Richard Wohlfeiler

Santa Cruz, California

I began working primarily with drawing and painting, but in the late 1990s my interests shifted to printmaking as I became engaged with the technical processes and challenges that are part of this medium. In addition to its place in the fine arts, printmaking has traditionally involved the production of multiples and broader contexts of popular culture such as graphic arts, posters, comics, illustration, and the intersection of verbal and visual languages. I work with a variety of techniques, including relief, intaglio/photo-intaglio, plate, photo and waterless lithography, and digital printmaking. My current interests involve the fusion of traditional and digital methods. In recent print media work, I have been exploring the possibilities of using a laser cutter to cut wood blocks for images designed on the computer. In this process, images designed/drawn and prepared on the computer are sent to the laser cutter, which allows for producing traditionally conceived blocks but also executes intricate cutting that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to produce manually, such as CMYK separation woodcuts employing a variety of half-tones, highly detailed textures and patterns, and even text at small type sizes. Once the blocks are cut, they’re printed like standard woodcuts. This approach can be used to make elaborate papercuts as well.

My current focus has moved to experimenting with video and animation, including both abstract and narrative approaches. Recent works involve techniques of stop motion, drawn animation, and processed video.

I was a lecturer in the Art Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz for 20 years, teaching a broad range of classes, including drawing, foundation and history/theory courses, many printmaking classes, both traditional and digital, and digital drawing/painting for computer game design.

Description of processes and mediums

Woodcut/relief print: after cutting away negative shapes from a wood block, the surface of the block is rolled with ink and printed on a press. Images, particularly color images, can be built up by breaking down an image into separate blocks, which are overprinted using a variety of registration methods to produce the final result. Blocks can be cut by hand, although recently I have started designing images on the computer for cutting via a laser cutter, which allows for intricate halftone or patterned effects, typefaces at small sizes, and very fine detail that would be difficult, if not impossible, to cut by hand.


Papercuts are images/objects produced by cutting shapes out of a piece of paper—a good way to think about it is as a reverse stencil. One composes the image by cutting away positive or negative shapes as required to make the image. Papercut is a medium found in traditional Asian cultures such as Chinese or Balinese or Latin American folk art traditions such as Mexican papel picado. In craft traditions these are often highly decorative.

I have been working on a series of papercuts in which images are drawn and designed using a combination of hand drawing, graphics tablet input, and further development through Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. The resulting vectorized Illustrator files are sent to a laser cutter, which realizes the images materially in the form of papercuts by cutting out the designed shapes. The work’s medium invokes historical and cultural traditions, craft and aesthetics of paper cutting, while using a laser cutter connects the process to industrial methods that allow for increased efficiency in complex cutting and unusual effects. A significant part of my engagement in this work comes from the enjoyment of fusing traditional and contemporary technologies in this way and for the kinds of images I am able to produce—often satirical or ironic, with overtones of uncertainty or black humor. I like the way the images, conceived of as drawings on the computer, are finally realized by the substance of the paper itself. 


Intaglio is the general name for printmaking processes in which the image is held in grooves/textures below the surface of the metal plate—etching and engraving are the best-known examples. To print the plate, ink is spread over its surface and then wiped off; what remains in the grooves is the image. (This different from relief printing, such as woodcut or linoleum cut, in which what is not the image is carved away, so that ink rolled over the surface of the block and printed produces the image.) Photo-intaglio is a way of creating photographic imagery in an intaglio print. In photo-etching and traditional photogravure, a photosensitive emulsion is applied to the plate, the image is exposed using a positive transparency and then developed to reveal the areas of the plate that will be etched away when dipped in acid—these are the areas that hold the ink. (The process is a bit more complicated than this in its technical details, but this is the general idea.) However, I produce most of my photo-intaglio images using a photosensitive film (originally produced for the semiconductor industry) which is adhered to the surface of the plate, exposed and then developed/washed out. This approach is known as polymer photogravure. What I like about this material is that the plate does not have to be etched in acid—after the plate is printed, the film can be removed and the plate used again, since it was never actually etched; the film is thick enough to hold the ink. When a plate—produced through traditional etching with acid or through the use of the photosensitive film—is ready to print, it is rubbed with ink, which is then wiped off until only the ink held in the etched grooves remains. The plate is run through an etching press with dampened paper to transfer the image. I generally use traditional etching for images that are drawing-based. I frequently use photo-intaglio in conjunction with images I have designed on the computer, many of which use my own photographs or elements taken from anonymous found photographs that I consider documents of vernacular history.


Artist books: I use traditional or digital printing methods to produce the books’ content/pages, which are bound using several methods into narrative-style sequences that include image and text or that are purely visual. A book is held in the hand and turning the pages offers a different experience and intimacy than viewing a print displayed on a wall. The bound book-object itself can have aesthetic qualities that are related to or heighten the content’s potential meanings and the way a viewer interacts with it. Like much of my other work, my books are frequently composed of fragments or vignettes that encourage ambiguous or layered readings. (Note that the books presented on this site have been formatted for a PDF reader and do not reproduce the appearance and action of the book structures entirely accurately.)


3D Photographs and Compositions: I have been engaged with several projects that use stereo photography to produce 3D images that can be viewed through the appropriate devices to produce a three-dimensional illusion. The two approaches I've been using are: 1) stereo cards, in which the stereo images are printed side by side and viewed through a hand-held viewer; and 2) anaglyph images, in which the stereo images are overlaid and modified to produce a single image that appears three-dimensional when viewed through red/blue 3D glasses. The 3D images shown on this site are examples of anaglyph images. If you happen to have a pair of 3D glasses (the red/blue kind) you can see the intended effect.

The stereo photographs are produced by taking two photographs of the same subject separated by an inch and a half or so. This corresponds to what is seen by your right and left eyes. For still life objects, I am able to do this with a single camera by taking the left image and shifting the camera to take the right image. I also sometimes use a 3D lens that splits an image into right/left views with a single shutter click. I combine the two photographs to produce the stereo cards or the anaglyph images using Photoshop and then digitally print them. The images represented on this site are part of a project I call "The Life of Toys".


Digital prints: original images created on the computer through a variety of methods are printed directly using a large scale inkjet printer onto fine art paper, canvas, or other materials. I frequently design images for digital print output. In this sense, the computer and digital imaging techniques function as a creative medium in their own right, rather than simply as a method to reproduce images/works created in other mediums.