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Woodcut or woodblock printing is the oldest form of printmaking, which uses an incised woodblock to transfer a design from the woodblock to another surface. Linocut, lino printing, or linoleum art is a variant of woodblock printmaking in which a sheet of linoleum is mounted on a woodblock and the desired design is incised into the linoleum surface. Linoleum printing emerged out of desire for a cleaner print. In woodblock printing, directional grain and splitting of the wood during the carving process made woodblock printing more challenging. Both are forms of relief printing techniques in which some areas of the design are raised, while the recessed areas are not.

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How are woodcut and linocut prints made?

Woodcut and linocut prints are made in the same way: by incising the surface with a sharpened tool. In woodblock printing, the block is usually made of pearwood and is seasoned to reduce the retention of moisture, which reduces cracking and warping. It’s important to note that the image incised on the block will create a mirror image on the final surface, so designs are often incised backwards on the block. Ink is then rolled onto the surface of the block and then the block is placed ink-side down onto the final surface. The size of the block, in both techniques, depends on the size of the desired resulting image. In the case of woodblock printing, multiple blocks are often used for a larger design since smaller wooden blocks are less likely to crack.

How can you identify a valuable print?

When identifying a quality print, it is important to first assess the overall physical condition of the print. Is the impression of the design complete? What is the condition of the paper (foxing, discoloration, tears, fading)? Look for a watermark or signature. Value of the print can also be influenced by the number of the print if the individual was a part of a series. This will be indicated at the bottom of the print and appear as a fraction indicating the number of the print out of the total number in the series. The denominator (or total number in the print run) will indicate that the artist destroys the plate after the total number of prints has been pulled, ensuring that no more prints from this particular plate can be pulled again. The greater the number of prints, available of the particular image, the less valuable the individual print becomes. 

What kind of damage can occur and how can I protect my print over time?

  • Foxing Foxing is a common and unavoidable condition that occurs to paper as it ages. It appears in the form of reddish brown spots caused by the iron in the paper and mildew spores that feed on the paper.
  • Acid Burn Acid burn is usually caused by wood or wood pulp coming into contact with the paper (not in the case of woodblock printing, but with prolonged exposure). Wood is very acidic and can cause a browning of the paper. A matte containing wood pulp or a wooden frame without a barrier between the wood of the frame and the print can cause acid burn. The process can usually be reversed by a professional paper conservator, but the process is not cheap!
  • UV Damage Paper is sensitive to light. The thinner and lower quality the paper, the more susceptible to UV damage. UV light damage can cause fading or yellowing of the paper.
  • General Filth If the paper has been out in the open and unframed, it is likely that it has accumulated some grime or filth from handling and surrounding conditions. This can usually be cleaned by a professional paper conservator. Framing the paper behind glass can help prevent an overwhelming build up of grime, but dust can still make its way into the frame and onto your work. A periodic and gentle dusting of the unframed work should be performed with a very fine, soft brush that will not cause surface abrasions.

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