The Tugboat Printshop and the Art of the Woodcut Print

© Tugboat Printshop


Paul Roden and Valerie Lueth are the collaborative woodcut artists Tugboat Printshop.  The couple has been publishing their traditionally hand-crafted color woodcut prints from Pittsburgh, PA since 2006.  To date, Tugboat Printshop has published over 100 multiblock woodcut editions.

Tugboat Printshop’s intricate woodcuts celebrate the natural world and mankinds’s relationship to it.  In their traditionally made prints, the artists build idealistic, meticulously patterned worlds with extreme focus on craft and detail. Rich color is layered in multiple impressions from hand-drawn, hand-carved and individually printed woodblocks. Tugboat Printshop’s narrative is one of resourcefulness, sustainability, and upbeat do-good attitude.


Hi Valerie and Paul! You make hand-carved woodcut prints, why take such a manual approach at a time when digital possibilities are so great?

Working with our hands gives us the greatest satisfaction and creates, we think, a superior end result.  We value the tradition of the craft and take part in its legacy. Neither of us is very satisfied to be working on a computer screen, and so we choose not to.

Can you expand a bit on the process that goes behind making a woodcut print?

The bulk of our time working on prints is spent drawing and carving. We trade woodblocks back and forth, first sketching our ideas out in pencil, then defining them in pen for carving. We use sharp handtools (knives, chisels) to carve blocks in low relief. If we are making a multi block print, we will ink the key (first block drawn & carved, usually with the most detail in the print) and print to paper then back to blocks creating a ghost ‘transfer’ to work from as we draw new info on color blocks. When all blocks are carved in full, they are hand-rolled with brayers (using oil based inks) and printed to paper through the press.

A question to the both of you, what is your favourite stage when creating one of your prints?

Valerie- Drawing! And mixing ink colors. And that moment when all proofing is done & we finally see the finished print for the first time, color-adjusted and ready for production!

Paul– Carving.

“We wanted to create a print that felt like it enveloped the viewer, as a natural vista spreads in every direction from a vantage.”

Valerie and Paul of the Tugboat Printshop

Moth © Tugboat Printshop

You seem to take a lot of inspiration from nature and exploration, how do you choose your subjects?

We work on a handful of images at once, trading blocks back and forth so we aren’t hovering over one another. We have active imaginations, our subjects spout from daily experiences, deeper thoughts about being human and what that means in our day & age, and daydreams about how we’d like to live.

You recently completed ‘Overlook’, which was three years in the making! Tell me more about this incredibly project and what inspired you embark on it?

We had no idea it would take 3 years! Some of that was circumstantial (we were expecting & welcomed another child) and some was just how it worked out, each block (5 total) took time to plan and execute. The key block (black) was very complex and took countless hours to draw and carve…and then the blocks to color it had to follow suit! In the beginning, we were making other prints alongside the “OVERLOOK” key block drawing and carving. Once the key drawing was completed, we were full steam for a year carving & drawing 4 color blocks. No telling, really, how many days we’ve clocked working on this one. Happy to have put in the time & see it realized!

With “OVERLOOK”, we wanted to create a print that felt like it enveloped the viewer, as a natural vista spreads in every direction from a vantage. The print is teeming & intricate, moving from near to far from foreground to background. It keeps the eyes busy!  “OVERLOOK” prints can additionally be matched side to side, as a wallpaper might be, to create an infinite stretch! We are planning to do a big installation after we finish production of the print.

Overlook © Tugboat Printshop

How is it to work together as a husband and wife team?

Some days it’s wonderful, some days it’s a real challenge! We’re always working to create a better home/work balance (which is particularly difficult because we host our press in our row house living room currently).  We are pleased with the voice we have been able to create together through our collaborations, but toy with veering from that some in the future. We enjoy the dialogues we have in conversation about our work & directions… We have a balance that has worked out through the years we’ve spent making art together.

Do you feel that traditionally processes such as woodcut prints are becoming a dying art and what do you think could help regenerate them?

We don’t really feel like woodcut is a dying art, because we know so many woodcutters! Actively participating in making woodcuts helps keep the field alive. We feel compelled to work in the medium for many reasons, and we don’t plan on switching media anytime soon.

We teach occasional workshops & often visit colleges and universities as visiting artists to share our story and approach to printmaking. We have ideas for more outreach in the future, too!

Printing Overlook © Tugboat Printshop


First thought when you wake up

V- Cuddle my kiddos, make coffee & toast & get the paper.
P- What email am I a week late in replying to?

Favourite type of print

V- Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints
P- Large, ambitious works, really.  Like Phil Pearlstein’s “Jerusalem.”  I love to see ambition in people, when people look at themselves and say “maybe it doesn’t make practical sense for me to make this, but I just really wanna anyway” Especially younger less established artists taking a real risk (Pearlstein is a bad example, he would’ve been fine if those prints had bombed)

Flora or Fauna?

V- Flora
P- Fauna

Summer or winter?

V- Winter. I love bundling in layers and burrowing away with my projects.
P- Winter. I feel like the body has many cycles, and the short, cold days of winter are a great time for incubation and reflection, and balance nicely with the long warm days of summer.

Home or Holiday?

V- Home. Comfortable with everything I need within arms reach.
P- Home. Productive and relaxing.

Favorite drink?

V- French roast coffee with cream.
P- French roast coffee with Bailey’s.

When I am 90 I want to be…

V- Fishing, gardening, taking long walks, playing records, reading books, visiting with friends, and still making art.
P- “…neath some green growin’ tree”

The Moon © Tugboat Printshop