"Sawa" by Yoshio Imamura, 1995, Assini-Thomson Collection
You may have heard of or read terms such as 'woodcut', or 'woodblock print' and possibly wondered (or not - but in case you have) - how can I identify one of those when I see one, especially with all of the other, distinctly non-woody types of print out there? If so, please allow us to provide you with a general guide on how to identify a woodcut print.
First of all, it is helpful to know what a woodcut print actually is. It is, in many ways, very much what the name suggests - a print taken from a block or plate of wood that has had lines or larger areas cut into it.
What A Relief!
Woodcut, a form of relief print
The key thing to remember about woodcut printing is that it is a form of relief printing. This means the shapes and lines that you cut out of the plate are the negative space of the image, rather than the key features of the image as they present themselves in the final print.
If, for example, you wished to depict a white sky with dark clouds in a woodcut printed image, where you intended to use dark ink on white paper, you would cut into and carve out the part of the plate that would depict the sky, and leave intact the part of the plate that represents the cloud, so the ink is only applied to the latter, raised part of the plate.
Wood You Like to Know More?
It's wood, so it will look like wood
Just to confuse you, the above principles also apply to other types of relief print, such as linocut - so what makes a woodcut print visually stand out? The simple answer is, it will look like wood - so in the printed areas, it is very likely you will see discernible wood grain patterns. A woodcut cannot print large areas of solid ink without leaving traces of a pattern.
Using sharp tools to cut out the parts of the image that are white or un-inked on the final print, woodcuts will often have sizeable areas of white, along with large areas of printed image that are of the same consistent shade – another distinguishing feature.
50 Shades Of Grey
If a black-inked woodcut print is viewed from a distance, it would look like it had areas of grey. Look a little closer and you will see those areas are more than likely made up of smaller, tiny marks designed to give the impression of varying shade. The marks will probably be sharp and incisive, in accordance with the cutting tools typically used.
So, to sum up the woodcut:
- Woodcuts are relief prints.
- The ink is applied to the raised part of the design. The white areas on the print are a result of the sections which have been cut out of the wood.
- Woodcuts will usually leave a dark rim around the ink on the paper.
- Prints will often have distinct and ‘rough’ lines.
- Shading is achieved by making small cuts in the wood, which you will see as small marks on the print.
- Typically, a woodcut cannot print large areas of solid ink without leaving traces of a wood grain pattern or showing the irregular shape of the wood.
You can exhale now…
That's pretty much it! With similar techniques being used for other relief printing methods such as linocut and even potato prints, much of the key to identifying woodcuts is in recognising that the plate is, in fact, wood. Now, don’t go cutting down your neighbour’s tree to make plates!
Who knew that wood offered such a strong sense of artistic possibility?