Into the World of Japanese Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing is hard, and David Bull makes it look easy.


I discovered David Bull last summer– the England-born printmaker shows his delicate process of carving and printing through his YouTube Channel. He seemed to simply follow the lines with his knife, cutting the hard cherry swiftly.

While working on the organ a couple months ago, I accidentally bought some warped mahogany. I was still new to woodworking, and did not know how pick and buy the right wood from the store. Completely warped, the slabs of hardwood were unusable for any cabinetry work. After watching Bull, I finally found the wood’s use.

I had two main motivations for starting woodblock printing.

  1. To practice my chisel techniques
  2. To make something that somewhat resembles art.
  3. To distract me from studying for finals

Photo Dec 05, 8 57 01 PMFirst Impressions

For my first try, I decided to make something so easy I could not possibly mess it up: A smiley face. I start by drawing the design in black sharpie. Then, I use a box-cutter to cut out both sides of the lines. I use a half-inch chisel to chop out the large parts of the wood, then the very tip of the box-cutter to notch out the details.

My first mistake was with my tooling. The box-cutter did a fine job of outlining when doing large strokes, but was clunky and uncontrollable when doing detailed curves. The blades dulled with use, requiring me to use more force with less accuracy as I continued to carve. Furthermore, my flat chisel was far less efficient than the preferred gouge that Mr. Bull uses to remove excess material. Many times, the straight edge of the chisel would dig in farther than I anticipated and removed the top layer of the sharpie-covered wood I wanted to keep. One can see this specifically inside the right eye of the smiley-face, where the chisel knocked a large chip accidentally.

Printing was much more straightforward– finding the balance between crisp lines and the dampness of the paper was the only major obstacle.


After playing around with silly designs, I began making illustrations.

As it was finals’ season, I thought of adding a somewhat-education element to the block printings:

Overall, it was a fun project that really did practice my chisel skills. Maybe I will buy a real woodblock printing blade, some nice hard cherry to carve, and professional ink and try again in the future.