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Lesson Plans

Re:some woodcut answers (long)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Betty Bowen (
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 15:07:23 -0500

Here are some answers & responses to questions I received:

>>I went to the lumber yard and got 1x6" pine boards
I find pine much too hard to cut. And, after being cut, inked and cleaned,
plain boards warp badly.

>>We always had many cut fingers even tho we used benchhooks.

I don't use a benchhook. There are three principal ways to prevent cuts:
1. use cuttable wood (not pine) 2. keep your tools sharp 3. keep your free
hand holding the block near/across your body while the other hand cuts. If
you have good wood and sharp tools, you shouldn't have to use so much force
to cut. Cutting deeply is not necessary anyway -you aren't carving

If you use a bench hook to hold the block, the free hand is more likely to
be in the way, because it isn't otherwise occupied. They are good for more
advanced cutting that needs two hands.

>Doesn't birch etc. plywood cost a fortune--
I should have specified plywood wall paneling. There is just a thin unbroken
veneer of the nice wood.

If your rollers/brayers are firm and your ink firm, and (most important) you
don't over-ink, thin cutting is fine. The cheapo speedball brayers are nice
& firm and work pretty well for thin cutting & small blocks. Learning to use
a brayer well is a real skill - I'll address that in another post sometime.

>>How big are your pieces?
As a relief printer, I'm only limited by the size of my printing space.
Formerly I printed off full sheets of paneling (by hand) or directional
waferboard for texture, but now I don't have that space, so I've scaled back
to about 20 x 32. Lately I've been printing on canvas, so I can up the scale
a little and get away from the expense of matting & glass.

> Have you ever used cheap plywood--like A-C?
I don't know what that is, sorry. If cheap plywood means pine, then no.

>I know that they have to get rid of stuff that is damaged or stained.
Great! If you can get ahold of scaps of their different woods, try cutting
them to see what you like. Some are so fibrous they will kick up long
splinters. Others are too hard. Others will have nice texture though be bad
for cutting. Just play around. They should be soft enough to not need a
chisel & mallet.

knotholes can be fun - moons, eyes, steakbones. You can collect blocks with
good knotholes, and use them uncut for your first color, (sky) then layer
the carved block on top (foreground), letting the knothole show.

If you have a press in your classroom, you'll save yourself loads of trouble
if you keep all the boards the same thickness.

You can build a collection of pre-cut texture blocks all the same size - a
good way for the students to practice inking and printing & registering
before learning to make the image. Straight and wavy stripes, positive &
negative spots, cut downs of your own old blocks, anything that can be
layered up so they can see how it works.

ALSO - and I'll stop here - if you are lucky enough to have a press, you
don't need to use your precious blankets for woodcut - a sheet of matboard
will do nicely.

High school & undergrad guys seem to really respond to the work of
woodcutter Mark Sisson. He's amazing, and I think they respond to the
incredible control and detail and political content. You can see one of his
at: scroll down to "Four
Meticulous Printmakers" Mark teaches at Oklahoma State in Stillwater. (Yes,
that's REALLY a multiple block color woodcut - not Japanese method, either -
BTW the woman in this picture happens to be my sister's best friend from
grade school) We studied under the same (now retired) woodcutter at the
UW -Ray Gloeckler.