Wood grain contains evocative organic patterns suggesting the flow of water, clouds or geological landforms.

It is fun to incorporate it into your prints, and if you let yourself ‘go with the flow’ the natural designs may suggest new themes and imagery for your work.

Patterns of growth in trees

Wood grain is formed by the growth rings of the tree; each year the tree adds a new ring comprising hard and soft tissue in response to the growing conditions. This pattern is more marked in temperate climates due to changing seasons

Knots are where branches grew and the grain lines will distort and flow around them.

Cross grain; cut horizontally through the tree revealing the concentric growth rings.

Wood cut in to planks ‘with the grain’ down the length of the tree shows the familiar long flowing lines.

First find your wood

Once you start scouting around for pieces of suitable wood you will be surprised how much you can pick up for nothing…… To make life easier choose wood with a flat surface and an even thickness.

treasure in the junk heap; old pallets

treasure in the junk heap

Building timber is generally softwood, (pine) which has a good distinct grain; scrounge old pallets and fruit boxes or other scraps.

Plywood is made from thin layers of wood laminated together. Rescue old drawer bottoms or cupboard backs from skips.

Driftwood has interesting shapes and a sea worn surface – if you need an excuse to beachcomb this is it!

Get friendly with your local carpenter; you will probably be interested in split knotty pieces that are likely to end up in the fire box, so if you can persuade them to let you have a rummage in the bin you may find exciting material to print from.

Shop for wood

Of course you can always increase your choice of wood by paying for it, this lacks the element of serendipity but makes it easier to print larger areas as backgrounds.

aero ply

Convenient sheets of aero ply

Aero ply is thin (1mm) plywood that was used to make aeroplanes, nowadays it is generally used by model makers.

You can order big sheets of 1mm aero ply from some timber merchants (I get it fromTravis Perkins it is flexible enough to roll up and fit in the back of a car), or try model making suppliers.

a print from burnt wooden hair brushes

a print from burnt wooden hair brushes

For more variety try out assorted wooden objects; hunt for chopping boards, hair brushes, toys, puzzles etc from charity shops and car boot sales.

The different shapes will suggest themes and designs for your prints.

The hairbrushes used to make this print are made of beech wood, the blow torch removed all the bristles leaving a pattern of holes as well as revealing the wood grain pattern.

Bring out the wood grain surface with fire

Your found wood surfaces may be rough and splintery or smooth and varnished. While you can print directly from any of these sources and get some grain pattern showing, you will also get saw marks and miscellaneous surface textures which will mask the wood grain.

Follow these instructions and use fire to bring out the texture of the wood grain.

Scorch the wood

Blow torch with gas canister

Blow torch with gas canister

Burning and brushing the surface of the wood  will bring out the texture and structure of the grain and produce a clearer printed image.

Use a blow torch – the kitchen kind or a bbq lighter is good for this.

Scorching works because the flame will burn away the soft areas in the growth rings, leaving the hard sections as ridges to take the relief ink.


I know you will use common sense (of course), but here are some tips:
* work outside in a sheltered spot out of the wind
* wear leather gloves
* use pliers to hold the wood
* work on a non flammable base – eg. earth / stone / metal
* have an old wet towel handy to damp down small fires

Light your fire

scorching wood grain with a blow torch

scorching wood grain with a blow torch

Move the flame slowly over the surface and go over it several times.

Don’t linger too long on one spot as the wood will catch fire and this will make a dip in the surface that may not print.

Use a wire brush to clean the wood grain

Use a wire brush to clean the wood grain

Rub the scorched wood in the direction of the grain using a wire brush to remove the softer burnt areas.

Dust it off well, and scorch more until the grain is as deep as you want it.

(t doesn’t need to be very deep in order to produce a good print.)

Seal the surface

Before printing with oil based inks I wipe the wood with linseed oil, this helps seal it and makes it easier to work with.

For the prints shown here I used Hawthorn Printmaker stay open inks.

Print the wood grain

wood grain printed with two colours

wood grain printed with two colours

Roll ink on the wood and lay your slightly damp printing paper onto it.

Run it through the press if the wood will fit.

Alternatively print directly by rubbing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon or baren.

A double wood grain print

A double wood grain print

You can also try covering the paper with a thin sheet of foam, (eg flooring underlay) before putting a board on top, and then standing on it to provide pressure.

Keep playing

wood grain print with chine collee

wood grain print with chine collee

Think about cutting into the surface, adding chine collee, using hard and soft rollers to add different layers of colour, overprinting images on top of the wood grain prints……

you get the idea, just enjoy yourself!

If you would like to see how other artists have used wood grain have a look at the post; artists wood grain prints