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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