Woodcuts

This is post no. 23 of #BlogchatterA2Z.

This includes blogging every day in April for 26 days, except on Sundays. What’s special about it is that every day’s post will be corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. 

My theme for 2021 is Bookish TriviaIf you liked this post, don’t forget to “roll” me on Blogchatter’s website!

All my #BlogchatterA2Z posts 2021 can be found here.

Woodcut illustration
Woodcut illustration

Between 1400 and 1900, illustrations in books were created using woodcuts. Designs or drawings were engraved on blocks of wood, typically beechwood. Then the remaining areas of wood were carved out, leaving behind only the design.

This design was then inked and the printing medium (usually paper) was pressed onto the inked block.

Separate wood blocks were used for colored images.

Block books (or xylographica) were books in which the text and images for a page were carved out of a single piece of wood.

These books were produced from the mid-1400s to the late 1400s and remained popular into the 1500s, despite the invention of the printing press.

Some of the earliest block books are:

  • Apocalypse (1460 – 65) – earliest editions
  • Ars memorandi (1460 -70)

The identity of the earliest wood carvers is lost to history, unfortunately.

Woodcut printing is sometimes referred to as xylography (Greek. “xulon” = wood & “graphikos” = “writing/drawing”)


How was the woodcut prepared?

Woodcut design preparation
Woodcut design preparation

As you can tell, creating woodcuts was a labor-intensive process.

  1. An artist makes the image by either directly drawing on the wood block or first drawing on paper and then tracing it on the wood or sticking it to the wood.
  2. A specialized wood carver called a “formschneider” gouged out the image on the wood block.
  3. Specialist printers used the woodcuts to print block books.


How was the woodcut print made?

Printing press
Woodcut image of a printing press

An advantage of woodcut printing was that it could be used together with movable type text printing. Thus, the method remained popular for book illustrations until the late 16th century.

The specialist printers could print the woodcut in any of these 3 ways:

Stamping – The wood block with inked side down is pressed into the printing medium (paper/fabric). This method was used for early Renaissance woodcuts (1400-1500).

Rubbing – The wood block is placed on a surface with inked side up. The printing medium is placed on the inked side and its back is rubbed with a hard pad, a frotton (piece of leather), or another piece of wood. This method was first used in China and Japan, and Europe adopted it only after 1450.

Presses – Weighted presses are used to imprint the design onto the printing medium. With the invention of the printing press, heavier presses were created.

Here’s a (silent) video that shows the fascinating process of woodcut printing:


References:

  1. https://www.adelaide.edu.au/library/special/exhibitions/history-of-book-illustration/woodcuts/
  2. http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/printmaking/woodcuts.htm

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