Simple Truth – Woodcut Lesson

Unit Title: Ideas in Printmaking

Grade Level: 10
Time: 90 min class sessions


Sophomores at X have just completed a lesson in Linocut Prints titled “Elaborate Lie”.
The aim of the lesson was to approach printmaking as a solution to a conceptual problem. The constraint (or assignment) involved a comparison between concept and process: an elaborate lie is like a linocut, which pretends to be a woodcut, and must be toiled with and detailed. It cannot be taken back. It will multiply and spread, with slight variation.
Students have approached the acquisition of this skill in a way that emulates a true art practice: techniques emerge when artists experiment with different approaches to fulfill some intent.
The next lesson involves woodblock printing. The prompting assignment is “Simple Truth.”
A simple truth is as reliable as a tree, recording events in the rings of its wood. Wood keeps true to its grain and can only be shaped by sure hands.

Learning Objectives:

Students will

  • understand the relationship between concept and process.
  • engage in research and dialogue.
  • understand avoiding cliché material to develop creative, original images
  • learn the technique of drawing from reference.
  • learn the technique of preparing a drawing for a woodblock print.
  • learn the technique of transferring images in reverse.
  • learn the technique of cutting and gouging pine.
  • learn the technique of printing editions and work prints.


drawing paper, pencils, sharpies, photocopier, transfer paper, spare pine (students should acquire their own), standard japanese woodcut printing tools ($4.00 for a set of 12 at Blick) printmaking ink, plexiglass sheets, rollers, printing paper, access to a vandercook press


Students will look at examples of woodblock prints, in preparation for determining the kinds of marks they can make. Students should remember that decisions about marks can affect their image, concept or intent.

These artists come from different years, places and styles. Here are some examples:


Week 1

●  Before the prompt is introduced, students are at different stages of completion with their previous assignment, but they have already been asked to begin scouting for scrap pine.

●  Students who have completed their portfolio and the appropriate amount of editioned prints can move on to sketches for the next assignment: Simple Truth.

○ The following is written on the board:
A simple truth is like a tree, recording events in the rings of its trunk. Wood keeps true to its grain and can only be shaped by sure hands.
●  Student should begin with three sketches that originate from the prompt.
●  Students should also consider how their new piece will relate to their image for the Elaborate Lie assignment. They can choose to be self-referential, or move in a new direction.

○ Teachers will walk around the room to ask students if they need assistance and provide exercises for those who are running into trite or overused imagery.


Simple Truth

 → write down (using one or two words) 1 object, 1 philosophy, 1 person, and 1 situation that represent simple truth.

→ once you have written these items down, pick two that interest you the most
→ for each of these, develop three quick sketches: 1 realistic, 1 fantastic and 1 abstract
→ chose the strongest sketch as an anchor for your piece.
remember that a prompt is an origin point, and does not need to be the conclusive interpretation of your work.

●  After students decide on an interesting direction, they are asked to bring in reference images to supplement the drawing process.

●  Students should have acquired a block of pine or plywood, and sketch according to the dimensions of their piece.

●  Everyone must bring in wood for next Monday.

Week 2

●  During this week, students should finish the drawing portion of their assignment, and move on to photocopying an outlined version of their image to determine the possibilities of mark making. Emphasis on looking carefully at the grain of their block, and how the grain might complement or interfere with the image.

●  Each student should make at least three photocopies for different versions of the image.

Week 3

●  Sanding and varnishing blocks in preparation for mark making

  • sand with the grain, begin with rough sandpaper, then use finer paper for polishing
  • keep in mind that sometimes texture is desirable, and even the slightest abrasion in the wood is printable.

●  Transference demo

  • Once the piece of wood is prepared, the image should be transferred onto the block.
  • First, use transparency paper to outline the image
  • Then flip the image horizontally, and use carbon paper to transfer lines onto the block of wood.
  • Use a sharpie to go over the lead, so that the image won’t smear during the process of cutting.

●  Woodcut demo

  • Many of the tools will be familiar after the linoleum assignment.
  • A Japanese woodcut set contains u gouges, v gouges, blades and chisels of varying sizes.
  • Start by outlining all the forms in your image with a knife, remembering which areas will be cleared and which will be preserved.
  • Try at least two passes with the blade, indenting the wood as much as possible to prevent chipping.
  • After using the blade, you can begin gouging, clearing large areas first, then moving into details.
  • always cut away from your body
Week 4
  • Printing Demo: Lay newsprint on the table, and outline your sheet size.
  • Place your woodblock on top of the outline, and trace it so that your piece lands in the center of your page.
  • When you are ready to print: put gloves on, ink your block, place it on its outline, remove gloves and place the sheet on the block, using the outline to orient the process.
  • Use a brayer or a wooden spoon to rub the back of the page. Be consistent and thorough.
  • Place the page on the drying rack for at least 20 min.
Week 5
  • Students are familiar with editions from the previous assignment. They should create a portfolio with an edition of 5 identical prints and 2 experimental prints.



Assessment of Student Work:

Name ___________________


Print editions and work prints should be placed in portfolio.

Points Received

Points Possible

Preliminary sketch (Week 1)


Final Drawing


Photocopies (3 or more) to map cuts, including white areas, black areas, and textures.


Insightful participation in group discussions


Simple Truth woodblock print complete


Edition of 5 Simple Truth prints


2 experimental Simple Truth work prints


Portfolio complete


____ /50


Visual Art Standards:

Standard 2: Knowing and Using Arts Materials and Resources
Students will be knowledgeable about and make use of the materials and resources available for participation in the arts in various roles.

Standard 4: Understanding the Cultural Dimensions and Contributions of the Arts
Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.