How to Make Woodcuts From Photos

By Clara English

Things Needed

  • Photo-editing software
  • Towel or other soft surface
  • Woodblock
  • Woodcarving tools, including an angled knife and a V-shaped gouger
  • Printmaking paper
  • Printer's ink
  • Spoon or bone folder
Woodcutting is a traditional printmaking technique.

Woodcutting is a traditional printmaking process dating back to the 15th century. To create a woodcut, an artist selectively carves a block of wood so that some areas are raised and others are recessed. When ink is spread across the surface of the wood and paper is pressed to its surface, only the raised areas will transfer ink. Using a favorite photo as reference, you can create your own woodcuts at home.

Select a photograph with high contrast and a central area of focus. Scan it into your computer. Keep in mind that shading and subtle detail is often lost when translating photos to woodcuts because the entire image is reduced to areas of flat color. Use a raster-based image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter to prepare photos for woodcuts. If you own neither of these programs, download the free GIMP program (see Resources).

Open the image in your photo-editing program. If you are using Photoshop, select "Image," click "Adjustments" and select "Posterize." In GIMP, click "Posterize" under the "Colors" heading. In Painter, select "Effects," followed by "Surface Control" and "Woodcut." Reduce your image to two colors.

Print out your modified photo and trim it to the precise dimensions of your woodblock. Sandwich a sheet of carbon paper between the wood and your image. Secure it with tape. Ensure the edge of the paper is square to the block. Use a sharp pencil to trace the outline of the color you wish to print, keeping in mind that the paper will provide the other color. Remove the altered photo and carbon paper. Trace over the pencil marks with a fine, black marker. Fill in these areas with a larger marker.

Place your woodblock on a towel or other soft surface. Make cuts along the fine lines of your drawing, using an angled woodcarving knife. Ensure that you push the small slivers of wood out of the troughs you have just cut. Use a V-shaped gouger to remove larger portions of your drawing. Remember to remove only the portions of the image that you have not blackened with marker. Trim several pieces of paper to the same dimensions as your block.

Dab a small amount of printing ink on a glass palette. Roll the ink into a square, using the brayer. Roll the brayer in alternate directions over the square on the palette so the ink is evenly distributed. Roll the ink over the surface of your carved block. Carefully lay your paper over the block, ensuring the edges line up precisely. Use a spoon or a bone folder to apply even pressure to the paper. Pick up the corner of the paper carefully to see whether you need to continue pressing. Peel the paper off the block and allow it to dry to completely. Repeat the printing process as many times as you like.

Tip

You can use paper torn or cut to larger dimensions than your block. Lay a piece of graph paper underneath the block to help line up your paper and prevent a lopsided print.

Warning

Exercise extreme caution when carving your block as woodcutting tools are very sharp. Always cut away from your body and never press so hard that you lose control.

About the Author

Clara English began writing professionally in 2010. She writes for various websites, focusing on topics in fine-art techniques, fashion and gardening. She studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in art history at the University of Rochester.