Woodblock Basics with Michael Angelis

How to Create Woodcuts and Linocuts - with Michael Angelis

Printing woodcuts is a relief printmaking technique in which the surface of the wood is carved away to create a raised surface.  The raised surface is inked, and transferred to paper by either rubbing, or with a printing press. Here is a tutorial where we will go over everything needed to get started making your own woodcuts with artist and educator Michael Angelis.
 Carving a woodcut

The sections are broken down into Materials, Carving, Printing, and Sharpening the Carving Tools


The basic materials are wood, printing paper, carving tools, relief printing ink, soft brayer, putty knife or pallet knife, and a spoon.

optional materials include plexiglass, baren for hand printing, Xacto knife, and a bench hook 

wood printmaking  
For wood, pine or poplar are good for starting out because they are soft and carve pretty easily. Another option is using a quality piece of birch plywood.  Traditionally harder woods, mostly fruit woods were used, a in modern times we would recommend cherry for more advanced carvers.  Pine, poplar, and quality birch plywood can be found at Lowe's, or regular hardware stores.
ink printmaking
When choosing a relief printing ink, it is important to consider working with either water based, or oil based ink. Beginners should use water based ink because of the easy clean up and faster drying time, but more advanced users should consider switching to oil based inks Speedball makes a good water based ink. With oil based ink, it is important that the ink is stiff, and etching printing inks would be too loose and fill in small detailed lines. Try choosing stiffer oil based inks made specifically for relief printing. 
Paper Printmaking  
There are a lot of different options for Paper. With hand printing we would recommend beginners use Strathmore Lightweight Printmaking Paper which is smooth, and then advance to thin Japanese papers such as Kitakata. Any thin paper will work for hand printing. Heavier papers will need to be printed with a printing press.
Brayer printmaking  
Brayers are for evenly spreading the ink onto the woodblock. It is important to purchase a soft brayer instead of a hard brayer so that the brayer will catch any inconsistencies in the wood caused by slight warping. Speedball soft brayers are a good choice when starting out. 
Baren Printmaking  
Spoons or Barens are used to apply pressure during hand printing.  First time printers can try a metal spoon, but a baren applies more even pressure.
carving tools printmaking  
Carving Tools V and U wood gouge tools made of decent steel are recommended for carving, but anything that would cut the woods surface can be used and experimented with. We recommend a few Flexcut carving tools

Optional Materials

X-Acto Knife can be used to score an edge in the wood. It is useful when going across the grain or when working with fine details that need to be precise. After scoring an edge, it can be popped out with a gouge tool. 

Plexiglass is an optional material used to create a workspace to spread ink onto. It cleans easily, but other materials such as a painting pallet or pallet paper can also be used. Plexiglass can be bought at a hardware store.

A Bench Hook is an optional material, but highly recommended to keep the block in place during carving. It can be made easily with access to a woodshop, but also SpeedBall makes an affordable metal version.


Carving the Block

For carving, V and U gouge tools are recommended. The best position when carving is to place the non dominant hand on top of the metal of the gouge to prevent the tool slipping into the other hand. Please No Blood!.  Also the weight provides a little more stability. See the diagram below for reference, and mirror image for left handed carvers.

wood carving hand position

With relief printing, the negative space (areas that will be white) is the part that is going to be carved away.  A good technique for flat areas is to carve the outline first with a v gouge

A pro tip to stopping the tearing effect when going against the grain is to first score with an xacto knife, and then go in with a v gouge. This is also an effective tip when working in detailed areas. 

Printing the block by hand

The first step will be to spread out the ink with a putty knife or palette knife onto a clean plastic type surface, we recommend plexiglass. If using water based ink clean up will be with water, but if using oil based inks, clean up will be with vegetable oil (lets be green!) and then finish with mineral spirits. We recommend not using hardware store spirits because of the health concerns, and instead using Odorless Turpenoid.

We will be using a brayer to spread the ink evenly onto the block. It is easy to have too much ink, or not enough, and the perfect amount will be with tiny bubbles when spreading ink. Pass the brayer over the block, and try not to stop in the middle, or lift before the very end. To build up more ink, make several passes in multiple directions. Speed plays a roll, and a faster roll might pick up ink and a slower roll will leave more down.

For printing place the paper over the block and rub with the baren. To check the progress, lift up the corner of the paper. The ink will keep the rest of the paper stuck in place, and not shift. To get a darker impression go back in with a metal spoon.

Common problems are inking issues, either too much or too little, or the ink isn't transfering enough. This could be due to paper being too thick, or inconsistent rubbing.


Michael Angelis - Printmaking  

Michael Angelis who received his BFA from Purchase College, SUNY in 2001 and MA in Art Education from Teachers College in 2005, is an artist and educator based in New Haven, Connecticut.  He gives workshop demonstrations, teaches art to high school students, and maintains a studio practice.  He is currently represented by Giampietro Gallery, and has a personal arts website.


Please send printing questions to chris@lunchmoneyprint.com

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