In a Woodcut, the artist draws a design directly on a flat block of wood (usually cut on the long side grain). Using a gouge or a sharp knife, the cutter sometimes but not necessarily the artist, then cuts away everything but the lines and areas of the image. The design which is to be inked and printed, thus stands in relief, higher than those areas that will not print, The printer coats the block with ink and a sheet of paper is pressed against it. When the paper is lifted away, the cut design appears in ink on the paper. Developed in China, this was the earliest technique for making prints and maps. Printing from woodcut blocks gave a bold, simple lack and white finish which could show little subtlety, shading or gradation of tone except perhaps in the hands of a Dürer or Holbein, blocks however could be used for a many years, though the design gradually lost its first clarity and boldness.

A chiaroscuro woodcut is a colour woodcut with a different woodblock for each colour, suggesting the effect of a tonal drawing. Materials commonly used as the printing block include wood, stone, linoleum, metal and cardboard.

A wood engraving is also a relief print but made from a plank of wood cut on the end grain, and hard enough to permit greater fineness of line and complexity of execution with a burin than found in a woodcut. In a wood engraving, it is often the drawing on the block, rather than the background or surrounding areas of wood which is cut away. When the block is inked and printed, its surface, rather than that of the engraved design, touches the paper and transfers ink to the sheet, producing white lines on a black background.


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