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MHS Library | Printmaking

Woodcut - definition

Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges. The areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. The block is cut along the grain of the wood (unlike wood engraving where the block is cut in the end-grain). The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.

Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (where a different block is used for each color). The art of carving the woodcut can be called "xylography", but this is rarely used in English for images alone, although that and "xylographic" are used in connection with blockbooks, which are small books containing text and images in the same block.Single-leaf woodcut is a term for a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration.

(from Wikipedia).

Woodcut in Europe from the Metropolitan Museum Timeline of Art History

Woodcut book illustration in Renaissance Italy: the first illustrated books

Woodblock prints in the Ukiyo-e style

Max Beckmann - woodcut

Max Beckmann, Self Portrait. Woodcut, 1922.  

Woodcut is achieved by carving into a block of wood (generally a plank of wood, as opposed to an end-grain block). The tools used include knives, chisels, and gouges. Some artists have used these tools so as to disguise the natural marks that knives and gouges make in an attempt to emulate the lines of engravings or of pen and ink drawings. Beckmann, like many expressionist artists, preferred to let the tools leave their natural marks. Since woodcut is a relief process the tools that cut into the block define the white or non-printed areas. The areas left un-cut remain at their original height and receive the ink, somewhat like a rubber stamp. Almost anywhere you click on this image you will find evidence of Beckmann's use of gouges (note the rounded scoop-like marks that define white passages in the hair and lapels, for example). You will also notice that many lines have been cut off at an angle, probably with a knife. (Spencer Museum of Art)