I’m all about traditional hand-carved woodblock prints, in fact, they may be my favorite type of illustration. But sometimes when you have your heart set on a project (in this case, a custom woodblock print), your budget and timeline means you have to cut corners. Authentic woodblock printing requires lots of different tools and a whole lotta time dedicated to carving. So with a little ingenuity, I opted instead to use my Dremel rotary tool to begin my foray into the wonderful world of wood cut art. This one tool simplified the entire process down to about an hour! And with no wrist strain, I can keep working on perfecting my technique. Keep reading to see how you can make your own custom woodblock print with only a rotary tool.
What You’ll Need
- Any Size Wood Block: Pine, Birch or Poplar
- Dremel Tool and Tips
- Tracing Paper and Print Paper
- Water-based Block Printing Ink or Paint
- Paintbrush or Rubber Brayer
- Pen and Pencil
The first step in creating a woodblock print is to choose an image that you’ll want to replicate and feel comfortable carving. It’s important to choose a design that is relatively simple and will result in a clear print. This drawing I decided to go with was a cloud and lightning design with the specific intention of using two different colors in my finished print. Once you have your drawing ready, it’s time to trace!
Depending on your woodblock, you may need to prepare the surface for carving. Since I decided to go with an off-cut block of Pine left over from another project, I had to sand the edges and even out the flat faces. To transfer the image onto the woodblock, I used some tracing paper I had on hand from a embroidered gift I made (waste not, want not). You can also trace the image in pencil lead and then burnish the back of the paper so that image is rubbed onto your woodblock. You may need to go back over your design to ensure that the transferred sketch will not be accidentally erased during carving.
This is where your trusty Dremel rotary tool comes in. I found it easiest to use the the engraving/cutting Dremel bits to define the image shape and not lose any details. One the image outline is carved, you can begin working out toward the edges of the block. Slow and steady is crucial to not over-carve and remove wood that is pertinent to the design. I took it a step further and used a sanding tip to help polish the “background” and avoid any stray marks from appearing in the finished print. Work outdoors because you will get sawdust everywhere!
After you have finished the carving portion, the hard part is over! You are ready to proof your woodblock and start printing. Not having any woodblock ink at my disposal, I used regular water-based acrylic paint. You’ll want to paint the woodblock using a paintbrush or rolling brayer. Any paint accidentally picked up by stray piece of wood will let you know if you need to make any last minute changes to your carving. Let the woodblock sit while you prepare your paper for printing.
I decided to go with 98-pound mixed media paper that can be used with ink, watercolor, or paint. Once your woodblock has been proofed, apply a thin coat of ink or paint. It was a bit difficult to do this with just a paint brush, so I recommend springing for a brayer or putty knife. Once prepped, you can then place the print paper face down onto the woodblock. Carefully press down onto the paper and work your fingers using even pressure from the center out. Do not move or re-adjust the paper as this will cause the image to blur. You may have to use several pieces of paper to find a result that you like. After printing, I went back over the design with a paintbrush to clean up some of the edges. The great thing about woodblock prints is that every one is unique and full of character.
Have you ever made your own woodblock print, traditional or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!