Tutorial + How-to

Published on July 18th, 2009 | by Julie Finn

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Printing Woodcuts from Children’s Alphabet Blocks: A Tutorial

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building block woodcutsSpending a happy Sunday afternoon digging through the bins at the Goodwill Outlet Store, I happened upon the awesomest huge alphabet blocks.

Nevermind that both my daughters are just a bit too old for alphabet blocks–in my house, we do not turn down such things as vintage blocks, painted on two sides and featuring woodcuts of a letter and something awesome that starts with that letter on the other two sides. No, my girls helped me scavenge through that huge Goodwill bin until we’d found every block we could–no W, alas, and no S, and no J, but still many awesome blocks to be had.

You know those cool illustrations in some books, that look like they’re stamped but might also have painted details, and can take up an entire page in a children’s picture book and be incredible elaborate? Those are woodcuts, and you can print them off of any old alphabet block in which the letters or illustrations are carved into the block, not just painted on, and since you’re recycling, you don’t have to worry about the ethics of crafting with wood. Here’s how:

 You will need:

  • something to stamp with. Look for vintage alphabet blocks at garage sales or thrift stores, or while out dumpster-diving. You can sometimes get a deal on these, because you won’t care if they’re all beat up.
  • something to stamp on. My girls and I use professional-quality artist’s papers–Strathmore, usually–or recycled or vintage papers, from old schoolbooks, perhaps, or from brown paper bags.
  • stamp ink. Wood is slightly porous–the fact that it will suck up a little bit of your ink is part of what makes up the distinct look of a woodcut. Just don’t think that you can do some art with these alphabet blocks and then pass them on to your nephew for Christmas. Unless you varnish your block first, which will change the look of your print, these blocks don’t always clean up perfectly. They’re art supplies, now.
  • wet discloth. You can clean up your block between colors although, like I said, wood is a little porous so don’t expect it to come back sparkling.

cleaning the block between printsBasically, you can use these woodcut blocks just like rubber stamps with two exceptions:

  1. Wood blocks, unlike stamps, have no give whatsoever. You may not even think that the stamps you usually use have any give until you try stamping with a wood block. I generally turn my block and paper upside down and burnish from the paper side as I stamp, to get the clearest image.
  2. Wood blocks, like stamps, reverse the image when they stamp. I actually really like this in some of my work, like certain Artist Trading Cards that my girls and I make. Other solutions, though–if your cut image has an image and a word for instance, like my alphabet blocks that have an image of a tiger and then, you know, also say “tiger,” you can fill in the word with clay or putty. And for letters, think ones that have a vertical symmetry axis–A, H, I, M, O, T, U, V, W, X, and Y.

Do you make art with something that wasn’t intended for it?

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About the Author

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now. Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.



  • http://www.tallysplace.blogspot.com cindi

    i love love love this idea! it is me in so many ways…thrifted, alphabet, recycling, repurposing… i could go on and on. thanks for telling about this. i can’t wait to go out and look for some wooden blocks.

  • http://mymomsbasement.etsy.com Emilee

    Such a great idea, recycling a great way to flex those creative muscles! You could make some cute banners too, maybe a “happy birthday” with the stamps. Cute!

  • TJ

    Somebody brought some wooden blocks into our handbuilding ceramics class, and they made awesome patterns on the clay! Another great texture for clay comes from the large multi-bubble bubble wands. Also good are K’nex and LEGO.

  • http://www.bannerprintingshop.com/ Banner Printing

    Thanks for sharing this awesome printing woodcuts tutorial.

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