How to Identify Woodblock Print

Written by sarena fuller
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How to Identify Woodblock Print
Movable type carved from wood blocks (Caratteri image by Marco Capurso from Fotolia.com)

Woodblock printing is a type of printing method in which the artist uses blocks of wood, metal or stone to create a relief. The printer coats the block with ink and presses it onto a piece of paper or textile, thereby transferring the design. According to the online Encyclopedia of Woodblock Printmaking, the Chinese first created woodcuts shortly after the invention of paper, and woodblock printing was the main printing method for artisans and businesses for centuries. The first printed books and newspapers were woodblock prints that influenced the development of the printing press, which had movable blocks of letters carved from wood.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Magnifying glass
  • Woodblock print

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Instructions

  1. 1

    View the print through a magnifying glass. If it is an original and not a reproduction, you will see areas where the colour or ink has bled through to the reverse side. Look for indentations or impressions where the printer pressed the woodblock onto the paper. If the artist used a wood block, you may see the texture of wood grain in the image.

    How to Identify Woodblock Print
    A magnifying glass will reveal details of a print. (magnifying glass 3 image by Psycience from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

    Note the design. Woodblock prints generally have large areas of either relief or inked designs. On some, you can clearly see the strokes of the carving instrument. If the print is small, look for a flat perspective; it is difficult to create perspective on smaller wood blocks. In larger prints, woodblock artists often used vanishing point or bird's-eye perspective for landscapes and scenes with people. This is especially true with Japanese and Chinese prints.

    How to Identify Woodblock Print
    Wood carving instruments (tools of the trade image by sumos from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

    Look for blocks of colour. Artists traditionally printed colour using separate wood blocks for each one, thereby limiting the number of colours in one design. Typically, woodblock prints have less than three colours, with one or two colours washing over large areas, and another for small details.

  4. 4

    Check for a signature, series title, date or seal. These identifying marks will tell you who designed the print, and when or where it was produced. If you see a signature or series title, look up the artist's name via an Internet search or a book on woodblock print artists. A seal is either the publisher's or artist's mark of authenticity. As noted at Viewing Japanese Prints, the artist's seal on a Japanese print denoted a family crest, studio or literary name, while the publisher's seal was a trademark.

    How to Identify Woodblock Print
    The artist's signature identifies a woodblock print. (signature image by Allyson Ricketts from Fotolia.com)

Tips and warnings

  • Check local museums and art exhibits for information on woodcut prints and artists.
  • Try your local library for books about different woodcut printing styles.

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