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Woodcut Prints: Song Lyrics or Quotes

posted Nov 10, 2014, 7:03 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Nov 12, 2014, 7:49 PM ]
In this you will be learning a new skill: woodcut printmaking. Traditionally, woodcuts have been used in Japan for printmaking for centuries. The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai isn't a famous painting, as many people think, but actually a woodcut print! 

 We will each make a woodcut print (RELIEF PRINTING). You will select your favourite line from a song, or a quote from a poem/novel/movie, and illustrate it:
  • It will be a single block, so just one colour
  • you can colour it with watercolor paints after printing if you want to
  • you can decide on the size you would like to make your print: A4 or A3. If you work slowly you might want to choose the smaller A4 size wood.
  • The ink colours are black, blue, red, green, yellow, purple and orange.  


  1. Brainstorm FIVE quotes from songs, poems, quotes, movies that you like. 
  2. Choose one and draw FIVE designs in your book that you could use to illustrate the quote. 
  3. Woodcut printing is called relief printing, which means you need to think the opposite from drawing or painting. You'll carve out the areas you want to leave white, and leave the areas you want to colour. Look at this beautiful example of a woodcut print by Tugboat Printshop:

To help you flip your thinking and visualize this process, draw out your final design on black paper using a white pencil. 

Make sure you have a range of values:
  • Light values (where lots of the area will be carved out)
  • Medium values (using line or pattern to carve out some of the area, but not all)
  • Dark values (where most of the area will be left dark and not carved)
Here is a great example of a woodcut print that has a range of values. Identify the light, medium and dark areas on the print, and notice how lines have been used in different ways to get different values. I also like the way the edges of the print aren't straight. 

Look at woodcut prints on the Internet and draw a page in your book of different marks you can see. For example:

  1. When you are happy with your drawing on black paper and you've decided what size to make it, you can start carving. 
  2. Draw the outline of your design out carefully on the wood first, using pencil. 
  3. I will give a demonstration on how to use the wood carving tools - practice first on a piece of small wood. Use a variety of gouges to get different marks and lines. 
  4. When you think it's finished, do a practice print to see how it looks. You can always go back and carve out more, but you can't put it back if you carve too much, so work carefully. 

Vocabulary: Write the following terms on your vocabulary page with a definition for each

  • Relief printing
  • Inking Plate
  • Gouge
  • Brayer
  • Baren
  • Edition

Signing the Print
Each print is signed in pencil along the bottom edge under the inked portion. 

- On the left side you place the edition number. The first print out of three will have the fraction 1/3 on the left side, the second print will have 2/3, and the third will have 3/3. 
- In the centre you place the title of the design
- On the right side you sign your name. 

All of this information must start and stop directly underneath the print and not hang out on either side.


I won't be assessing Criterion A: Knowledge and Understanding for this unit, only B, C, and D.  

Criterion B: Application
Your print making will be assessed on the following task-specific criteria:
  • A strong composition that has been carefully thought out 
  • The design clearly communicates the line from a song, poem or quote in a new and visually interesting way (no love hearts, stars or rain drops please! They are cliched symbols and too obvious).  
  • Craftsmanship: neat, clean and complete carving. Skillful use of the tools (carving and printing). 
  • The print shows a good balance of light, medium and dark values and interesting marks/lines/patterns
  • The printing is of consistent quality and each one is signed correctly 
Criterion C: Reflection
  •  Written reflection (hand-written or typed and glued into book) that outlines, step by step (in words or photos) how you made your woodcut print, the problems you encountered and how you solved them, and the successes of the project. 
Criterion D: Personal Engagement
  • Effort: took time to develop idea & complete the project to your highest standard possible
  • Good use of class time - no rushing at the end!
  • Willingness to accept feedback from teacher and classmates, and use it to improve artwork.