Printmaking 101: Wood Engraving vs. Woodcut

As mentioned before, our January Invitational this year features the work of 6 British Wood Engravers.  Looking down the 2011 schedule, Max-Karl Winkler, one of our own woodcut artist, is also exhibiting next year, not to mention Carole Nelson, who will be showing woodcuts (printed a little differently from a traditional woodcut, see an earlier post) in the upcoming December show.  This is a perfect time to discuss the difference between the two art forms.

"Silver Spring" by Max-Karl Winkler, 2 color woodcut, 7x9 in, 2010

Woodcut, or woodblock printing, is a very old art form.  Albrecht Durer may be the most well known historic woodcut artist, practicing in the 15th and 16th centuries in Germany.  Woodcut also has a strong history in Eastern art, showing up as early as the 8th century in Japan (at least according to Wikipedia).  In a woodcut print, a piece of wood is cut along the grain (if you visualize a plank of wood or wooden flooring, the broad side is here the artist would carve) to produce an image.  When printed, the carved out areas remain white and the remaining area receives the ink.  An example of one of Max’s woodcuts it to the left, this one printed in two colors to acheive the black and gray.

Marcus Aurelius III, Wood Engraving by Simon Brett, approx 6x3.5 in, 2002

Wood engraving, on the other hand, is a much newer process.  It was invented by Thomas Bewick (hence the name of our January show, “Bewick’s Legacy”) in the 18th century.  Instead of carving along the grain, the artist cuts into the end of the block of wood.  This can make wood engraving blocks very expensive, as to get a large plate one needs a section of unblemished wood from a large hardwood tree trunk or branch.  However, wood engravings allow for much greater detail than a traditional woodcut, and some modern artists are switching to synthetic replacements such as PVC.


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