Wood engraving is a refinement of the technique of woodcut, the carving of a design into a block of wood by cutting away all parts of the wood which are not part of the design so that when ink is applied to the design and the block is pressed against a sheet of paper, a reversed print of the design is left on the paper. In other words, the raised parts of the block -- those not carved away -- pick up ink and transfer it to the paper. The quality which distinguishes woodcuts from wood engravings
is that the former are created on the side of a plank of wood where an engraving is done on the end grain. This allows for finer detail in the image.
Before the invention of photography, every image that people could see was either an original drawing or a reproduction, a print of some kind, printed by a process known as relief printing: from a raised surface. Until this century, all books and newspapers were printed by this method. For thousands of years, the Egyptians, Chinese, and others, have used wood blocks to print designs on fabric.
The highest forms of woodcut art are those of Albrecht Dürer and others in northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and equally, the coloured woodblock prints of the Japanese in the 17th and 18th centuries. While many prints were later hand coloured, as a more humble (and affordable) alternative to original paintings, the Japanese printed their colours from wood blocks as well, sometimes ten or more separate colours, achieving extraordinary shading effects and tonal ranges. Nonetheless, the linear quality of the majority of woodcuts is somewhat coarse or bold, limited by the use of the side grain of the wood.
Thomas Bewick, born in England in 1753, was apprenticed as an engraver on metal at the age of fourteen. Accustomed to the fineness of detail avilable in copper and silver engraving,
For more information about woodcuts and wood engraving, and many beautiful examples check out the websites listed here.
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