Sunday, November 27, 2011

Woodblock Printing

Woodblock Printing
Although the emphasis of my blog is watercolor painting, I thought you might enjoy this post about woodblock printing.  While visiting an antique store which specializes in a large variety of salvaged architectural materials, I ran across a set of woodblocks for printing.   Since I like things that are a little unique, I thought these would be great for decorating….not to mention the fun I would have “playing with them.”    The print above is one of the finished prints. 

The photos above are the printer blocks that I purchased.  Part of the fun was trying to tell what the finished picture would be.  It was difficult to tell in most cases before the print was made.  Some of the blocks are only sections of a completed painting and only discernible when viewed as the printed image.  One print is part of a torso of a man – with no head and only part of his arms and legs.  Another print is a pair of hands; another is a woman’s face, etc.  I was able to obtain 6 different print blocks.    

Woodblock printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper.
As a method of printing on cloth, the earliest surviving examples from China date to before 220 BC and from Egypt to the 4th century.  (Of course, my blocks are not nearly that old.)

The wood block is carefully prepared as a relief matrix, which means the areas to show 'white' are cut away with a knife, chisel, or sandpaper leaving the characters or image to show in 'black' at the original surface level. The block was cut along the grain of the wood. It is only necessary to ink the block and bring it into firm and even contact with the paper or cloth to achieve an acceptable print. The content would of course print "in reverse" or mirror-image, a further complication when text was involved. The art of carving the woodcut is technically known as xylography, though the term is rarely used in English.  In Europe, beechwood was most commonly used; in Japan, a special type of cherry wood was used.
Methods of printing:
Used for many fabrics, and most early European woodcuts (1400–40). These items were printed by putting paper or fabric on a table or a flat surface with the block on top, and pressing, or hammering, the back of the block.

Used for European woodcuts and block-books later in the 15th century, and very widely for cloth as well as paper. The block is placed face side up on a table, with the paper or fabric on top. The back of the block is rubbed with a "hard pad, a flat piece of wood called a burnisher.  This is the method I used to create my prints.

Happy Painting!

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