Sunday, 22 May 2011

Walking the Plank

Further personal adventures in the world of relief block printing: Woodcut prints.

Not as demanding as the miniature scale of wood engraving (as shown in the last post), woodcut prints are generally bigger and usually little easier to produce. My preference has been for using one inch thick planks of prepared wood from the Lime tree (Tilia). It carves beautifully and is a real pleasure to work with (as long as you keep your tools nice and sharp).

This is my trusty collection of woodcut knives and carving gouges:

 'Cutter at low tide, Mersea Island'
Initial stage of drawing on the block (keeping in mind that the final printed image will be in reverse)...

The drawing has been finalised and strengthened in dark ink- this helps to keep things clear when cutting. 

The outside border has been cut and the process of carving into the block is now underway. Cutting around the rigging of the boat was probably the trickiest element here, not much room for error! 

The cutting process is very nearly complete. All negative space has been removed from the block so that only the wood that stands proud will be printed.

The final proofing print. If this test print looks OK then the block is ready for printing an edition of prints. At this stage the print is typically a bit pale. Several prints need to be made before they take on a darker tone (this improves as the wood surface soaks up a little of the printing ink on the surface).
The print measures 34cm x 18cm.

I generally use Hosho paper for printing along with a Japanese printing baren (shown below). The baren is used to hand burnish the back of the paper when placed onto the inked block.

'Coastal Town'
A sequence of images that show the gradual removal of negative space from the block:

The finished block ready for printing

Print number 3 from a limited first edition of 8 prints. The print measures 60cm x 19cm.

Here's a closer view of the right panel of this print:

By carving further into this section of the block I was able to produce a new set of prints in two colours. The block is inked (in this case in brown) and a set of prints is made; some of the original block is then cut away to produce a new printing surface. This is then inked again in a different colour (black) and printed over the previous print. Each image needs to be very carefully registered so that the second print goes exactly over the first one with no blurring of edges.

'The Wharf'
Limited first edition of 9 (22cm x 19cm). 

Some further examples of woodcut prints:

'Rune Tree'
Limited edition of 4 prints (20cm x 15cm)
working on Rune Tree 

Limited edition of 4 prints (40cm x 15cm)

'Thunder Chicken'
Limited edition of 5 prints (30cm x 23cm)

The feel and smell of fresh wood shavings is a wonderful by-product of the carving process!
photograph by Louisa Hennessy

All images copyright Manfred Hennessy. 
All rights reserved.


  1. fascinating reading. thanks for posting photos of the process. beautiful print ~Fiona

  2. Wow, this is GREAT! I love reading process blogs. And I like your art, and that you work in a variety of mediums and styles too. I am very curious about your registration process. Looks like you use a clamp and a ruler......? And you hand burnish everything?! whoah. Bookmarked! :)
    in Eugene, Oregon USA

  3. Thanks for your postings, in a few days I will share your blog on the WEN Blog (Wood Engravers' Network).
    I have enjoyed looking at your flickr images for some time.
    Tony Drehfal (also editor of "Block & Burin" the newsletter for WEN)