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Relief printing is one of the oldest methods of making prints, having been used in China to decorate textiles since the 5th century.  In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century.  Religious images and playing cards were first made from wood blocks in the early 15th century, and the development of printing from movable type led to widespread use of woodcut illustrations in the Netherlands and in Italy. In the 16th century the black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein. After Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse used the technique so fantastically in the 1950s, many other artists adopted this most exciting printmaking method.


Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros (detail), a drawing and woodcut. Germany, AD 1515Albrecht Dürer's Rhinoceros (detail), a drawing and woodcut. Germany, AD 1515





Relief Printmaking


The relief family of printmaking techniques involves cutting and carving a flat surface to remove areas not wanted to be printed.   The cutting tools have a variety of forms  - straight and rounded edge, double-pointed, bladed like a chisel, or V-shaped - and their use combines to leave a raised 'relief' image.

When ink is rolled across the surface of the relief block, and the block then pressed on to paper, only the inked areas will leave an image on the paper.  A printing press may not be needed, as the back of the paper can be rubbed or pressed by hand with a simple tool such as a brayer or roller.  A number of blocks, each cut seperately and inked with a different colour, can be overlaid on each other to create a more complex image.

Traditional relief printmaking methods uses either wood or linoleum as the flat surface, but various soft plastics and vinyls are sometimes used.  For a while I tried working with MDF but although the cutting was fairly easy, the dust and softness of the cut away areas complicated the printing stages.  These days I often use Foamalux which has a smooth flat semi-matt surface that cuts easily, takes ink superbly, is relatively cheap (compared to linoleum) and is available in bulk via mail order.


In due course, for the technically minded and fellow printmakers, when I'm next working on an intaglio image I'll prepare and post a piece about the methods and materials used.


Among the Saguaros. Relief print (edition of 12) 640cm x 420cm


Meanwhile here's a relief print I finished a month or so ago........

Among the Saguaros.  620cm x 420cm