Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Woodcuts & Wood engravings

Both woodcuts and wood engravings entail creating a relief image on a block of wood by cutting away the parts that are not to hold ink. The design is usually drawn directly onto the block and then all other parts are cut away. In a woodcut (illustrated below on left)the image is cut from the block parallel to the grain using a knife or a pointed tool called a graver. In a wood engraving (illustrated below on right) the image is cut using a graver on the end of the grain.

Because these processes print in relief, they can be printed on the same press as typeface. Because of this, early on wood cuts were often used to illustrate books. In the nineteenth century, wood engravings were used to illustrate newspapers such as Harper's Weekly.

Woodcuts were introduced to Europe in the early fifteenth century (the earliest European woodcut is the “Brussels Madonna” of 1418), but were executed in the Orient as early as the ninth century. The use of woodcuts was spread by the inventions of moveable type and of the printing press in the 1450s. Wood engraving was developed in England in the early eighteenth century, firmly established in Europe by Thomas Bewick at the end of that century, and popularized in America during the Civil War.

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