A woodcut is an image printed from the carved and inked surface of a block of wood. There are a number of different types of woodcuts. A one-color or black and white print can be made from a single block of wood. The simplest colored prints are made by adding color after the image outline has been printed. Prints can also be made in a traditional way through either a reduction process or a multiple-block printing process.
A design is created and drawn on a flat block of wood. The composition is created knowing that the resulting print will be a mirror image of the carved block. Areas not intended to be seen are carved away with small, hand chisels and U-shaped gouges. The raised area of the block that remains will be the surface that creates the image. In color prints, it is important to maintain the paper registration in relation to the block. A corresponding notch is carved in two places along the edge of the block to insure the paper falls into the same position for each color.
Once the block has been carved in the shape of the intended color, its remaining raised areas are inked with a roller, or brayer. The ink is first mixed and rolled out on a flat and smooth surface. Once it is at the desired consistency and color, it is applied to the woodblock.
In a Reduction print, a single block is used in sequence to print colors in a specific order, usually light to dark. The largest area of color is printed first, then, those areas of color intended to remain are carved away. The next color is rolled onto the same block and printed over the previous color (only those areas that were not carved away will be the newly layered color). This sequence of carving and printing continues until all the colors have been printed, resulting in a block that has been progressively carved away, or “reduced”. The edition printed from a reduction block is truly limited because the majority of the block has literally been carved away.
A Multiple-block process is often used when the colors are very different from each other and layering would affect their desired hue. In this process, a separate block is carved for each color. All the areas of individual color are mapped out and transferred to their corresponding blocks. This method allows for precise color control, however, great care must be taken to transfer the original image to all the blocks and maintain the respective registration of the image throughout the process. The entire edition does not have to be produced at one time. To insure the edition will be honored, the blocks are usually altered or destroyed after the entire edition has been printed. A multiple colored print can also be made by combining reductive and multiple-block techniques.
An inked block is printed by placing a piece of paper upon it and applying pressure from the top. Depending upon the amount of pressure, the amount of ink, and the type of paper, a version of the image is transferred to the surface of the paper. This can be done by either rubbing the paper with the back of a wooden spoon, baren, or passing the block with the paper through a printing press. The paper is positioned consistently in relation to the block (depending on the system of registration) so that both the image is centered and the colors are precisely aligned. Often, prints are made in editions of specific numbers. They are set to dry in racks that can hold many sheets of paper. A five color, multiple-block print edition of 60 will have to cumulatively go through the press 300 times.