Linocut, woodcut
and wood engraving

Linocut, woodcut and wood engraving are all types of relief printing processes, in which a piece of linoleum or block of wood is carved so that the image stands out in relief. The raised parts that are not cut away are inked with a brayer (a hand-roller) and printed. A sheet of dampened paper is then placed over the block and firm pressure applied so that the inked surface is transferred to the paper. Rather than a mechanical printing press, Escher used the back of a small ivory spoon to do this, or a rolling pin for larger works. Inscribed just below many of Escher’s woodcuts and wood engravings are the Dutch words eigen druk, meaning ‘own printing’.

For a woodcut, the wood is sawn along the grain so that it can be carved quite easily with a knife-like tool. Wood engraving is slightly different and uses end grain wood, which is very hard. As this is more difficult to cut, the lines are incised into the woodblock with a sharp metal tool, meaning the image can be much more detailed. Wood engravings are usually also smaller than woodcuts due to them being restricted to the diameter of the tree trunk.

Escher’s first print was a linocut of his father in 1916, and a few years later he began making woodcuts, which became his favourite print technique. Later, in 1931, he was introduced to wood engraving.

Escher’s last print, Snakes, 1969, is probably his most technically complex woodcut; it also contains different colours. The video below shows Escher carving the woodblock for Snakes and using a rolling pin to print it. Notice how the block is just a segment of the whole image, like a pizza slice. As the composition is a repeated pattern, Escher used three of these ‘pizza slice’ blocks: one for the orange snakes, one for the interlocking pattern of green rings, and one for the black outlines. In order to align the blocks perfectly, Escher used a pinhole in the centre of the print, called a registration point.


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All M. C. Escher’s works and texts © The M. C. Escher Company, the Netherlands. All rights reserved