Laser Cutting a Chinese Print Block (part two)

Part one’s project was a practice run to create a replica of a Chinese woodblock, in this case a woodblock from the 1970s that was in fairly good shape (at 40 years old); the block itself  was intact, and the carving still had pretty crisp lines for printing. We were able to successfully create a new block from the previous artwork in a fairly straightforward manner.

The next woodblock that we were looking at was more problematic. Reed College professor Ken Brashier, owner of both woodblocks, estimated that this two-sided woodblock depicting artwork from the Chinese Hell Scrolls, was from the 19th century. This woodblock was in considerably worse shape than the previous woodblock – there were cracks in the woodblock itself, and the artwork, after many decades, had been worn down, or was completely deteriorated in some places. Trying to create a reproduction of this artwork would be considerably more problematic.


The original Hell Scrolls woodblock; note the various cracks and worn-down artwork

Facing the same issues of the previous block, we were unable to simply scan it in, as all the surfaces were black. 3d scanning was a possibility, though the cost would be rather high, and as this was still an experiment, we were hesitant to take this approach. So, we decided to make a print from the existing block after getting approval from Brashier, scan the print in, clean it up in Adobe Photoshop, then have a new print block made of the resulting artwork.

Additionally, there was concerns of using the same water-based paint, as it could potentially damage the over-100 year old wood. So, with the help of the kind guidance of Reed College’s Art Department, we made one print of both sides of the wood block using a oil-based ink, while taking great care not to further damage or break the fragile woodblock.

The prints did not turn out well, reflecting the deterioration of the artwork, as well as the novice printmaker (yours truly).


We then scanned in one of the prints, and, in Adobe Photoshop, added a photo of the original print as another layer. Then, with the aid of a tablet and a lot of patience from our student worker, the each line was painstakingly cleaned up. In some deteriorated areas of the artwork, lines were redrawn where it had been clear there were lines previously.


As in the previous post, the artwork was inverted, as the areas in black needed to be cut out from the linoleum block. Using the settings from the previous project, a new woodblock was created from cleaned-up artwork. Finally, several prints were made of the restored artwork.




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