The Knife and the Image

The Knife and the Image

We delve into Zhang Fuming's printmaking practice, particularly his use of the knife as a transformative tool in creating powerful and emotive images. This article aims to narrate the expressive potential of printmaking as a medium for storytelling and artistic exploration in the eyes of the artist.

Fuming has earned a reputation as a respected Woodcut Printmaker in the Singapore art community, producing works of the Social Commentary & Realism genre, with over a decade of professional practice. 
He is also the Co-Owner of Drawing Etc Art Supplies.

Zhang Fuming Woodcut Printmaking Carving Tool

I draw with a knife. From a selection of knives laying around in the studio, I examine them carefully before each carving session before I get to work, while intuitively decide what will be used that day. The standard go-to will be the U Gouge, V Gouage, Hangi-To, all in a series of assorted sizes and shape variation.

I first examine the cutting edge, are they sharp enough? It is an essential skill to learn how to sharpen your blades if you use them a lot. A honing block is also essential to keep handy while working.

There are many ways to create images as an Artist. Most of us learnt pretty quickly what will be our weapon of choice, so to speak, early on as an art student.

It took me a long time fumbling around tubes of paints, breaking pastels and charcoal sticks when all I knew is that I wanted to create pictures.
All I needed is a hero, role model, and a tool that speaks to me, and felt natural in my hands - the classic "extension of my body".

We need to first realise that there are many mediums outside of painting and drawing, though it will always be our first instinct. I’ve never been a colorist and lacks a delicate touch. All I cared about is manifesting the imagery I have into form.

Perhaps my “problem” was obvious as a young struggling art student trying to find my voice with my ridged, harsh marks on paper, with a sense of intolerable restlessness. A lecturer of mine pulled me aside and show me some works that she thought matched my “energy”.

Amongst the examples are mostly works of expressive nature predominantly in black and white. From Pollock to William Kentridge, Motherwell to Munch, Kathe Kollwitz to Freud – Kathe Kollwitz threw me off guard. I found my hero.
Käthe Kollwitz's black and white woodcuts are stark and powerful, capturing the raw emotion and social consciousness of human suffering, resilience, and connection with striking clarity and intensity.

At the heart of my printmaking practice lies the intimate connection with the tools of my trade. The knife, whether wielded delicately or with bold strokes, holds the power to carve out intricate details, define bold contours, and infuse the image with texture and depth.
It is a tool of precision and intention, where each cut and incision carry the artist's vision into the materiality of the medium.

I must highlight the word intention, as hardly any conscious cuts created on a hard wood will be accidental. Mastery of the knife requires not only skillful handling but also a deep understanding of the medium's properties. From choosing the right blade to navigating the intricacies of carving, every decision and action contributes to the final visual impact of the print.

That is not to say all marks at its’ finality will be as the artist intended. A wooden plank is by itself an organic matter with its own unique grain preference, for instance, the wood may chip under your blade, or deviate in direction slightly to follow its biased path.
Couple this with the hand printing technique on thin paper which I employ, largely due to size constrain of a printing press, the resulting print may vary in different degrees of textures, intensity and imperfection to be embraced.

The marriage between the knife and the image opens up a world of expressive possibilities in my work. Through the act of carving, I not only shape the physical form of the print but also imbues it with emotion, narratives, and meaning.

The tactile resistance of the material, wood, becomes a dialogue between my hand and the inherent characteristics of the medium.

One defining aspect of my prints are the interplay between negative and positive space. This is further highlighted by the usage of predominately black ink, as I believe it offers the purest form of visual communication with my viewers.

As the knife cuts away the negative space, the image emerges in relief, creating a dynamic contrast that animates the composition. This dance of light and shadow, form and void is orchestrated by the strategic use of the knife, revealing the image in layers of depth and complexity.

As we navigate the essence of creative expression, let us not forget that the essence of creation lies not only in the tools we use, but also the passion and intention we find infuse into our work. And very often the right tool will lead the charge to that discovery.

Regardless of your medium, I urge you to seek out that tool that clicks naturally when you held it as if it’s an extension of your mind and body. For in art making, we often find that it is not only a means of expression, but also self-discovery.



Profile Picture of Zhang Fuming. He's a Singaporean Artist and Printmaker Specialising in Woodcut Print.

b. 1989, Zhang Fuming is trained in the discipline of Printmaking and works with mediums largely of traditional origin. He favors the direct and physical nature of printing mediums in particularly relief wood carvings. Harnessing the direct, efficient means of black-white narratives to communicate with his viewers, he creates works reprising the role of social commentary and realism in a contemporary context.

Venturing beyond the conventional practice of printmaking discipline of works on paper, Fuming embraces the materiality of wood blocks to better translate the expression and gestures of his carvings, tension and contrast from the seemingly brutish determination of the artist to create the desired image against the woodgrain.

To find out more about the Artist, you may visit his Artist Website at

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