints
Artists & Illustrators|March 2021
Our regular columnist (and leading printmaker) LAURA BOSWELL guides you through all the tools and techniques required to make a simple two-block woodcut print
LAURA BOSWELL

Woodblock is a type of relief printing. In woodblock prints, the surface of the material is used to make the print and the cut-away areas do not register. Below is a simple, two-block project that is a good starting point for anyone who wants to explore basic woodblock printing. It includes instructions for making a jig to line up the two woodblocks for accurate printing.

First, I want to talk you through the materials you will need.

PAPER

To transfer designs, you need tracing paper and carbon paper (standard office carbon paper works well). Initial rubbings can be made on thin, cheap paper – blank newsprint paper is ideal – while test prints can be made on slightly thicker printer paper.

For your final prints, you will need a good quality printing paper: a wide range of papers will work, smooth papers are best. Japanese washi papers under 150gsm are particularly good for hand printing.

INKS

For this project you will need at least two colours of ink. For best results, it is important to use relief printing ink. There are three types of relief printing inks available: water-based inks, oil-based inks, and oil-based inks that can be cleaned in water (often called “safe wash” inks). All three types of ink will work for this project. Water-based ink gives fast results, but safe-wash and traditional oil-based inks are easier to use.

MATERIALS

This woodblock print requires two types of wood. The background needs a piece of softwood with a visible grain, such as pine, larch or cedar – I used a roof shingle here. A second piece is needed to cut details: shina plywood is ideal. It is sometimes called Japanese ply or Asian ply.

To hold the cut woodblocks in place, you need to make a jig in step one - use a sheet of MDF, thick card or foam board for this. I made my non-slip mat from a piece of cheap rug underlay that I edged at home. A printing plate is also needed for rolling out ink: this could be a plastic tray, a sheet of Perspex or a large tile.

TOOLS

If you want the grain of the wood to feature in the final print, you will need a wire brush to raise the grain. There are a wide range of cutting tools, including linocut tools, that will work with wood. Tools usually come with a U-shape, a V-shape or a flat chisel profile. You may also find a sloping knife in sets of tools. A pair of U and a pair of V tools, one narrow and one wide in each, is a good starter kit for basic cutting.

A palette knife is needed for mixing ink and it is important to have a soft roller for successful inking. Essdee’s blue-handled soft rubber rollers are an excellent economical choice. The specialist suppliers listed opposite will be happy to discuss your inking options, along with any questions about cutting tools and rollers.

A wooden spoon or bamboo baren is needed for rubbing the printing paper. Printing barens come in a range of prices, a cheap one (shown here) is fine for early experiments.

Masking tape is useful. You will also need a pencil for drawing your design and a graphite stick if you want to take test rubbings.

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