Here's a side view of a finished block - the 'area for printing' is the original surface of the wood. Such areas are surrounded by 'valleys' - places where the wood has been carved away. If you think about this for a minute, you may realize that the printing areas should be those places on your tracing that are black, and the valleys must be the areas that are white.
When pigment is rubbed on such a finished block, and paper pressed onto it, the ink will thus form a reproduction of the original design ...
Carving this key block will be a four step process:
- cutting around the lines and areas of the design
- clearing away the bulk of the unwanted wood
- final trimming up to the cut lines
- carving the registration marks
Cutting the lines of the design:
You can hold the carving knife either in your fist (giving stronger cutting), or just like a pencil (giving easier guidance). Cut around the lines of the design, holding the knife at an angle that will produce a beveled edge on the final areas (see the image). Keep the tip of the blade about 1 ~ 2mm deep in the wood, and go right around the entire outline of each area.
Although in the old days here in Japan it was considered a matter of pride for the carver not to rotate the block as he worked, we mortals feel no such restriction. Move the block into a convenient orientation for each particular cut.
The general motion is to cut along one side of the line as you draw the knife toward you ...
... then turn the block around and cut the other side of the line in the same way.
At each point where lines intersect, or where there is a 'corner' in the design, make an additional cut (in the white area) and pop out a small triangle at that point.
This will make it much easier to see where you have cut, and will also make subsequent clearing work easier ...
Complicated designs like the old ukiyo-e prints could take weeks to carve at this stage, but our sample print shouldn't take that long (unless you only spend 5 minutes a day at it!). It is true though, that this cutting of the key block is the single most time-consuming part of the process of making a woodblock print. How neatly you work at this stage will also have a great affect on the appearance of the finished print, so try and be patient, cut neatly, and don't rush the work ...
When all the lines have been cut, it's time to move on to the clearing stage ...