Part III: WOODBLOCK PRINTING & the work of ann macintosh duff

  • Ann MacIntosh Duff is widely recognized as one of the finest watercolourists in Canada, working only on paper throughout her career spanning seven decades. Beginning in the 1990s, MacIntosh Duff made wood engravings that were hand-carved and hand-printed at her Toronto studio. Using a small block of wood, in a scale that was small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, she carved out scenes of her immediate surroundings in Toronto and Georgian Bay, from memory. MacIntosh Duff used everyday objects to make the prints, including the back of a spoon to transfer the ink onto the paper. The straight forward technique lent itself to her expressive style and preferred working methods.


    Duff has been a member of the Ontario Society of of Artists, Canadian Society of Graphic Art. the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour. Her work has been exhibited alongside other important Canadian painters and printmakers, such as David Milne, J.W.G. Macdonald and Paraskeva Clark. 


    An exhibition of Duff's watercolours, To Love and To Cherish - Paintings from Scotch Pine Island, curated by John Hartman is on view at the gallery from May 7 - 28, 2022. For additional information, click here.

  • Ann MacIntosh Duff, Summer Astronomy

    Ann MacIntosh Duff

    Summer Astronomy wood engraving
    Plate: 3 x 3 3/4 in.
    Sheet: 7 x 7 in.
    Edition of 50
    $ 500.00
  • Ann MacIntosh Duff, Theatre

    Ann MacIntosh Duff

    Theatre wood engraving
    Plate: 3 x 4 in.
    Sheet: 6 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.
    Edition of 50
    $ 500.00
  • MacIntosh Duff's woodcuts feature intricate and technically  challenging details, such as text, which would have been engraved as a mirror image.

  • Ann MacIntosh Duff, Northern Cabin

    Ann MacIntosh Duff

    Northern Cabin wood engraving
    Plate: 3 x 4 in.
    Sheet: 7 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.
    Edition of 50
    $ 500.00
  • Ann MacIntosh Duff, Gneiss

    Ann MacIntosh Duff

    Gneiss wood engraving
    Plate: 3 x 3 3/4 in.
    Sheet: 8 x 6 1/2 in.
    Edition of 50
    $ 500.00

  • Woodblock printing is a technique that has stood the test of time.  The approach is technically simple, yet effective, and affords the artist a uniquely tactile experience that in contrast to many modern, digital approaches is intimately connected to elements of the natural world.  


    Woodcuts first originated as a way to apply text and designs to textiles and paper, with the earliest remaining examples stemming from third century China. Due to its convenience in production and application, woodblock printing became the most commonly applied printing technique throughout East Asia until the 17th Century where it was a popular means of reproducing Buddhist texts and other books.  


    Woodblock printing came to Europe in the 14th century and became a cheaper alternative to texts produced using the printing press.  Block-books were popular and featured both text and images carved into the same block.  Woodcuts were also applied in the production of popular illustrations and in making everyday objects like playing cards.


    Historically, artists only designed their woodcuts and left the actual block-carving to trained craftsmen.  The best of these carvers became as well known in their time as the artists who designed the work.  Eventually woodcut printing was supplanted by engraving as a means of printing illustrations for texts because they allowed for finer lines and more detailed images.  Woodblock printing remained, however, primarily as an artistic pursuit and is a technique that has seen many resurgences over time as artists were able to achieve different tones and textures in their work.  

  • Woodblock carving in process in Yangliuqing, China. Photo: Imaginechina.

  • Many well-known contemporary artists have incorporated woodblock printing into their practice, including Chuck Close, Helen Frankenthaler, Takao Tanabe, Vija Celmins, and Alex Katz. 

  • Chuck Close, Self-Portrait, 2007

    Chuck Close

    Self-Portrait, 2007

    hand-printed woodcut
    37 x 30 in.
    Edition of 60


    Close collaborated with master printers and carvers in line with the ancient traditions to create a series of well-known portraits and self-portraits, which are among the largest Japanese-style woodblock prints ever made. 

  • Helen Frankenthaler, Freefall, 1993

    Helen Frankenthaler

    Freefall, 1993

    colour woodcut on paper


    Frankenthaler studied woodcut production in Japan, but also innovated the practice by incorporating everyday tools and supplies (even a turkey-baster!) to interesting effect.  A lesser-known part of her practice, her woodcuts are admired for their scale and vivid colours.


    Image: © 2021 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / ARS, NY and DACS, London / Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, NY. Photo credit: Dulwich Picture Gallery

  • Vija Celmins, Ocean Surface Woodcut, 1992

    Vija Celmins

    Ocean Surface Woodcut, 1992
    woodcut on paper
    224 × 304 mm
    Celmins has produced remarkably delicate woodcuts of oceans and skies that could be easily mistaken for photographs.  These works were produced with great effort and illustrate how far the medium can be pushed in the direction of realism, while remaining mysterious.
    ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland