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VLOG: Six Videos on the Art of Woodcut Printing

By Matt Reimann. Oct 21, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Book Making

Let’s face it: no matter how much we love reading, everyone likes to look at a good picture. Printers and publishers have long known this, and have struggled for suitable ways to include images alongside set type. The key was to make the illustration copyable, and for that function, bookmakers depended on engravings. And for centuries, woodcuts were king. Today, we’re bombarded with printed images on magazines, billboards, and elsewhere, but unfortunately, none bear the aura of intimate craftsmanship like engravings do.

685px-Knight-Death-and-the-Devil.jpgWood engravings bear the intimate work of the artist's hand. One can almost see in the individual lines the slow but dutiful movement of the blade across the wooden block, forming the image one small cut at a time. As those who work with engravings today will note, the craft is markedly different from a pencil sketch or watercolor, and one can tell from the finished product that the illustration is the result of particular techniques, unique to the tools and the medium. Below, we’ve selected six videos about the beautiful art of wood-engraving which we hope you enjoy.


1. Making a Basic Woodcut


Masters of the woodcut like Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer set out with a particularly intense way of rendering shapes and figures. The above video continues in that tradition, depicting forge tongs resting upon a surface. The video does well to note the options available to the engraver in terms of tools, as well as the differing cuts (like V-shape or U-Shape) that each blade makes.

2. Modern Woodcuts

Here we see a clever method the likes of Holbein probably never got to use: Improvised carbon paper to sketch out the woodcut in sharper detail. In part-joyful, part-arduous detail, we watch the engraver take the tiniest slivers of the block out with every stroke of the knife. It is also interesting to see him work with a composite-wood material, rather than the solid blocks of old.

3. History and Influence

Starting with an introduction of the original woodcut champions like Albrecht Dürer, the video takes us along a timeline of great artists who worked with the medium as late as the twentieth century. Thomas Shahan, the artist narrating the video, works with a type of fiber board. Though it isn’t wood, it’s great to see contemporary illustrators taking up the beautiful art of relief-printing.

4. Making Cheap Woodcuts for All

Here we learn of an artist named Thomas Bewick, who pioneered the practice of making artful, detailed woodcuts, and printing them in books cheaply and efficiently. We’re told the story by a modern wood engraver who notes that while artistic trends have since drifted from the woodcut, the beauty of wood-engraved lines cannot be found elsewhere.

5. Engraving in Copper

We’re cheating a bit here by straying from woodcuts to feature copper-engraving, but it remains an important and interesting method used for printing in books and works of art (Rembrandt was a fan). We’re obviously watching a talented engraver, and the details of the illustration on the page are exquisite.

6. Printing in Color

Most of these videos tend to focus on the labor of the illustrator, but the printer also has her work cut out, especially if she wants to print in color. This video shows how printer can add color to the engraving, which isn’t necessarily easy, but the product itself justifies the labor.


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Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.


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