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You are hereHarvey-LeeHomeHarvey-LeePrintmaking Techniques Harvey-LeeRelief Harvey-LeeHand-coloured Woodcuts

Hand-coloured Woodcut

Though graphic art by its very nature, with its emphasis on drawing, is largely and most expressively an art of black and white, the tradition of coloured prints is as old as printmaking itself.

The earliest woodcuts, holy images and playing cards, were all hand-coloured (the image printed in black and then hand coloured up) with water-based pigments. It was only at the close of the 15th century that black and white in its own right and without colour applied, became the norm for prints.

Hand colouring employs pigment mixed with water, either opaque body-colour or more translucent washes. In early prints stencils were generally used for speed of repetition. The colour range, quite bright and intense, comprised red, brown, yellow and green. Blue, a very expensive colour, was much more rarely used for colouring old prints.

After the 15th century hand-colouring was generally abandoned and artists devised various ways of printing in colours (using oil-based coloured inks for printing the image).

Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966)
Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966)
"Portrait of Alexandre Dumas, père". 
Hand-coloured woodcut, 1902, on olive grey paper.
( 73 x 72 mm)

However, in the 20th century the interest in more primitive prints, both incunabula and folk art, led a few artists to experiment again with hand-colouring and pochoir (stencil) on their woodcuts, Charles Ginner being the most well-known British example.


The Evangelist St. Mark, Anton Koberger, published 1488,

A hand-coloured woodcut, "The Evangelist St. Mark", from 1488. 

An anonymous Cologne woodcut c1478-79, first issued by Heinrich Quentell for his Cologne Bible and here re-used by Anton Koberger (the uncle of Albrecht Dürer), to illustrate his German Bible published 1488. With period hand-colouring.  120 x 188 mm (image); 358 x 250 mm (sheet)


See also :

RELIEF PRINTING - An Introduction

Wood Engraving

Chiaroscuro Woodcut
Modern Colour Woodcut
Colour Linocut
Colour Wood Engraving