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While teaching Industrial Art and Design for many years at Mahwah High School in Mahwah, NJ, I developed a love for printmaking and wood carving. I taught various levels of furniture making and fine woodworking. I was always looking for new lessons that would help my students connect to bigger ideas; in this case woodcarving, and more broadly speaking, sculptural design in furniture making.
There are many ways to create fine art prints. Some methods include, etching, monotypes, solar plates, copper plates and others. The method that resonates with me may be the oldest-woodcut prints.
Fully Inked Block Awaiting Printing
Low relief carving consists of incisions of varying depths and shapes cut into the surface of a wood board. The incised cuts are done based on a design transferred onto the block prior to cutting. Some cuts are deeper than others, and some are shaped with more three-dimensional detail than others. Once the block is cut, ink is rolled onto the block, specially prepared paper is laid on top of the block and pressure is applied to the paper forcing the ink to transfer.
I wanted an accessible lesson to introduce students to woodcarving techniques and tools. As I researched various ways to shape wood, low-relief carving made sense as a good entry into the vast world of wood carving.
It turns out that many of the methods used to create low relief carvings can be applied to creating woodcuts used to make fine art prints. The wood blocks a printmaker makes utilize virtually similar tools and techniques.
Just as marquetry holds some magic making wood sometimes feel like the paint, printmaking has its own bit of creative magic. That moment is when after rolling ink, applying paper and pressure, the printmaker then slowly pulls the paper off the block revealing the carved design in bold color. It is truly very exhilarating.
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