Woodblock printing is a type of relief printmaking. In this technique, the artist sketches a composition on a block of wood and then cuts away pieces from the surface. This leaves a raised area to receive ink. A roller (sometimes called a brayer) is then used to apply ink to the raised surface, and the image is then transferred to paper with a press or by hand burnishing and rubbing. Because the recessed, cut-away areas do not hold ink, they act as white-space on the printed image. Relief prints like woodcuts are usually characterized by bold dark-light contrasts and an impress into the paper of the inked lines.
Color woodcuts in particular are a result of inking one block in multiple colors to build up texture and create vibrance of color. Artists can also use more than one woodblock, each inked in a separate color, to create their composition. A sheet of paper is printed with each of the blocks in turn, using a method of registration to avoid misplacement or overlapping. The greater the complexity (number of woodblocks, number of different colors) of the print, the greater the chance for failed or imperfect impressions. For this reason, successful multi-block, multi-colored woodcuts are rare and a serious show of talent, finesse, and patience.
John Ross used two different woodcut blocks to create “Brittany Harbor”. First, the colors (dark blue, teal, green, and purple inks) are printed onto the paper. Each color is a separate pass through the press, but using the same wood block.
The second block, with finer and more intricate cuts, is then inked with a dark black ink and printed on top of the colored inks. This last block adds important details to the print, like bricks, roof texture, boat masts, and waves.
The resulting final image can be seen below.