Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block is cut along the wood grain (unlike wood engraving, where the block is cut in the end-grain). The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.

Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks (using a different block for each color). The art of carving the woodcut can be called "xylography", but this is rarely used in English for images alone, although that and "xylographic" are used in connection with block books, which are small books containing text and images in the same block. They became popular in Europe during the latter half of the 15th century. A single-sheet woodcut is a woodcut presented as a single image or print, as opposed to a book illustration.

Since its origins in China, the practice of woodcut has spread across the world from Europe to other parts of Asia, and to Latin America.[1]

Albrecht Dürer - The Four Horsemen (NGA 1979.39.1)
The Four Horsemen c. 1496–98 by Albrecht Dürer, depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Division of labour

Block Cutter at Work woodcut by Jost Amman, 1568

In both Europe and the Far East, traditionally the artist only designed the woodcut, and the block-carving was left to specialist craftsmen, called block-cutters, or Formschneider in Germany, some of whom became well-known in their own right. Among these, the best-known are the 16th-century Hieronymus Andreae (who also used "Formschneider" as his surname), Hans Lützelburger and Jost de Negker, all of whom ran workshops and also operated as printers and publishers. The formschneider in turn handed the block on to specialist printers. There were further specialists who made the blank blocks.

This is why woodcuts are sometimes described by museums or books as "designed by" rather than "by" an artist; but most authorities do not use this distinction. The division of labour had the advantage that a trained artist could adapt to the medium relatively easily, without needing to learn the use of woodworking tools.

There were various methods of transferring the artist's drawn design onto the block for the cutter to follow. Either the drawing would be made directly onto the block (often whitened first), or a drawing on paper was glued to the block. Either way, the artist's drawing was destroyed during the cutting process. Other methods were used, including tracing.

In both Europe and the Far East in the early 20th century, some artists began to do the whole process themselves. In Japan, this movement was called sōsaku-hanga (創作版画 creative prints), as opposed to shin-hanga (新版画 new prints), a movement that retained traditional methods. In the West, many artists used the easier technique of linocut instead.

Methods of printing

Justso crabplay
The Crab that played with the sea, Woodcut by Rudyard Kipling illustrating one of his Just So Stories (1902). In mixed white-line (below) and normal woodcut (above).

Compared to intaglio techniques like etching and engraving, only low pressure is required to print. As a relief method, 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. In Europe, a variety of woods including boxwood and several nut and fruit woods like pear or cherry were commonly used;[2] in Japan, the wood of the cherry species Prunus serrulata was preferred.

There are three methods of printing to consider:

  • Stamping: Used for many fabrics and most early European woodcuts (1400–40). These were printed by putting the paper/fabric on a table or other flat surface with the block on top, and pressing or hammering the back of the block.
  • Rubbing: Apparently the most common method for Far Eastern printing on paper at all times. Used for European woodcuts and block-books later in the fifteenth century, and very widely for cloth. Also used for many Western woodcuts from about 1910 to the present. The block goes face up on a table, with the paper or fabric on top. The back is rubbed with a "hard pad, a flat piece of wood, a burnisher, or a leather frotton".[3] A traditional Japanese tool used for this is called a baren. Later in Japan, complex wooden mechanisms were used to help hold the woodblock perfectly still and to apply proper pressure in the printing process. This was especially helpful once multiple colors were introduced and had to be applied with precision atop previous ink layers.
  • Printing in a press: presses only seem to have been used in Asia in relatively recent times. Printing-presses were used from about 1480 for European prints and block-books, and before that for woodcut book illustrations. Simple weighted presses may have been used in Europe before the print-press, but firm evidence is lacking. A deceased Abbess of Mechelen in 1465 had "unum instrumentum ad imprintendum scripturas et ymagines ... cum 14 aliis lapideis printis"—"an instrument for printing texts and pictures ... with 14 stones for printing". This is probably too early to be a Gutenberg-type printing press in that location.[3]


Main articles Old master print for Europe, Woodblock printing in Japan for Japan, and Lubok for Russia

Madonna del Fuoco
Madonna del Fuoco (Madonna of the Fire, c. 1425), Cathedral of Forlì, in Italy
88-minerali. Rena
A less sophisticated woodcut book illustration of the Hortus Sanitatis lapidary, Venice, Bernardino Benaglio e Giovanni de Cereto (1511)

Woodcut originated in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later on paper. The earliest woodblock printed fragments to survive are from China, from the Han dynasty (before 220), and are of silk printed with flowers in three colours.[4] "In the 13th century the Chinese technique of blockprinting was transmitted to Europe."[5] Paper arrived in Europe, also from China via al-Andalus, slightly later, and was being manufactured in Italy by the end of the thirteenth century, and in Burgundy and Germany by the end of the fourteenth.

In Europe, woodcut is the oldest technique used for old master prints, developing about 1400, by using, on paper, existing techniques for printing. One of the more ancient woodcuts on paper that can be seen today is The Fire Madonna (Madonna del Fuoco, in the Italian language), in the Cathedral of Forlì, in Italy.

The explosion of sales of cheap woodcuts in the middle of the century led to a fall in standards, and many popular prints were very crude. The development of hatching followed on rather later than engraving. Michael Wolgemut was significant in making German woodcuts more sophisticated from about 1475, and Erhard Reuwich was the first to use cross-hatching (far harder to do than engraving or etching). Both of these produced mainly book-illustrations, as did various Italian artists who were also raising standards there at the same period. At the end of the century Albrecht Dürer brought the Western woodcut to a level that, arguably, has never been surpassed, and greatly increased the status of the "single-leaf" woodcut (i.e. an image sold separately).

Because woodcuts and movable type are both relief-printed, they can easily be printed together. Consequently woodcut was the main medium for book illustrations until the late sixteenth century. The first woodcut book illustration dates to about 1461, only a few years after the beginning of printing with movable type, printed by Albrecht Pfister in Bamberg. Woodcut was used less often for individual ("single-leaf") fine-art prints from about 1550 until the late nineteenth century, when interest revived. It remained important for popular prints until the nineteenth century in most of Europe, and later in some places.

The art reached a high level of technical and artistic development in East Asia and Iran. Woodblock printing in Japan is called moku-hanga and was introduced in the seventeenth century for both books and art. The popular "floating world" genre of ukiyo-e originated in the second half of the seventeenth century, with prints in monochrome or two colours. Sometimes these were hand-coloured after printing. Later, prints with many colours were developed. Japanese woodcut became a major artistic form, although at the time it was accorded a much lower status than painting. It continued to develop through to the twentieth century.

White-line woodcut

Preparing a Woodcut Design
Using a handheld gouge to cut a "white-line" woodcut design into Japanese plywood. The design has been sketched in chalk on a painted face of the plywood.

This technique just carves the image in mostly thin lines, not unlike a rather crude engraving. The block is printed in the normal way, so that most of the print is black with the image created by white lines. This process was invented by the sixteenth-century Swiss artist Urs Graf, but became most popular in the nineteenth and twentieth century, often in a modified form where images used large areas of white-line contrasted with areas in the normal black-line style. This was pioneered by Félix Vallotton.


In the 1860s, just as the Japanese themselves were becoming aware of Western art in general, Japanese prints began to reach Europe in considerable numbers and became very fashionable, especially in France. They had a great influence on many artists, notably Édouard Manet, Pierre Bonnard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Félix Vallotton and Mary Cassatt. In 1872, Jules Claretie dubbed the trend "Le Japonisme".[6]

Though the Japanese influence was reflected in many artistic media, including painting, it did lead to a revival of the woodcut in Europe, which had been in danger of extinction as a serious art medium. Most of the artists above, except for Félix Vallotton and Paul Gauguin, in fact used lithography, especially for coloured prints. See below for Japanese influence in illustrations for children's books.

Artists, notably Edvard Munch and Franz Masereel, continued to use the medium, which in Modernism came to appeal because it was relatively easy to complete the whole process, including printing, in a studio with little special equipment. The German Expressionists used woodcut a good deal.


Coloured woodcuts first appeared in ancient China. The oldest known are three Buddhist images dating to the 10th century. European woodcut prints with coloured blocks were invented in Germany in 1508, and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts (see below). However, colour did not become the norm, as it did in Japan in the ukiyo-e and other forms.

In Europe and Japan, colour woodcuts were normally only used for prints rather than book illustrations. In China, where the individual print did not develop until the nineteenth century, the reverse is true, and early colour woodcuts mostly occur in luxury books about art, especially the more prestigious medium of painting. The first known example is a book on ink-cakes printed in 1606, and colour technique reached its height in books on painting published in the seventeenth century. Notable examples are Hu Zhengyan's Treatise on the Paintings and Writings of the Ten Bamboo Studio of 1633,[7] and the Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual published in 1679 and 1701.[8]

Bijin (beautiful woman) ukiyo-e by Keisai Eisen, before 1848

In Japan colour technique, called nishiki-e in its fully developed form, spread more widely, and was used for prints, from the 1760s on. Text was nearly always monochrome, as were images in books, but the growth of the popularity of ukiyo-e brought with it demand for ever-increasing numbers of colors and complexity of techniques. By the nineteenth century most artists worked in colour. The stages of this development were:

  • Sumizuri-e (墨摺り絵, "ink printed pictures") - monochrome printing using only black ink
  • Benizuri-e (紅摺り絵, "crimson printed pictures") - red ink details or highlights added by hand after the printing process;green was sometimes used as well
  • Tan-e (丹絵) - orange highlights using a red pigment called tan
  • Aizuri-e (藍摺り絵, "indigo printed pictures"), Murasaki-e (紫絵, "purple pictures"), and other styles that used a single color in addition to, or instead of, black ink
  • Urushi-e (漆絵) - a method that used glue to thicken the ink, emboldening the image; gold, mica and other substances were often used to enhance the image further. Urushi-e can also refer to paintings using lacquer instead of paint; lacquer was very rarely if ever used on prints.
  • Nishiki-e (錦絵, "brocade pictures") - a method that used multiple blocks for separate portions of the image, so a number of colors could achieve incredibly complex and detailed images; a separate block was carved to apply only to the portion of the image designated for a single color. Registration marks called kentō (見当) ensured correspondence between the application of each block.
Randolph Caldecott illustration2
Children's book illustration by Randolph Caldecott; engraving and printing by Edmund Evans, 1887

A number of different methods of colour printing using woodcut (technically Chromoxylography) were developed in Europe in the 19th century. In 1835, George Baxter patented a method using an intaglio line plate (or occasionally a lithograph), printed in black or a dark colour, and then overprinted with up to twenty different colours from woodblocks. Edmund Evans used relief and wood throughout, with up to eleven different colours, and latterly specialized in illustrations for children's books, using fewer blocks but overprinting non-solid areas of colour to achieve blended colours. Artists such as Randolph Caldecott, Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway were influenced by the Japanese prints now available and fashionable in Europe to create a suitable style, with flat areas of colour.

In the 20th century, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of the Die Brücke group developed a process of producing colored woodcut prints using a single block applying different colors to the block with a brush à la poupée and then printing (halfway between a woodcut and a monotype).[9] A remarkable example of this technique is the 1915 Portrait of Otto Müller woodcut print from the collection of the British Museum.[10]

Gallery of Asian woodcuts


Coloured woodcut of Gautama Buddha, 10th century, China.

Jiao zi

Jiaozi (currency), 10th century, Sichuan, China.


Actor Ichikawa Ebizō IV as Takemura Sadanoshin, Japanese woodcut by Sharaku, 1794.

Ukiyo-e dragon 2

Dragon, Japanese woodcut by Yoshida Gen'ō, 1892.

Tranh Đông Hồ - Cá chép

Modern woodcut Carp Painting, Đông Hồ painting, Vietnam.

Chiaroscuro woodcuts

5154 bassenge anon c16 italian
Chiaroscuro woodcut depicting Playing cupids by anonymous 16th-century Italian artist

Chiaroscuro woodcuts are old master prints in woodcut using two or more blocks printed in different colours; they do not necessarily feature strong contrasts of light and dark. They were first produced to achieve similar effects to chiaroscuro drawings. After some early experiments in book-printing, the true chiaroscuro woodcut conceived for two blocks was probably first invented by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Germany in 1508 or 1509, though he backdated some of his first prints and added tone blocks to some prints first produced for monochrome printing, swiftly followed by Hans Burgkmair.[11] Despite Giorgio Vasari's claim for Italian precedence in Ugo da Carpi, it is clear that his, the first Italian examples, date to around 1516.[12][13]

Other printmakers to use the technique include Hans Baldung and Parmigianino. In the German states the technique was in use largely during the first decades of the sixteenth century, but Italians continued to use it throughout the century, and later artists like Hendrik Goltzius sometimes made use of it. In the German style, one block usually had only lines and is called the "line block", whilst the other block or blocks had flat areas of colour and are called "tone blocks". The Italians usually used only tone blocks, for a very different effect, much closer to the chiaroscuro drawings the term was originally used for, or to watercolor paintings.[14]

The Swedish printmaker Torsten Billman (1909-1989) developed during the 1930s and 1940s a variant chiaroscuro technique with several gray tones from ordinary printing ink. The art historian Gunnar Jungmarker (1902-1983) at Stockholm's Nationalmuseum called this technique "grisaille woodcut". It is a time-consuming printing process, exclusively for hand printing, with several grey-wood blocks aside from the black-and-white key block.[15]

Modern woodcut printing in Mexico

José Guadalupe Posada, Calavera Oaxaqueña, 1910

Woodcut printmaking became a popular form of art in Mexico during the early to mid 20th century.[1] The medium in Mexico was used to convey political unrest and was a form of political activism, especially after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). In Europe, Russia, and China, woodcut art was being used during this time as well to spread leftist politics such as socialism, communism, and anti-fascism.[16] In Mexico, the art style was made popular by José Guadalupe Posada, who was known as the father of graphic art and printmaking in Mexico and is considered the first Mexican modern artist.[17][18] He was a satirical cartoonist and an engraver before and during the Mexican Revolution and he popularized Mexican folk and indigenous art. He created the woodcut engravings of the iconic skeleton (calaveras) figures that are prominent in Mexican arts and culture today (such as in Disney Pixar's Coco).[19] See La Calavera Catrina for more on Posada's calaveras.

In 1921, Jean Charlot, a French printmaker moved to Mexico City. Recognizing the importance of Posada's woodcut engravings, he started teaching woodcut techniques in Coyoacán's open-air art schools. Many young Mexican artists attended these lessons including the Fernando Leal.[17][18][20]

After the Mexican Revolution, the country was in political and social upheaval - there were worker strikes, protests, and marches. These events needed cheap, mass-produced visual prints to be pasted on walls or handed out during protests.[17] Information needed to be spread quickly and cheaply to the general public.[17] Many people were still illiterate during this time and there was push after the Revolution for widespread education. In 1910 when the Revolution began, on 20% of Mexican people could read.[21] Art was considered to be highly important in this cause and political artists were using journals and newspapers to communicate their ideas through illustration.[18] El Machete (1924–29) was a popular communist journal that utilized woodcut prints.[18] The woodcut art served well because it was a popular style that many could understand.

Artists and activists created collectives such as the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) (1937–present) and The Treintatreintistas (1928-1930) to create prints (many of them woodcut prints) that reflected their socialist and communist values.[22][20] The TGP attracted artists from all around the world including African American printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, whose woodcut prints later influenced the art of social movements in the US in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] The Treintatreintistas even taught workers and children. The tools for woodcut are easily attainable and the techniques were simple to learn. It was considered an art for the people.[20]

Mexico at this time was trying to discover its identity and develop itself as a unified nation. The form and style of woodcut aesthetic allowed a diverse range of topics and visual culture to look unified. Traditional, folk images and avant-garde, modern images, shared a similar aesthetic when it was engraved into wood. An image of the countryside and a traditional farmer appeared similar to the image of a city.[20] This symbolism was beneficial for politicians who wanted a unified nation. The physical actions of carving and printing woodcuts also supported the values many held about manual labour and supporting worker's rights.[20]

Current woodcut practices in Mexico

Today, in Mexico the activist woodcut tradition is still alive. In Oaxaca, a collective called the Asamblea De Artistas Revolucionarios De Oaxaca (ASARO) was formed during the 2006 Oaxaca protests. They are committed to social change through woodcut art.[23] Their prints are made into wheat-paste posters which are secretly put up around the city.[24] Artermio Rodriguez is another artist who lives in Tacambaro, Michoacán who makes politically charged woodcut prints about contemporary issues.[1]

Famous works in woodcut




'The Prophet', woodcut by Emil Nolde, 1912
The Prophet, woodcut by Emil Nolde, 1912, various collections

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Gouge: The Modern Woodcut 1870 to Now - Hammer Museum". The Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2019-03-18.
  2. ^ Landau & Parshall, 21-22; Uglow, 2006. p. xiii.
  3. ^ a b Hind, Arthur M. An Introduction to a History of Woodcut. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1935 (in USA), reprinted Dover Publications, 1963. pp. 64–94. ISBN 978-0-486-20952-4.
  4. ^ Shelagh Vainker in Anne Farrer (ed), "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas", 1990, British Museum publications, ISBN 0-7141-1447-2
  5. ^ Hsü, Immanuel C. Y. (1970). The Rise of Modern China. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 830. ISBN 978-0-19-501240-8.
  6. ^ Ives, C F (1974). The Great Wave: The Influence of Japanese Woodcuts on French Prints. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-87099-098-4.
  7. ^ "Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, or, Ten Bamboo Studio collection of calligraphy and painting". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  8. ^ L Sickman & A Soper, "The Art and Architecture of China", Pelican History of Art, 3rd ed 1971, Penguin, LOC 70-125675
  9. ^ Carey, Frances; Griffiths, Antony (1984). The Print in Germany, 1880-1933: The Age of Expressionism. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 978-0-7141-1621-1.
  10. ^ "Portrait of Otto Müller (1983,0416.3)". British Museum Collection Database. London: British Museum. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
  11. ^ so Landau and Parshall, 179-192; but Bartrum, 179 and Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna, Royal Academy, London, March–June 2014, exhibition guide, both credit Cranach with the innovation in 1507.
  12. ^ Landau and Parshall, 150
  13. ^ "Ugo da Carpi after Parmigianino: Diogenes (17.50.1) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". Metmuseum.org. 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2012-02-18.
  14. ^ Landau and Parshall, The Renaissance Print, pp. 179-202; 273-81 & passim; Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2
  15. ^ Sjöberg, Leif, Torsten Billman and the Wood Engraver's Art, pp. 165-171. The American Scandinavian Review, Vol. LXI, No. 2, June 1973. New York 1973.
  16. ^ Hung, Chang-Tai (1997). "Two images of Socialism: Woodcuts in Chinese Communist Politics". Comparative Studies in Society and History. 39 (1): 34–60. JSTOR 179238.
  17. ^ a b c d McDonald, Mark (2016). "Printmaking in Mexico, 1900-1950". The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  18. ^ a b c d Azuela, Alicia (1993). "El Machete and Frente a Frente: Art Committed to Social Justice in Mexico". Art Journal. 52 (1): 82–87. doi:10.2307/777306. ISSN 0004-3249. JSTOR 777306.
  19. ^ Wright, Melissa W. (2017). "Visualizing a country without a future: Posters for Ayotzinapa, Mexico and the struggles against state terror". Geoforum. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.10.009.
  20. ^ a b c d e Montgomery, Harper (December 2011). ""Enter for Free": Exhibiting Woodcuts on a Street Corner in Mexico City". Art Journal. 70 (4): 26–39. doi:10.1080/00043249.2011.10791070. ISSN 0004-3249.
  21. ^ "Mexico: An Emerging Nation's Struggle Toward Education". Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education. 5 (2): 8–10. 1975-09-01. doi:10.1080/03057927509408824. ISSN 0305-7925.
  22. ^ Avila, Theresa (2014-05-04). "El Taller de Gráfica Popular and the Chronicles of Mexican History and Nationalism". Third Text. 28 (3): 311–321. doi:10.1080/09528822.2014.930578. ISSN 0952-8822.
  23. ^ "ASARO—Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca | Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art". jsma.uoregon.edu. Retrieved 2019-03-24.
  24. ^ Graham De La Rosa, Michael; Gilbert, Samuel (March 25, 2017). "Oaxaca's revolutionary street art". Al Jazeera. Retrieved March 23, 2019.


  • Bartrum, Giulia; German Renaissance Prints, 1490–1550; British Museum Press, 1995, ISBN 0-7141-2604-7
  • Lankes, JJ (1932). A Woodcut Manual. H. Holt.
  • David Landau & Peter Parshall, The Renaissance Print, Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2
  • Uglow, Jenny (2006). Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick. Faber and Faber.

External links

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer (; German: [ˈʔalbʁɛçt ˈdyːʁɐ]; 21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528) sometimes spelt in English as Durer or Duerer, without umlaut, was a painter, printmaker, and theorist of the German Renaissance. Born in Nuremberg, Dürer established his reputation and influence across Europe when he was still in his twenties due to his high-quality woodcut prints.

He was in communication with the major Italian artists of his time, including Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci, and from 1512 he was patronized by Emperor Maximilian I. Dürer is commemorated by both the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches.

Dürer's vast body of work includes engravings, his preferred technique in his later prints, altarpieces, portraits and self-portraits, watercolours and books. The woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), are more Gothic than the rest of his work.

His well-known engravings include the Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolours also mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.

Dürer's introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, has secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective, and ideal proportions.

Anna Maria Thelott

Anna Maria Thelott (1683–1710) was a Swedish artist. She was an engraver, an illustrator, a woodcut-artist, and a miniaturist painter.

Book illustration

The illustration of manuscript books was well established in ancient times, and the tradition of the illuminated manuscript thrived in the West until the invention of printing. Other parts of the world had comparable traditions, such as the Persian miniature. Modern book illustration comes from the 15th-century woodcut illustrations that were fairly rapidly included in early printed books, and later block books. Other techniques such as engraving, etching, lithography and various kinds of colour printing were to expand the possibilities and were exploited by such masters as Daumier, Doré or Gavarni.


Chiaroscuro (English: ; Italian: [ˌkjaroˈskuːro]; Italian for light-dark), in art, is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures. Similar effects in cinema and photography also are called chiaroscuro.

Further specialized uses of the term include chiaroscuro woodcut for coloured woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink; and chiaroscuro drawing for drawings on coloured paper in a dark medium with white highlighting.

The underlying principle is that solidity of form is best achieved by the light falling against it. Artists known for developing the technique include Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. It is a mainstay of black and white and low-key photography. It is one of the modes of painting colour in Renaissance art (alongside cangiante, sfumato and unione). Artists well-known for their use of chiaroscuro include Rembrandt , Caravaggio , Vermeer , and Goya.

Circle Limit III

Circle Limit III is a woodcut made in 1959 by Dutch artist M. C. Escher, in which "strings of fish shoot up like rockets from infinitely far away" and then "fall back again whence they came".It is one of a series of four woodcuts by Escher depicting ideas from hyperbolic geometry. Dutch physicist and mathematician Bruno Ernst called it "the best of the four".

Dürer's Rhinoceros

Dürer's Rhinoceros is the name commonly given to a woodcut executed by German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer in 1515. The image is based on a written description and brief sketch by an unknown artist of an Indian rhinoceros that had arrived in Lisbon in 1515. Dürer never saw the actual rhinoceros, which was the first living example seen in Europe since Roman times. In late 1515, the King of Portugal, Manuel I, sent the animal as a gift for Pope Leo X, but it died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy in early 1516. A live rhinoceros was not seen again in Europe until a second specimen, named Abada, arrived from India at the court of Sebastian of Portugal in 1577, being later inherited by Philip II of Spain around 1580.Dürer's woodcut is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters. None of these features are present in a real rhinoceros, although the Indian rhinoceros does have deep folds in its skin that can look like armor from a distance. Despite its anatomical inaccuracies, Dürer's woodcut became very popular in Europe and was copied many times in the following three centuries. It was regarded by Westerners as a true representation of a rhinoceros into the late 18th century. Eventually, it was supplanted by more realistic drawings and paintings, particularly those of Clara the rhinoceros, who toured Europe in the 1740s and 1750s. It has been said of Dürer's woodcut: "probably no animal picture has exerted such a profound influence on the arts".

Flammarion engraving

The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist, so named because its first documented appearance is in Camille Flammarion's 1888 book L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire ("The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology"). The engraving has often, but erroneously, been referred to as a woodcut. It has been used as a metaphorical illustration of either the scientific or the mystical quests for knowledge.

Hans Burgkmair

Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531) was a German painter and woodcut printmaker.


Hatching (hachure in French) is an artistic technique used to create tonal or shading effects by drawing (or painting or scribing) closely spaced parallel lines. (It is also used in monochromatic heraldic representations to indicate what the tincture of a "full-colour" emblazon would be.) When lines are placed at an angle to one another, it is called cross-hatching.

Hatching is especially important in essentially linear media, such as drawing, and many forms of printmaking, such as engraving, etching and woodcut. In Western art, hatching originated in the Middle Ages, and developed further into cross-hatching, especially in the old master prints of the fifteenth century. Master ES and Martin Schongauer in engraving and Erhard Reuwich and Michael Wolgemut in woodcut were pioneers of both techniques, and Albrecht Dürer in particular perfected the technique of crosshatching in both media.

Artists use the technique, varying the length, angle, closeness and other qualities of the lines, most commonly in drawing, linear painting and engraving.


Linocut is a printmaking technique, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for a relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. The linoleum sheet is inked with a roller (called a brayer), and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a printing press.

M. C. Escher

Maurits Cornelis Escher (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈmʌurɪt͡s kɔrˈneːlɪs ˈɛʃər]; 17 June 1898 – 27 March 1972) was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically-inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints.

Despite wide popular interest, Escher was for long somewhat neglected in the art world, even in his native Netherlands. He was 70 before a retrospective exhibition was held. In the twenty-first century, he became more widely appreciated, with exhibitions across the world.

His work features mathematical objects and operations including impossible objects, explorations of infinity, reflection, symmetry, perspective, truncated and stellated polyhedra, hyperbolic geometry, and tessellations. Although Escher believed he had no mathematical ability, he interacted with the mathematicians George Pólya, Roger Penrose, Harold Coxeter and crystallographer Friedrich Haag, and conducted his own research into tessellation.

Early in his career, he drew inspiration from nature, making studies of insects, landscapes, and plants such as lichens, all of which he used as details in his artworks. He traveled in Italy and Spain, sketching buildings, townscapes, architecture and the tilings of the Alhambra and the Mezquita of Cordoba, and became steadily more interested in their mathematical structure.

Escher's art became well known among scientists and mathematicians, and in popular culture, especially after it was featured by Martin Gardner in his April 1966 Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. Apart from being used in a variety of technical papers, his work has appeared on the covers of many books and albums. He was one of the major inspirations of Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Old master print

An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition. The term remains current in the art trade, and there is no easy alternative in English to distinguish the works of "fine art" produced in printmaking from the vast range of decorative, utilitarian and popular prints that grew rapidly alongside the artistic print from the 15th century onwards. Fifteenth-century prints are sufficiently rare that they are classed as old master prints even if they are of crude or merely workmanlike artistic quality. A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term.

The main techniques used, in order of their introduction, are woodcut, engraving, etching, mezzotint and aquatint, although there are others. Different techniques are often combined in a single print. With rare exceptions printed on textiles, such as silk, or on vellum, old master prints are printed on paper. This article is concerned with the artistic, historical and social aspects of the subject; the article on printmaking summarizes the techniques used in making old master prints, from a modern perspective.

Many great European artists, such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, and Francisco Goya, were dedicated printmakers. In their own day, their international reputations largely came from their prints, which were spread far more widely than their paintings. Influences between artists were also mainly transmitted beyond a single city by prints (and sometimes drawings), for the same reason. Prints therefore are frequently brought up in detailed analyses of individual paintings in art history. Today, thanks to colour photo reproductions, and public galleries, their paintings are much better known, whilst their prints are only rarely exhibited, for conservation reasons. But some museum print rooms allow visitors to see their collection, sometimes only by appointment, and large museums now present great numbers of prints online in very high-resolution enlargeable images.


Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is not considered a "copy" but rather is considered an "original". This is because typically each print varies to an extent due to variables intrinsic to the printmaking process, and also because the imagery of a print is typically not simply a reproduction of another work but rather is often a unique image designed from the start to be expressed in a particular printmaking technique. A print may be known as an impression. Printmaking (other than monotyping) is not chosen only for its ability to produce multiple impressions, but rather for the unique qualities that each of the printmaking processes lends itself to.

Prints are created by transferring ink from a matrix or through a prepared screen to a sheet of paper or other material. Common types of matrices include: metal plates, usually copper or zinc, or polymer plates for engraving or etching; stone, aluminum, or polymer for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts and wood engravings; and linoleum for linocuts. Screens made of silk or synthetic fabrics are used for the screenprinting process. Other types of matrix substrates and related processes are discussed below.

Multiple impressions printed from the same matrix form an edition. Since the late 19th century, artists have generally signed individual impressions from an edition and often number the impressions to form a limited edition; the matrix is then destroyed so that no more prints can be produced. Prints may also be printed in book form, such as illustrated books or artist's books.

Provincetown Printers

Provincetown Printers was an art colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the early 20th-century of artists who created art using woodblock printing techniques. It was the first group of its kind in the United States, developed in an area when European and American avante-garde artists visited in number after World War I. The "Provincetown Print", a white-line woodcut print, was attributed to this group. Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt developed the technique, based upon Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock printing, but Blanche Lazzell is said to have mastered it. Rather than creating separate woodblocks for each color, one block was made and painted. Small groves between the elements of the design created the white line. Because the artists often used soft colors, they sometimes have the appearance of a watercolor painting.

Early artists in the group included Ethel Mars, Ada Gilmore, Mildred McMillen, Maud Hunt Squire, Juliette Nichols and Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt. Other artists included William Zorach, Ferol Sibley Warthen, Blanche Lazzell, Karl Knaths, and Agnes Weinrich. Edna Boies Hopkins, a friend of Squires and Mars from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, also visited the community.Bill Evaul, a writer for Print Review in the late 1970s, was asked to write an article about "printmaking in Provincetown", but by that time many of the artists were no longer alive. Through research with Myron Stout and meeting with some surviving members, like Ferol Sibley Warthen, he learned the history about the Provincetown Print and later learned how to create works of art with the technique. Since then, he has promoted the white line woodcut technique in his historical research paper "Provincetown Printers: Genesis of a Unique Woodcut Tradition", taught and lectured about the technique, and has created and shown his version of the Provincetown Prints in exhibits.An exhibit of 75 works of art from this group was held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from September 9, 1983 to January 8, 1984.

Regular Division of the Plane

Regular Division of the Plane is a series of drawings by the Dutch artist M. C. Escher which began in 1936. These images are based on the principle of tessellation, irregular shapes or combinations of shapes that interlock completely to cover a surface or plane.The inspiration for these works began in 1936 with a visit to the Alhambra, a fourteenth-century Moorish castle near Granada, Spain. Escher had visited the Alhambra once before in 1922 but in this visit he had spent several days studying and sketching the ornate tile designs there.In 1958 Escher published his book The Regular Division of the Plane. This book included several woodcut prints to demonstrate the concept, but the series of drawings continued until the late 1960s, ending at drawing #137. While not Escher’s most artistically important works, some of these patterns are among Escher's most famous, having been used for a number of commercial products, including neckties.

Still Life with Head-Shaped Vase and Japanese Woodcut

Still Life with Head-Shaped Vase and Japanese Woodcut is an 1889 still life painting by French artist, Paul Gauguin. It is currently in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran.

Triumphal Arch (woodcut)

The Triumphal Arch (also known as the Arch of Maximilian I, German: Ehrenpforte Maximilians I.) is a 16th-century monumental woodcut print, commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. The composite image was printed on 36 large sheets of paper from 195 separate wood blocks. At 295 × 357 centimetres (116 × 141 in), it is one of the largest prints ever produced, and was intended to be pasted to walls in city halls or the palaces of princes. It is part of a series of three huge prints created for Maximilian, the others being a Triumphal Procession (1516–18, 137 woodcut panels, 54 metres (177 ft) long) which is led by a Large Triumphal Carriage (1522, 8 woodcut panels, 8 × 1.5 feet (244 × 46 cm)); only the Arch was completed in Maximilian's lifetime and distributed as propaganda, as he intended. Together, this series has been described by art historian Hyatt Mayor as "Maximilian's program of paper grandeur". They stand alongside two published biographical allegories in verse, the Theuerdank and Weisskunig, heavily illustrated with woodcuts.

Very large multi-sheet prints designed to decorate walls were a feature of the early 16th century, although their use in this way means their survival rate is exceptionally low. The prints were intended to be hand-coloured, but only two sets of impressions from the first edition survive with contemporary colouring (held in Berlin and Prague).

Woodblock printing

Woodblock printing (or block 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 AD. Woodblock printing existed in Tang China during the 7th century AD and remained the most common East Asian method of printing books and other texts, as well as images, until the 19th century. Ukiyo-e is the best known type of Japanese woodblock art print. Most European uses of the technique for printing images on paper are covered by the art term woodcut, except for the block-books produced mainly in the 15th century in India.

Wordless novel

The wordless novel is a narrative genre that uses sequences of captionless pictures to tell a story. As artists have often made such books using woodcut and other relief printing techniques, the terms woodcut novel or novel in woodcuts are also used. The genre flourished primarily in the 1920s and 1930s and was most popular in Germany.

The wordless novel has its origin in the German Expressionist movement of the early 20th century. The typically socialist work drew inspiration from medieval woodcuts and used the awkward look of that medium to express angst and frustration at social injustice. The first such book was the Belgian Frans Masereel's 25 Images of a Man's Passion, published in 1918. The German Otto Nückel and other artists followed Masereel's example. Lynd Ward brought the genre to the United States in 1929 when he produced Gods' Man, which inspired other American wordless novels and a parody in 1930 by cartoonist Milt Gross with He Done Her Wrong. Following an early-1930s peak in production and popularity, the genre waned in the face of competition from sound films and anti-socialist censorship in Nazi Germany and the US.

Following World War II, new examples of wordless novels became increasingly rare, and early works went out of print. Interest began to revive in the 1960s when the American comics fandom subculture came to see wordless novels as prototypical book-length comics. In the 1970s, the example of the wordless novel inspired cartoonists such as Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman to create book-length non-genre comics—"graphic novels". Cartoonists such as Eric Drooker and Peter Kuper took direct inspiration from wordless novels to create wordless graphic novels.

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