Rod Nelson: Woodblock printing at home

Learn the art of woodblock printing, with a new video masterclass by RWA Drawing School tutor Rod Nelson…

by Sarah Edmonds


 “Woodblock prints have a quality and a power that cannot be found in any other medium.” Rod Nelson


There has never been a better time to learn a new skill or enjoy the meditative quality of crafting at home. Where before you may have joined a workshop or weekly group; now we are being encouraged to set up studios in our spare rooms and garages. The RWA Drawing School is offering Zoom lessons, and now we have the perfectly-timed  launch of ‘Making Woodblock Prints’ – a DVD and digital download masterclass from Drawing School tutor, Rod Nelson.

With only a handful of carefully selected materials, the myriad possible woodcut effects are endless and the results vary from delicate to dynamic. Everyone has the potential to create stunning prints. 

Rod Nelson – ‘Flow Surface’
Rod Nelson – ‘Shadow Falls with Shadow’

Rod is a prolific printmaker, a tutor at West Dean College of Art and Conservation, and exhibits with the Royal Society for British Artists and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  I’ve known him for a few years now and he’s always got a project on the go. He has spent a lifetime dedicated to his craft. Having authored a book by the same title in 2015, he felt it was time to share his knowledge more widely. ‘Making Woodblock Prints’ is a two hour, nine part ‘workshop’ in bite size, easy to follow lessons – it’s the fast track to everything learnt over the course of 30 years!


“There’s a joy to be had at every stage….the excitement of lifting the print for the first time” Merlyn Chesterman


Rod shares the stage with fellow printmaker and equally eminent authority on the subject, Merlyn Chesterman RE. Merlyn is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, author and fellow teacher at West Dean. She has studied printmaking in China and exhibits internationally, with her work gracing collections at the V&A and Ashmolean Museum.

They are an expert duo and their passion for this art form is evident throughout and their approach is accessible to every viewer.

Hokusai – ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’. The 17th century Japanese printmakers Hokusai and Hiroshige influenced artists including Monet, Degas and Van Gogh. Monet in particular amassed a huge collection of woodblock prints.

Block Printing has a long history dating as far back as 2nd century China. Many will associate it with the famous image ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ – a Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai.

Rod writes about his admiration for the printmaker: “Hokusai is best known as a woodblock printmaker, and though print is sometimes perceived erroneously as a ‘secondary medium’, a short perusal of his work dispels this notion absolutely. In Hokusai’s hands, printmaking stands the equal of any other artistic medium. There is hardly anyone who is not excited by [The Great Wave off Kanagawa] when seeing it for the first time (or even for the hundredth). It is visually as accessible to a six year old as to a Professor of Art.

“Hokusai portrays the wave as shaving the quality of a magnificent predatory beast, which hovers, as time freezes for a millisecond, with its hungry claws spread above the huddling mariners who are utterly at its mercy. As Hokusai portrays this instant, their fate is undecided. The more one moves into an image such as this and the artists of Hokusai’s stature who are capable of making such art, the more dimensional, the more awesome and mysterious their work becomes. I like to think that in the pantheon of the very highest achievement of artistic possibility, chuckles Hokusai, relishing his place. He knew that he was good.”


Buy ‘Making Woodblock Prints’

“Woodcuts are images that simply can’t be made in any other way. They sit on the boundary between art and craft – and anyone making woodcuts will quickly experience the delights and terrors of both.” Rod Nelson


Topics in the class are worked through methodically and include: Essential Tools, Developing your own marks, Introducing Colour, Layer Blocks with Colour, Cutting an Underblock, Inking the Block, Proofing and Editioning, Advanced Printing Techniques and Tool Sharpening.


Buy the DVD (£19.99) or digital download (£18.99) here.



About Sarah Edmonds: I am a freelance PR & Marketer for Creatives. I work with fine artists, film makers, printmakers and lighting designers writing copy, creating opportunities and advising on all things marketing. I have a degree in Italian Studies which included a year at the Slade School of Fine Art and a degree from Chartered Institute of Marketing. I am a contributor to The Artist magazine and a practising artist myself. View my website here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram.


The Friends of the RWA is an independent charity that supports the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol’s first art gallery. 
For just £35 a year Friends can make unlimited visits to RWA exhibitions and enjoy a host of other benefits, as well as making an important contribution to the arts in Bristol and the South West. Find out more and join up here.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s