Woodblock printing is an ancient method for duplicating images on cloth, paper, books, scrolls, or other materials. Examples of woodblock prints can be found all over the world from many different historical periods; 2,000 year old scroll prints from China and woodcuts created in the 20th century by Pablo Picasso— who was better known for his impressionist murals and oil paintings— are all evidence of the ingenuity of craftsmen to fill the demand for beautifully decorative art pieces.
I made it at TechShop!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Prepare Your Files.
• 1/4 inch MDF
• double sided tape or glue
• 1/4 hardwood or plywood boards (different types create different textures)
• paints or printing ink
• paper for printing
• materials for mixing and storing your pigments
• a large spoon or smooth tool to rub the back of your piece
• access to a laser cutter for 2 hours
• Corel Draw or Illustrator to prepare your files
Woodblock prints are made by layering ink or other pigments onto paper. Typically each color is applied one at a time, so a complicated piece of art will require several wood cuts, and a jig (use the mdf to make the jig) to line up or register your papers. My jig is a simple frame to place each block in with another L-shaped piece of MDF glued on to use as a registration guide.
Prepare your files in your graphic program of choice and send them to the leaser cutter. Remember that all your art needs to be reversed to print the right way onto paper.
Some of the most well known examples of woodblock printing were made by Japanese artists during the Edo period (1603-1868), a time when the rapid expansion of a prosperous Japanese middle class increased the demand for popular arts and entertainment. The Great Wave of Kanagawa, by the artist Hokusai,— who printed dramatic scenes of his homeland, many times featuring the distinct shape of Mt. Fuji on the skyline— might be the most recognized work of Japanese Edo period woodblock printing.
Step 2: Cut and Fit
Once you've printed all your parts out assemble and test them for fit. Some woods warp more than others when you cut them. I've included pics of my set, made with poplar and oak.
Because so many different craftsmen from so many different parts of the world have printed using wooden blocks, there are many different tools or methods one could use for making woodblock prints.
The Japanese method for printing uses Cherry wood, which has a very smooth fine texture when cut, and water based inks applied with brushes. The print is made on paper by placing the paper over the carved and inked woodblock and then gently rubbing the back of the paper with a baren. A baren is a round, smooth disk with a handle.
Picasso may have used oil based inks, applied to his blocks with a roller, and then run his blocks and paper through a press to make prints. To make a print on cloth, an artist might simply dip his woodblock into a puddle of pant and firmly press it along the length of his cloth to make a repeating pattern. William Morris created a complicated mechanized jig system for using wooden blocks to apply dyes to his mass produced home decor fabrics during the British Arts and Crafts movement in the later half of the 19th century.
Step 3: Inking the Block
One color of ink is applied at a time. A very complicated wood print may take several applications of color and the artist may work for days or weeks preparing and registering his wood blocks before he ever prints onto paper.
Step 4: Ink Onto Paper
Step 5: Finished Print