Woodcut, a type of relief print, is the earliest printmaking technique, and the only one traditionally used in the Far East. Woodcuts have played an important role in the history of Japanese art .
It was probably first developed as a means of printing patterns on cloth, and by the 5th century was used in China for printing texts and images on paper. Woodcuts of images on paper were developed around 1400 in Europe (slightly later in Japan), and reached its greatest perfection in the 16th century with Albrecht Dürer and his followers. Black-line woodcut in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artists such as Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin, and the German Expressionists rediscovered the expressive potential of woodcuts. These are areas where woodcut has been most extensively used purely as a process for making images without text.
The artist draws a sketch either on a plank of wood, or on paper which is transferred to the wood. Traditionally the artist then handed the work to a specialist cutter, who then uses sharp tools to carve away the parts of the block that he/she does not want to receive the ink. The raised parts of the block are inked with a brayer, and then a sheet of paper, perhaps slightly damp, is placed over the block. The block is then rubbed with a baren or spoon, or is run through a press. If in colour, separate blocks are used for each colour.
Although they have largely been replaced by modern photographic and printing techniques, woodcuts are still in use as an artist’s medium and are employed in advertising to evoke “the olden days,” and for their unique character as a fine art form.
Today’s artists will typically carve their wood panels themselves.
Artists in focus
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Other Printmaking techniques