The Woodcut Artist's Handbook: Techniques and Tools for Relief Printmaking


Praise for the first edition:

"An indispensable guide for those who make art out of the contrast between light and dark. And, it's a sheer pleasure for everyone else, thanks to its many wonderful illustrations."
-- Artsforum

"Walker's instruction is so clear and well organized that this handbook is perfect for the beginner."
-- American ...

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The Woodcut Artist's Handbook: Techniques and Tools for Relief Printmaking

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Praise for the first edition:

"An indispensable guide for those who make art out of the contrast between light and dark. And, it's a sheer pleasure for everyone else, thanks to its many wonderful illustrations."
-- Artsforum

"Walker's instruction is so clear and well organized that this handbook is perfect for the beginner."
-- American Artist

The history of woodcuts goes back more than a thousand years. Working carefully and with great precision, the woodcut artist carves a mirror image of a design on wood or other suitable material. The design is then inked and pressed against paper. The technique allows the artist to create an almost unlimited number of impressions of the same work. The precision of the work and the ability of the artist to create multiple impressions allow many fine woodcut artists to create pieces at a reasonable price, which an average collector can afford.

The Woodcut Artist's Handbook provides the basics of this craft with a detailed analysis of its tools and media. This improved second edition features two new chapters that teach artists step by step how to make an engraving and linocut. Artists can improve and develop considerable skill in this art by following these instructions and the author's professional tips. Beginners and advanced woodcutters and collectors will gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for this craft and art.

This profusely illustrated book is ideal for artists, printmakers, designers and collectors.

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Editorial Reviews

Printmaking Today - Jim Anderson
[Review of 1st edition:] This manual's keynote is exuberance... much of its advice is fresh and inspiring -- particularly about the use of power tools and various kinds of resins as engraving surfaces.
Artsforum - John Arkelian
[Review of 1st edition:] Can a "how-to" guide captivate even those who don't want to know how to? By all means, yes, if [this book] is any indication.... It's an indispensable guide for those who make art out of the contrast between light and dark. And, it's a sheer pleasure for everyone else, thanks to its many wonderful illustrations. - Katherine R. Lieber
[Review of 1st edition:] Readily accessible to the beginner, who will find the instructions clear and easy to follow. This is a how-to book as beautiful as it is useful.
enRoute Magazine - Jeet Heer
[Review of 1st edition:] The book makes clear the form, so simple at first glance, actually lends itself to a wide variety of approaches.
200603 - American Artist
[Review of 1st edition:] How a woodcut is made in clear, easy-to-follow terms... Walker's instruction, in fact, is so clear and well organized that this handbook is perfect for the beginner.
Book News
Walker presents this handbook for woodcut and wood engraving printmaking. The volume provides complete information on the process, from selection of wood, proper tools, papers and inks, to different techniques and stylistic approaches. Also included are scores of photographs, figures, and examples of woodcut prints providing a well-rounded understanding of this timeless medium.
This book is well suited to both beginning and advanced woodcut artists as well as those who simply have an appreciation for the form.
Library Journal
The process of woodcut relief printmaking is part woodworking, part art. After a short historical introduction, instructor and artist Walker first discusses wood selection in depth, then tools and techniques for desired artistic elements. Illustrations are sparse and limited, and the text is rather stilted, using terms not covered by the accompanying glossary. While there are some fine examples of woodcut prints, all we see is the finished product, never the steps to getting there. It feels like the author has forgotten how to take baby steps, and, as such, he fails to instruct. No beginner could ever hope to accomplish anything with this book, and there's not enough to inspire the more advanced. Not recommended. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554076352
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/26/2010
  • Edition description: Second Edition, Updated and Expanded
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 699,548
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

George A. Walker is an award-winning wood engraver, book artist and illustrator who teaches book arts and printmaking at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Ontario. He regularly exhibits his wood engravings and limited-edition books internationally.

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Table of Contents

Foreword 9

Preface 11

Introduction 13

1 Selecting Material for the Block 20

2 A Good Set of Tools 42

3 Creating Woodcuts and Engravings 67

4 Papers and Ink 88

5 Printing 106

6 The Edition 127

7 A Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Wood Engraving 145

8 A Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Linocut 153

Glossary 161

Bibliography 165

Artist Biographies 168

Resources and Organizations 176

Index 180

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Printmaking is all about making an impression on paper, both figuratively and literally. Successful woodcut artists use their drawing, carving and printing skills to create images that have an enduring meaning and make a lasting mark. Making prints is both an art and a craft; it combines the art of creating original images and the craft of making them into prints.

If an image is carved on the flat side of a board, with the grain running the length of the plank, it is called a woodcut. If the image is cut into the end grain of a piece of wood, it is called a wood engraving. This distinction is important. Woodcut and wood engraving are two separate techniques, each with its own materials and tools. Both, however, are relief printing processes.

Although there are four traditional printing methods -- relief, lithography, serigraphy and intaglio -- this book is concerned only with relief printmaking,
and in particular the making of a woodcut or wood engraving. Other materials, such as linoleum and plastics, are discussed as alternatives to wood, but the tools and techniques used on their surfaces are the same as those used on wood. The term "block" refers to the piece of material into which the image is cut. A plank block used for woodcut is called a "wood block"; an end-grain block used for wood engraving is called a "wood engraving block"; and a block made of linoleum is called a "lino block."

To make a relief print, you must cut away the wood in the areas of the block that you do not want to see printed on the page. The raised surface that remains after the cutting process holds the ink and prints, while the lowered surface stays ink-free and does not print. To make a line that will print on paper, two parallel cuts are made in the block. When the wood is removed from these cuts, a raised line remains behind. In a drawing on paper, the black ink lines define the image, but in a woodcut or wood engraving, the excised "white" lines define the image. That is why all relief printmaking is referred to as "the art of the white line."

Printing the block can be done by hand or with a printing press. Hand printing is the easiest way to make a print because it requires very little equipment. The block is carved, ink is rolled over the raised surface, the paper is laid down over the block, and the back of the paper is then burnished (rubbed) with a spoon or a special tool called a "baren" to transfer the image from the block to the paper.

In the Japanese woodcut tradition, the novice copied the work of the master until he had achieved a level of mastery in the craft that enabled him to express his own creative ideas. How should you begin? I recommend learning woodcut first and then moving on to the more challenging wood engraving techniques. Start by carving simple shapes and patterns into linoleum or basswood, which are both easy-to-cut surfaces. Learning to cut lines and to make patterns without attempting to create an image will help you gain confidence with the tools. Then gradually challenge yourself with more complex imagery.

Novice engravers should not only start with simple designs but with inexpensive materials. Faced with an expensive boxwood or cherry end-grain block, you may find yourself hesitant to make that first cut. It's a bit like practising basic carpentry skills on pieces of black walnut. A better choice is an inexpensive maple block or one made of Resingrave, a synthetic substitute for end-grain wood. Learn to engrave straight and curved lines before you take the plunge and start to engrave more complex patterns and shapes.

Keep it simple at first. Relief printing is not a complex, intimidating art. If you've ever made a potato print or used a rubber stamp and stamp pad to make a print, you've had experience making relief prints. In fact, making impressions from raised surfaces is the oldest and most basic form of printing. Although no one knows who made the first relief print, the evolution of this simple technology changed the way we communicate. Being able to create exact copies of images or words made ideas accessible to a large audience.

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My love of printmaking -- some would call it an obsession -- began with the discovery of the powerful graphic novels of Flemish artist and pacifist Frans Masereel. As I turned the pages of his books, I began to realize that I too could use this art form to communicate my own ideas. Because they don't depend on words, prints can be understood by anyone, anywhere, and all you need to make one is a graver, a piece of wood, ink, a roller, paper and a spoon.

Masereel's novels of the 1920S led me to the work done a decade later by Lynd Ward, who also portrayed the struggle for social justice and the search for meaning in an often cruel and unforgiving world. As I learned about the history of printmaking, I was struck by how often the wood-block print had been used over the years as a tool of social change and revolution. In my own small way, I joined that long tradition.

When I was nineteen, I lived in a rundown apartment building in the heart of Toronto. The roof leaked and every apartment was infested with cockroaches. One day the landlord disappeared, taking that month's rent money with him. The bank soon closed in, demanding that the tenants pay all the stolen rent money. We had no money for a lawyer, so I pulled out my ink, found a piece of wood and printed copies of a poster with a vulture on it. When the bank sent inspectors to examine the building and meet with the tenants, they found the halls and doors plastered with my prints. The posters brought the tenants together as a group and gave a voice to our anger and frustration.

In the end, we were able to keep our apartments without paying for our landlord's crime.

I continue to be inspired bythe rich blacks, cut marks and impressed lines of wood-block prints. There isn't a single method of learning the secrets of this art. Mastering it requires a journey that each of us begins with our own unique experiences, bringing a personal style that makes our work distinctive.

The Woodcut Artist's Handbook will help you with the technical stuff and provide some tips and tricks to make the journey a pleasant one. The best training in technique is to look at the work of other artists. The generosity of those who have allowed their work to be displayed in these pages is truly appreciated. Unfortunately, some of the richness in the blacks and subtleties of hue that can be controlled in handprinted images are lost in the reproduction process. Nevertheless, the bold gesture of the line and the character and feeling of the original images remain.

As you enjoy the prints in this book and begin making them, I hope you will begin to understand my personal obsession with the wood-block print and, in time, develop an obsession of your own.

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