Woodcut (also known as xylography) is the oldest system of engraving, and refers to engravings made on wood.
Dating back to Byzantine times, the technique developed to exquisite levels of artistry in 17th century Japan during the “floating world” ukiyo-e period, when artists depicted famous courtesans or kabuki actors of the era using woodcut.
Coloured woodcuts first appeared in ancient China. The oldest known are three Buddhist images dating to the 10th century.
Hand or power tools are used to chisel an image into a block of wood, so it stands out in relief. The raised portions of the block are then inked with a roller. Paper is placed over the inked block and run through a press, transferring ink to paper and creating the image. In Europe, woodcut was originally used to stamp images onto fabric or playing cards, from around 1400.
In the 19th and 20th centuries the technique underwent a major revival, with German expressionists exploiting its scratchy, jagged lines to powerful effect, while some pop artists explored new territories by using electric grinders or chainsaws.