The Woodcut That Just Wouldn't Cut It.


Introduction: The Woodcut That Just Wouldn't Cut It.

About: Lifelong interest in making and learning new things.

As the title implies, this failed project didn't produce the desired product; a simple ink print. This wood carving project required a lot of effort upfront to create the woodcut. It was only after I finished the carving that I realized it did not work at all! It was a lot of fun making it though the print was disappointing.

Step 1: Background: Illustrations From Woodcuts

I have always loved woodcuts! Some of my most prized books are classics that contain the most awesome illustrations made from woodcuts. It is so amazing to look at the talent of woodcut engravers.

It is one thing to draw well, quite another thing to render the image in reverse to create a wooden negative. Often it is the artist who gets credit for the print while the actual engraving on wood is done by a talented team of engravers, unknown to most, yet who must surely take as much pride in a successful print as does the artist.

Here are a few woodcut-prints that are among my favorites and serve as my inspiration for trying to make a very simple woodcut and print.

The order of credits listed here is Book; Illustrator; Engraver (when known).

Photo 1: Robinson Crusoe; J. D. Watson; Messrs. Dalzeil

Photo 2 and 3: Washoe Revisited; J. Ross Browne; Unknown

Photo 4 and 5: Pilgrim's Progress; J. D. Watson; Brothers Dalziel

Photo 6 and 7: Holy Bible; Gustave Doré; Unknown

Photo 8: Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook; Laurel Robertson; Unknown

Step 2: Tools and Materials

I used simple hand tools to create the woodcut.


Sharp knife
Wood carving tools


Any wood suitable for carving. I chose pine because it is it is easier to carve.

Step 3: Creating a Woodcut

The inspiration for my design came from the petroglyphs carved in stone by Native Americans (Photo 1).

I used a pencil to draw my design on to a block of wood that was larger than my actual design. The larger size left room to clamp the block while carving (Photo 2). As seen in Photo 3, the areas outlined in red, with an x in the center, are the parts where I began. These are areas where there are no designs and the material can be carved away without too much concern for the rest of the design.

It is important not to start carving the design first because the design is delicate and could easily be chipped while carving other areas. It is best to tackle the delicate parts of the design last. I carved all around the design so that it stood 2 mm above the rest of the block face (Photo 4).

Step 4: Making the Print

Once my woodcut was completed, I put it face down in a bed of red ink and made my first print. To my disappointment all I saw was seemingly random splotches of red ink on the paper. I tried several more times, with the same results and gave up. I did like the woodcut as a relief carving and so I put it away for another day. I tried again with a dark blue ink (Photo 2), wondering if that might make a difference. The results, as seen in Photo 3 were equally disappointing.

Step 5: What Went Wrong????

I still don't know!!!

There are some recognizable bits and pieces in the print so a tiny percentage of the woodcut is working.

I will have to research this a bit more. I am nostalgic about the notion of a woodcut used to make a print and hope to explore this in the future but for now I will be content with making relief carvings in wood.



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    As a fellow printmaker, I understand the frustration of putting work into a block and not getting the results you'd hoped for. If you'd like, I could help you figure out how to make it work.

    3 replies

    I would very much enjoy any advice that you can offer. I think it is good to start small and simple with projects like this that involve a considerable amount of effort. Thanks!

    Hey there,

    I am a fine art printlab technician. I see exactly what went wrong. You dont need to plane or sand or anything. You need to roll out a slab of relief ink with a brayer

    on a piece of glass. Roll it out till the brayer makes a hissing sound, not a mac and cheese smacking sound.

    then roll up the block with the inked brayer. Then with the block face up, lay a peice of acid free drawing paper or Japanese rice paper over it. Dont use copy paper its too low quality. then take a wooden spoon and carefully rub the back of the paper to transfer the ink from the block to the paper. Be careful not to shift the paper while using the spoon "baren".

    you can keep checking your progress as you rub. it is possible to get the ink to transfer perfectly. just remember that the first print is usually light. as the ink soaks into the block inking gets easier.

    Good luck!


    Really appreciate all of the advice and links to additional information. I look forward to trying it once again with the proper inking materials!

    Maybe you can put the paper on something that has a little dive to it when you print, or lightly sand the face of the print block on some very fine sand paper to make it prefectly flat. Also as stated make the suts deeper.

    1 reply

    The next time around I will definitely ensure that the board is planed flat. I found another Instructible that shows the inked woodcut placed upright on the table and the paper is then gently pressed and rubbed into the design. I am excited to try this method as I think it will provide the "give" that you advised. Thanks!

    I would suggest planing the block of wood down to perfectly flat before carving. And possibly afterwards. It looks like only part of the print is making contact with the paper.

    1 reply

    I recently came across another Instructible where the woodcut is inked and set upright on the table. The paper is placed on top of the woodcut and carefully pressed onto inked portions of the woodcut. I am excited to give this method a try. I may need to carve away more of the waste areas as you suggest. Thanks!

    Your 'ible reminded me of prints we made in art class except we used linoleum which is much easier to carve than wood. I definitely understand the difficulty of thinking 'backwards!'
    From my limited experience I would suggest that you carve the waste area more deeply or apply less pressure when you're applying the ink or when applying the woodcut to paper. One of those might help.
    Your 'ible has inspired me to try some wood - or linoleum - prints again. Thanks!

    1 reply

    Those are great suggestions that don't involve starting all over again. I will give it another try. It is great that you are thinking of reviving your print-making as well. Thanks!

    Sorry, that should have been "Give" not "Dive"