The Johnny Cash Experiment

I have been enjoying learning and experimenting with woodcut printmaking. The most recent piece I've finished is a portrait of music legend Johnny Cash.

Below I am sharing variations of the print and a brief explanation of the goals and process behind the artwork.


I was working on a project for a local band which used a pop art influenced styling. This gave me the idea to explore an Andy Warhol type of portrait but in a woodcut instead of a silkscreened print.

The direction I had in mind took some twists and turns as I got further into the work.

The original intention was to do the black and white portrait prints and then hand-paint the backgrounds straight onto the prints. Instead, I printed a variety of different colored backgrounds using the plain block of wood before it was cut. I'd still like to someday explore hand-painting. It is a printmaking technique called illumination that has been done for centuries.

These days, even traditional artwork like printmaking, is mostly shared and seen online through social media. The mix of media (old-fashioned woodcutting through digital images) fascinates me and is an important aspect of the work.

Other objectives when getting into the project had to do with scale, color and the mix of the physical medium (printing) and digital (Photoshop and the internet).

Work objectives included:

  • Scale. Specifically, the best size to work at that would allow me to carve enough detail for a portrait while having a final image that's bold enough to read well when viewed on a mobile phone.
  • Color. I experimented with different colored wood grain backgrounds to discover the color that best suited a portrait of Johnny Cash.
  • Printmaking for commercial art. Using woodcutting for personal art projects is great fun but I hope to develop the style for illustration or graphic design commissions both for use online and in print materials.
  • Mixed medium illustration. Many illustrators use traditional techniques such as ink, pencil or painting and then add color digitally. I wanted to try the same approach.

Final color artwork

The Johnny Cash print is available to buy in my Etsy store with the various colored backgrounds shown above to choose from.

Below is the final digital illustration that was created. I believe there is a lot of flexibility in the technique and look forward to exploring further with two other music icons I have in mind.

Please contact me if you have a project that a woodcut and/or digital illustration similar to this would suit.