The History of Woodblock Printing

It’s that time of year again folks! Buffalo BookFest is upon us! With the promise of steamroller prints, countless vendors, and free hands-on demos all day, we’re anxiously awaiting for BookFest to begin!

 

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the process that allows us to operate that awesome, massive steamroller in the first place. Woodblock printing is a relief print technique in which images, designs, or words are carved in reverse onto a block of wood using wood carving tools. The image is then inked and printed onto paper, cloth, or other materials. Though this printing method is now used rather casually and has experienced a sort of resurgence in society, it is the oldest form of printing and began as a traditional technique which changed society as we know it.

Woodblock printing is thought to be the very first form of printing that took place in the world, long before any sort of assistive machinery was invented for the printing process. This method of printing originated in Asia, specifically China, and some of the earliest examples of Chinese woodblock printing date back to before 220 AD. A notable achievement, the Tang and Song dynasties developed these first forms of printing and moveable type. Up until the 19th century, woodblock printing was the most popular and common form of printing in East Asia. After its Asian origin, woodblock printing spread to Europe where it was further used to print books on alchemy and medicine, religious texts, calendars, and images and patterns for clothing and art.

So why exactly is woodblock printing so important? Why does it even matter? Well, the invention of woodblock printing meant the invention of information; more specifically, the spread of information. Woodblock printing allowed for the spread of information, religious texts, and news, making literacy more accessible to the general population. This concept is a common thread throughout history; the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg sparked a movement of increased literacy throughout Europe, and directly lead to the rise and spread of religion and revolution.

Though now used for seemingly less revolutionary projects, woodblock printing has resurfaced as a niche artform utilized by many smaller printing shops, including our very own Book Arts Center! We plan to put woodblock printing in the spotlight at our upcoming Buffalo BookFest, Saturday July 13th. Come out and join us from 12-5 for a full day of free printing demos, an artisan market chock full of talented local artists, and the beloved steamroller which will be used to create massive, one of a kind woodblock prints!

Learn more & join us on July 13th!

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our funders listed below, for providing support to WNYBAC's ongoing programs taking place throughout Western New York:

NYSCA M & T Art 4 Moore Zenger Group Evans Bank Community Foundation Baird Foundation
Cameron Jane Wendt Foundation StoryGrowing