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Watching Flowers Grow 5.5×4.25 Woodcut with watercolor

Available in my Etsy shop.

This woodcut was carved and printed from a block of MDF, which is smooth to carve (compressed sawdust mixed with glue), but there are some printmakers who insist that it shouldn’t be used, because it’s not water tight and it’ll warp and flake when cleaned. (I wipe and dab with a relatively dry rag to clean ink.) It’s also not archival, so if you plan to do an edition of 300 over the next 70 years, perhaps it’s safer to stick with hardwoods.

Pulling test prints (Artist’s Proofs)
Finished carving – ready to ink & print
starting to carve around the drawing
From a carving standpoint, its best to keep your knives sharp, to avoid jagged-edged cuts.  And it’s also a good idea to carve slow and steady, because the layered resistance of woodgrain is absent in pressed sawdust, so it’s easy to skip the blade over the rim of the trough you’re plowing, and go skittering off, carving new and unwanted lines on a wrong turn.
My set up for this block

I’ve had a number of emails asking about my set up for carving, so here’s a little map (above). I use an S-brace, or a bench hook, made from plywood. Its a simple slab of wood with a ledge to catch the edge of your table, and another ledge on the opposite side, to catch your block. In this case, I’m working small, so I’ve got spacer block to bring my working block closer to me.  I use a sheet of non-skid under my work, and good quality, sharp knives. The drawing on the block was done with a sharpie, and sealed with a light stain (Minwax Wood Stain and Sealer) to keep the integrity of my drawing after test inking & printing , and to reduce flaking and chipping while cutting.  That’s it. If you have any questions on this, leave them in the comments, and I’ll reply to you there.

My plywood bench hook

This is a great little 8 minute video featuring Susan Rostow from Akua Inks, demonstrating how to use Akua waterbased inks to make a monotype without a press.  As usual, there are lots of tips and tricks, so have a look!  If you get this post via rss feed or email subscription, and the video doesn’t show, you can go directly to YouTube and watch it here.

Art Quote
The early stages of any craft are more interesting when we are familiar with the final result. For this reason it is often an advantage to begin at the end. 

To see a few impressions taken from a set of blocks in colour printing, or to print them oneself, gives the best possible idea of the quality and essential character of print-making. So also in describing the work it will perhaps tend to make the various stages clearer if the final act of printing is first explained. The most striking characteristic of this craft is the primitive simplicity of the act of printing. No press is required, and no machinery. 

A block is laid flat on the table with its cut surface uppermost, and is kept steady by a small wad of damp paper placed under each corner. A pile of paper slightly damped ready for printing lies within reach just beyond the wood-block, so that the printer may easily lift the paper sheet by sheet on to the block as it is required. 

It is the practice in Japan to work squatting on the floor, with the blocks and tools also on the floor in front of the craftsman. Our own habit of working at a table is less simple, but has some advantages. One practice or habit of the Japanese is, however, to be followed with particular care. No description can give quite fully the sense of extreme orderliness and careful deliberation of their work. Everything is placed where it will be most convenient for use, and this orderliness is preserved throughout the day’s work. Their shapely tools and vessels are handled with a deftness that shames our clumsy ways, and everything that they use is kept quite clean. This skillful orderliness is essential to fine craftmanship, and is a sign of mastery. 
~Wood-Block Printing by F. Morley Fletcher 1916 

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7 thoughts on “Woodcut: Watching Flowers Grow (& an 8 min video on making monotypes with Akua ink & a roller pin press)”

  1. George Clouette

    I was interested in MDF until I recieved so many moisture and flaking issues plus extra wear on carving tools. I might just go ahead and try it with all the suggestions considered.

    I might mention that I have a 1 1/2 in gap at the top of my bench hook which helps steady blocks turned at different angles for a better cut line.

    1. Hi George, As long as you don’t wet the MDF, and you’re not pulling huge editions, I think it works just fine for relief printing. And yes, I am familiar with a notch in the bench hook for angled cutting. Mine was hand made by a friend, so I keep it as is, and work around the issue with wedged rubber door jams. 🙂 Happy printing!

  2. @william – thanks for the compliment. I haven’t been able to snap a shot of our boat from anything other than onboard, but we’re working on that. So, yes, a relief print of a sailboat is on the list. Maybe you should send me a shot of yours from that angle to try it out? 🙂

  3. I use MDF for my large woodblock prints also. I have found that after I carve them if I coat them with a couple layers of thinned Shellac the issue of the MDF swelling when cleaned with water, turpentine etc. goes away. Nice and tight. You should coat both sides of the MDF to stop warping during humidity changes.

    More here:


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