Woodcut vs. Screen Print

 

The King in Yellow Woodcut & Serigraph

I received a message recently from someone who had purchased one of my screen prints, loved it, and wanted to know more about the differences between my woodcuts and screen prints. Since I took the time to write a thorough answer, I thought I ought to share it with everyone. I chose The King in Yellow as an example to discuss the different processes.

King in Yellow woodcut on cream cotton rag paper

To make the woodcut (aka xylograph) I sketch the art, transfer it to a piece of shina plywood, then carve it using knives & gouges (no power tools). Carving this woodcut probably took 10-20 hours. Once the block is refined to my satisfaction, I ink it with a brayer, move it to the press bed, align a sheet of heavy cotton rag paper on it, lay a felt blanket over it, and run it through the hand-cranked etching press. I estimate that in the case of the KiY it takes 10-15 minutes to ink and print each print. The prints then dry in a rack for at least two weeks before I inspect them, destroy the errors, and sign/number the edition. (Incidentally, if you want a King in Yellow woodcut print, I have only two remaining from the edition of 23 as of 4/21/18. Get yours here!)

The King in Yellow Serigraph on birdseye maple

The screen prints (aka serigraphs) are made by taking a digital scan of one of the original woodcut prints and using it to make a transparency which can be exposed on a photo emulsion coated screen. For the KiY I digitally removed the abstract background because I felt it would clash with the wood grains. I also scaled the image down. I then set up the screen and create a registration jig so I can place my wood veneer sheets in the same position every time. Once I have made my jig, printing each is a process than can take less than a minute. Much of this time is spent taping down the wood, then removing it after the ink is applied and putting it in the drying racks. Drying this ink takes 3 days, then I inspect them and save errors to be reused as registration jigs or to test ink on the back. (Want a King in Yellow serigraph? They are available here.)

Here’s a summary of what is similar between the two formats:

Both are handmade processes & can have minor variations due to the vagaries of wood and inking.
Both are almost entirely made by me. (I sometimes have an assistant tear paper, carry prints to the drying rack, and help clean up.)
Both are made with archival inks, though not the same ink. Both are inspected for quality & packaged with acid free polybags & mats.

Here’s a summary of what is different between the two formats:

Woodcut is the original artwork and is considered a fine art print.
My woodcut prints are signed by me, and typically limited in edition size.
My woodcuts on paper are printed with enough pressure to slightly emboss the paper, which gives them a subtle visual effect that simply doesn’t translate well to photos and scans. The papers I use are archival quality and typically hand-torn instead of cut.
Woodcuts are much slower to print than screen prints. Wood wears down over time, and I use a soft carving wood, so I can only pull so many prints from the woodcut.

Screen prints (as I make them) are reproductions based on the original woodcuts.
The art is altered to better suit the wood veneer I print on, and also scaled down.
The ink applied to the wood does not get embossed.
Wood veneer is not technically considered archival, though it should be long lasting.
Screen prints are faster to produce and are unsigned. When the screen wears out, I can make new screens and continue printing as many as I want.