An example of a relief print is a woodcut. The artist will carve away the valleys leaving the hills untouched. When the hills are covered with ink (the ink is put on with a roller), only the hills (the uncarved areas) are covered. The valleys do not make contact with the roller and therefore don’t pick up ink. When paper makes contact with the wood, it picks up the ink from the hills and the image itself.  




Katsushika Hokusai’s The Wave, 1831, is a color woodcut. How do different hills on the surface of the wood block print in different colors? This is where it truly becomes time consuming. There must be a separate block of wood for each color, because each color has its own distinct hills that need to be inked and printed. So, Hokusai probably had as many as eight blocks for this print. Each had the identical image traced onto its surface, but with different areas carved out. The blocks would be printed separately with background colors first. The artist had to ensure that each block would be lined up correctly so that each color be properly placed. That is called “registration.”

Hokusai’s Southerly Wind and Fine Weather, 1820’s, only needed perhaps two blocks to print the image: one for the orange image of Mt. Fuji, and one for the blue-gray to suggest the trees in the foreground and blue sky above. Due to the overlap of the blue on top of the orange, it is obvious that the orange was printed first and blue second. Especially with this print, it is very easy to see the carving into the surface. Cuts need not be deep. They can be simple slivers going horizontally to define clouds or quick nicks into the surface to suggest the pattern to be read as a forest of firs.