My Acquisitions 0

Woodcut printing

Walter J. Phillips, Tulips, 1928, Colour Woodcut, 9.5 x 12.5 inches


One of the techniques used in printmaking is woodcut which is a relief printing. The artist needs a block of wood, gouge (the cutting tool), ink or paint, and a surface (like a paper or a panel). The history of this technique goes back to ancient China and Japan[1]. At first, woodcut was used for printing on textiles and later paper. Around 1400, woodcut developed in Europe for old master prints.

Colour was introduced to woodcuts in ancient China circa the tenth century. The first European woodcuts emerged in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts. Artists of that time used this technique more for prints than illustrations in books in Europe and Japan. Woodcut became popular in Europe during the second half of the fifteenth century. Woodcut used to be an efficient technique in book printing. Thus, it was widely used for printing illustrations until the late sixteenth century. At that time, artists only designed the woodcut and other professional craftsmen did the carvings. In contrast, artists do both the design and carving which makes woodcut a much more complex technique to use.

Woodcut can be used for multiple colour printing by holding the paper with a frame and using different woodblocks for each colour. Artist applies each colour, using a carved block, on the same paper until they get all the layers done.

Woodcut printing in the world

Although woodcut originated in China and East Asia, it has been practiced widely through Europe and Latin America. In Mexico, woodcut printing became very popular during the twentieth century. It was mainly used for political activities and they represented the social and civil injustices[2].

Printmaking artists in Canada

Many Canadian artists are practicing woodcut technique for printmaking[3]. Two of the most well-known Canadian artists who practiced the woodcut technique were Mary Pratt and W. J. Phillips.


[1] "Gouge: The Modern Woodcut 1870 to Now - Hammer Museum". The Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2019,04,24.


[2] McDonald, Mark (2016). "Printmaking in Mexico, 1900-1950". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2019, 04, 24. Source:

[3] “Printmaking Artists in Canada”. Artists in Canada. Retrieved 2019,04,24.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published