In relief printmaking, the printmaker cuts and gouges the surface of a flat block using sharp tools, removing all areas intended to be ink-free or remain white in the print. The rest of the areas stand at their original level to receive ink from a brayer. The ink is transferred to the paper by applying pressure either manually or with the aid of a press. This primary method is applicable to all relief printmaking mediums.
The Far Eastern ‘Moku-Hanga’ technique
Traditional woodblock printing techniques in Japan have remained unchanged for centuries. The woodblocks are made from cherry or Sakura. It requires at least two years of seasoning. The surface of the wood is polished using a sharp whetstone. Followed by the design is transferred to the surface using nori paste, a sticky substance made from boiled rice. The Japanese woodcutter tools include a knife, ‘V’-shaped gouge, round gouge, flat chisel, long round chisel, and a clearing chisel. In Moku-Hanga, water-based ink is applied to the block using a brush. Ink is prepared from organic and inorganic substances. The key block or black is printed first and then gradually the other colours are printed one after the other.
the Western Technique
In the Western technique, a brayer is used to apply oil-based ink to the block. Western Relief printmaking is categorized into three different mediums; Wood Engraving, Woodcut, and Linocut. Other materials appropriated for matrix, such as boards, plaster, cardboard, etc. The preparation of the matrix is similar for all relief techniques, albeit each has its unique characteristics.
Engraving on wood allows for a much more realistic image. It aids an artist in creating minute details on the woodblock’s surface. Wood engraving is done on a piece of cross-sectioned wood. Such as Box, Pear, Lemon, and Hornbeam wood. Among them, boxwood is highly regarded. Wood engraving tools are called Gravers or Burins. Its mushroom-shaped handle assists in gripping the tools against the palm during engraving. Four different types of burin are used in wood engraving: Tint tools, Spit sticks, Gravers, and Scrapers.
Woodcut and Linocut, on the other hand, implement Japanese woodcutters. A woodcut is done on the plank, which is the side grain of a piece of wood. Wood has directional grain and does not have the same cutting freedom as linoleum. Linoleum is flexible, invented by Englishman Frederick Walton with a mixture of linseed oil, pine resin, grounded cork dust, wood flour, and mineral filters such as calcium carbonate. It was used mainly for floor covering. In the 20th century, German expressionists and Pablo Picasso used linoleum as an alternative to plywood. Because of its flexible nature, linocut is also called Flexography. Flexography means obtaining print from a flexible matrix.