My Own First Woodcuts • December 14, 2014

In my previous post, I showed you one of my sister’s lovely woodcuts. Kay has a real affinity for this printmaking process. To watch her work is to witness inventiveness, childlike wonder, sometimes glee, often confusion, and always the determination to see sophisticated ideas through. And lets face it, regardless of how things are going, if you get to carve into something or attack it with a hammer and chisel, you’re gonna have fun!


Two summers ago in Norway (and under Kay’s tutelage), I couldn’t resist trying this for myself. Sure, to begin with I spent some time doing my inky thing (you can see how that went here: By the end of our trip though, I was a wood whacking convert. Aside from using real carving tools, it turns out that anything you can scrape across, pound or punch into a wooden plank’s surface might leave a mark worth printing. I got a little carried away, and Kay was probably a bit taken back, but she was also amused. I finished three blocks – my first ever. And here they are printed!


Weedy Bird – variable edition of 10, 9″ x 12″ on a 16′ x 20″ sheet.

At top is the second impression from the edition. It’s almost a straight forward transfer of image, but I was already beginning to sand, scrape and peck into the paper beforehand. I was curious about how much it would effect the printing. It turns out that when you’re hand rubbing, it can add quite a bit of grain and gritty character. By the last impression (at bottom), I was also manipulating the ink on the block before printing by selectively wiping it with a rag and scrapping with steel wool.



Preen – variable edition of 11, 9″ x 12″ on a 16′ x 20″ sheet.

This time I kept the carving simple, leaving a lot of the block’s surface untouched. The reason was that I wanted to see what could be achieved with selective, sensitive inking and rubbing rather than carving. I should explain that printing by hand rubbing means no press is involved. Instead, the block is inked and a sheet of paper is laid on top of it. The ink is then transferred from block to sheet by rubbing the sheet’s back with a smooth object. The tool made specifically for this is called a baren, and it’s a flat, disc-like affair with a handle. Wooden spoons also work well. There’s nothing wrong with using your palm or finger tips too!


In the print at left, you can see that scrapping and pecking the paper before printing resulted in raised scars that picked up more ink. They’re especially evident in the bird’s neck, where they appear as ragged lines and white-haloed black dots. The graduated tones and shading (also very noticeable in the neck and head) were accomplished by carefully altering how much pressure I applied while rubbing. The impression on the right had every trick thrown at it. The paper was really roughed up, and the inked block was again scrapped with steel wool. I even used a brush to paint a few crude feather lines back into the scrapped areas before printing the image.



En Ugle til Reidun (An Owl for Reidun) – variable edition of 20, 9″ x 12″ on a 16′ x 20″ sheet.

I had to do an owl too! My focus this time was to begin exploring the character of my carved marks and lines – and to simply enjoy creating an image in white line on black. It’s not something I get to do when I’m drawing!


The impression at left was a straight forward transfer to an unaltered sheet. Next to it is one from near the end of the edition, which once again has had it’s ink manipulated with steel wool.



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