If you have ever carved and printed an image from a potato stamp, then you have done a relief print at its most basic. Relief printmaking is the earliest type of printmaking and it has been around a lot longer than the printing press.
Many printmakers do use a press for woodcut and linocut prints but they can be printed by hand.
Personally, I hand print large blocks and use an ancient bookbinding press for my smaller blocks.
In the photo to the left, I am working on Many Masks, a 16″ x 20″ woodblock print – too large to go into my press!
A relief block is made by carving away part of the surface of a piece of wood or linoleum and leaving part of it intact or raised so it can receive the ink rolled onto it, which is then transferred to the paper as an image.
Wherever the surface of the block is scratched or carved away the paper colour will show through. Once you have carved it away you cannot put it back.
Relief printmaking is a very low-tech and traditional process. Like all printmaking, there is an element of surprise involved.
The print is a reversal of the carved image and each step along the way, drawing, carving, inking with various colours, and finally pulling the print, all of these steps in the process act as a sort of translation of idea to image.
There are often changes and sometimes happy accidents along the way.