Woodcuts are the oldest method of printmaking. They were first developed in China in the 9th Century. European examples date from the 14th Century. It is called a relief process because the lines and surfaces to which the ink adheres are higher than the parts that are not printed.
To create a woodcut, the artist draws a design on a piece of wood sawed lengthwise across the grain. Pine is the wood most commonly used, although fruitwoods such as pear or cherry may also be used. After smoothing the surface, the wood may be hardened by treating it with shellac. This makes it more durable under the pressure of a press and also makes it easier to carve strong, bold images.
The artist then paints or draws an image on the surface. The wood between the drawn lines is cut away, leaving only the drawn image standing on the surface. To make the cuts chisels, gouges or knives may be used. A roller holding a film of oil-based ink is rolled completely over the block. A sheet of paper, ideally an absorbent paper like rice paper, is placed over the block and the artist may then print the image by hand rubbing the surface with the bowl of a spoon or with another burnishing instrument. The block and paper may be run through a press; under the pressure of the press the image is transferred to paper. The impression is pulled by carefully lifting a corner of the paper and peeling it off the block. Separate blocks are used for color woodcuts, one block is used for each color.