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The earliest printing process, the woodcut, is produced by cutting away the unwanted part of a piece of wood. The design that is left in relief is inked up with a roller and transferred to paper. The design is drawn directly on the wood which is cut plankwise or along the length of the grain or tree trunk. Cut this way, however, the wood has a tendency to splinter. Artists discovered that they could avoid the problem by cutting on the end grain of hardwood blocks, a process called wood engraving. By using a burin, the wood engraver could produce a wider range of tones than were possible with a woodcut.

In Europe color was used with woodcuts almost as early as the printing press. The earliest example in a book of printing in two or more colors using engraved woodblocks was the Psalter printed by Fust and Schoeffer in Mainz in 1457. More frequent use of color appeared in the sixteenth century, primarily in prints known as "chiaroscuro" which were designed to imitate Renaissance wash drawings. They were usually printed in two or three closely related shades of color and each was printed with a separate wood block. The color woodcut, however, was much more highly developed in Japan, where by the eighteenth century, ten or more colors, each printed with a separate block were used.

Full color printing from wood blocks became popular in Europe from about the middle of the nineteenth century. They became particularly popular for children's books which tended to use simpler images with broad areas of color. This required fewer blocks of wood and therefore fewer press runs and less cost to produce. The children's books written by Kate Greenaway, Randolph Caldecott, and Walter Crane remain classic examples.

Attempts were made throughout the nineteenth century to improve the process and bring together the advantages of both intaglio and relief printing. The most successful of these was the "Baxter Process" named for its inventor, George Baxter (1804-67). The process, which he patented in 1835, combined an copper or steel intaglio key plate which printed the main features of the design (usually in aquatint) followed by color applied by a succession of wood blocks. He used oil rather than water based inks, often using up to twenty wood blocks. The process allowed for both the delicate lines and details of copper plate engravings and the freer use of color of the relief processes. Although Baxter sold his patent to a number of other printers, the technique was seldom used after his death.

The Alphabet of Flowers and Fruit. London: Dean & Son [1856].

An advertisement on the back cover lists this title as one of a series of "coloured six-penny books" for children published by Dean & Son. Others in the series were Rhymes about Royalty and Story about the Good Son.

The Art Album: Sixteen Facsimilies of Water-colour Drawings. Engraved and Printed by Edmund Evans. London: W. Kent and Co., 1861.

The Art Album, printed by Edmund Evans, the greatest wood-engraver of the Victorian era, was an attempt to reproduce the watercolor paintings of some of the best-known artists of the day. While some of the watercolors convert well into wood-engravings, it is clear in others that this is not the best method for reproducing the soft, transparent look of this medium.

The Baby's Bouquet: a Fresh Bunch of Old Rhymes and Tunes; a Companion to the "Baby's Opera" arranged & decorated by Walter Crane; cut & printed in colours by Edmund Evans; the tunes collected & arranged by L. C. London: G. Routledge [1880].

The Baby's Bouquet which included nursery songs from France, Germany, and England was a tremendous success with several hundred thousand copies sold. The designs were more sophisticated than most books designed for children at the time and show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, Japanese art and the developing Arts and Crafts Movement.

Baxter, George, 1804-1867.
The Pictorial Album, or, Cabinet of Paintings. London: Chapman & Hall [1837].

The Pictorial Album, a selection of Baxter's color reproductions of paintings, was the first English book fully illustrated by pictures printed in colors intended to appeal to a popular audience. The richly colored plates are beautifully done, requiring between ten and twenty printings. However, the original paintings are examples of the trite, overly-sentimental style of the period.

Browning, Robert, 1812-1889.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Illustrated by Kate Greenaway. London: Frederick Warne and Co. [1880].

Kate Greenaway's simple use of color and somewhat childlike designs show up well in wood engraving. The Pied Piper was strongly influenced by Pre-Raphaelite art and by Greenaway's teacher and mentor, John Ruskin.

Chatto, William Andrew, 1799-1864. A Treatise on Wood Engraving, Historical and Practical. London: C. Knight & Co., 1839.

This survey of wood engraving became the standard work on the subject for much of the nineteenth century. It contains early examples of the original processes of color wood engraving done by George Baxter and Charles Knight, pioneers of the process.

Goldsmith, Oliver, 1728-1774. The Poems of Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Robert Aris Willmott. With illustrations by Birket Foster and H.N. Humphreys. London: G. Routledge, 1859.

Birket Foster, a well known landscape and watercolor artist, made his drawings for this directly onto the woodblocks. After they were engraved, a paper copy was sent to him which he colored as he wished the final copy to appear. The engraver and printer, Edmund Evans, bought the same pigments that Foster had used and ground them himself to produce inks that matched the original coloring. The printing was done on a hand-press and required nine or ten press runs to produce.

Mudie, Robert, 1777-1842. Spring, or, the Causes, Appearances, and Effects of the Seasonal Renovations of Nature in All Climates. London: T. Ward & Co., 1837.

This title, one of a series on the seasons, is one of the earliest examples of relief printing with oil based inks, developed by George Baxter.

Savage, William, 1770-1843. Practical Hints on Decorative Printing, with Illustrations Engraved on Wood, and Printed in Colours at the Type Press. London: For the Proprietor, by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; T. Cadell; J. Booth; J. Major; R. Triphook; and R. Jennings, 1822.

This pioneering work in color printing covers Savage's experiments with inks, types, and presses. He developed colored printing inks using resins and soaps that avoided the problems of earlier oil-based colors. The book illustrates his process of wood block printing using as many as twenty-nine different colors in one image. While the plates are not as attractive as the later works of George Baxter or Edmund Evans, it was Savage's experiments that made their work possible.

Treasures of Art, and Beauties of Song: Embellished with Eight Facsimiles of Water-colour Drawings and Other Illustrations. Engraved and printed by Edmund Evans. London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler [1865].

Designed as a gift book, Treasures of Art brings together wood engravings of well-known paintings and popular verse. A note inside the front cover of this copy states, "Prize for Good Conduct and uniform diligence during the Half-year ending Christmas 1867."

Color Printing: Introduction Intaglio Processes Lithography Nature Printing

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