Project 10 – Experimental Relief Prints – Woodcut

This project gave me a chance to further explore Japanese Woodblock. To this purpose, I have bought:

  • set of Japanese tools
  • more faced ply from Intaglio
  • a pad of Hosho from Intaglio
  • a wide, high quality decorators brush.

To learn how to use the tools and to test the paper, I did an exercise in mark making on the ply and then tried printing it. I used:

  • varish on areas of the ply to manipulate tone
  • home made nori paste
  • thick watercolour paint
  • hosho paper, watercolour paper, sumi-e paper, all damped for several hours between cartridge paper
  • hand pulled with a baren.
Hosho paper, nori mixed with paint on the plate

Hosho paper, nori mixed with paint on the plate

Hosho paper:

  • the nori didn’t fully mix on the plate, giving smooth colour in some areaas and stippled in others
  • cut marks were picked up cleanly and sharply
  • difficult to get the range of mark making compared to lino
  • have to work with the grain to some extent
  • small areas between marks chip out easily
  • the areas of varnish didn’t show at all
  • flat areas of colour work well
Sumi-e paper, watercolour paint mixed with nori before applying

Sumi-e paper, watercolour paint mixed with nori before applying

Sumi-e paper:

  • more absorbant, softer
  • colur bleeds at the edge of marks
  • marks not picked up so crisply
  • colour flatter when mixed with nori before applying
  • faint signs of tone change where varnish applied.


Watercolour paper:

  • texture in paper very evident – use hot pressed, not NOT
  • much more pressure required to print
  • marks picked up cleanly and crisply
  • extra pressure picked up too much paint from ‘valleys’.

Watercolour  paint was used straight from the tube, and gave good, dense colours, perhaps too dense if layered up.

For this project, therefore, I decided to use:

  • Hosho paper
  • watercolour paint mixed with nori

I based my print on a series of sketches and photos of a cedar tree in the grounds of St Alban’s Abbey. I wanted my print to capture the spreading weight of its limbs, the blue/green foliage and its huge physical presence in a courtyard.


astro 3 (3 of 4) tree (2 of 2) tree

Back at home, I developed these in my sketchbook and refined them down to a felt tip pen drawing to reduce and separate the colours. I also explored how I might cut the organic textures for the foliage and bark. I liked the effect of a Dremel for bark texture in lino, but the Dremel didn’t work for texture on a sample of ply.

cedar (1 of 2)cedar (2 of 2)

I decided I needed one plate for the red of the wall, and a plate for the tree which I would successively reduce. This could utilise both sides of the plywood.  I then produced an outline drawing on paper, the same size as my plywood, and transferred this onto the wood using copy paper.

cedar (10 of 10)

For the red plate, I removed a margin around my print area and then left the rest which would be left without paint. I wanted to create texture in my wall which would contrast with the tree, and also reduce the tone and knock the wall into the background. I wanted minimal detail in the buildlngs, and to use the sweep of the drive to create a sense of distance.

In preparation for printing, I:

  • placed my paper between damp cartridge paper overnight
  • cooked up some nori/cornflour paste
  • measured my paper against the block and made a registration jig
  • brushed my block with water so that the paint would not instantly soak in


Red plate ready to print

Red plate ready to print

Red plate inked up

Red plate inked up

First layer printed

First layer printed

For the first layer, I omitted the nori paste to give a speckled texture. I printed five sheets, returning them to the damp stack of cartridge each time. This was kept in a large polythene bag and sprayed occasionally. The fine texture I had applied to the sweep of the drive filled in and didn’t print. I thought this would be OK in the greater scheme of things, but I should have recut this at this stage.

The stack

The stack

First cut, obverse side of plate.

First cut, obverse side of plate.

Second colour

Second colour

Third colour

Third colour

cedar (7 of 10)

Fourth colour

Final colour ready to print

Final colour ready to print

Final print

Final print with slightly darker paint applied to posts and right hand side of tree

I am quite pleased to have produced anything, because I found this a very difficult process. The paper had to be kept evenly damp throughout, and the carving and printing took two days. The plate started to split apart under the water applications, making carving unpredictable and leaving two split lines which can be seen across the tree. There is so much wrong with this print, on so many levels:

  • I should have recut the sweep of the drive
  • I should have cut the fall of foliage over the wall from the wall plate instead of overlaying the colours
  • the shadow is too small and should fall on the wall
  • the shadow should have been included in the final darkest layer
  • the most distant building is lost and the windows in the house just look silly, I should have editted out both buildings
  • I picked up paint from large non printing areas
  • since this is a real place, perhaps I should have reversed my image.

There are a few good points:

  • the colours really glow
  • the spread and posture of the tree is captured
  • the change of scale of the foliage has worked
  • the lost and found line of the railing has worked
  • my registration jig worked well, especially making it the same height as the plate, so that the paper didn’t have to ‘climb’ up over the plate
  • printed in two days; it would have taken weeks and weeks to print five layers in oil based ink

Points to take away:

  • this technique seems to work best with broad blocks of colour rather than intricate marks
  • check ply carefully for any weaknesses
  • use varying size brushes to avoid paint in large non-printing areas
  • don’t get so carried away with the process that I don’t stand back and think about adjusting the plate.


About SteveCussons

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts.
This entry was posted in Experimental Printmaking, Part 3 Advanced and Experimental Relief Prints, Printmaking 1, Project 10 - Experimental Relief Prints and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Project 10 – Experimental Relief Prints – Woodcut

  1. Pingback: Woodcut Mark Making – Unfinished Business | OCA Printmaking 1

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