Wood Engraving Part 2 – A Subtle Knife

Continuing on with the wood engraving (not on actual wood, but rather Resingrave, a synthetic plastic that emulates the nature of English boxwood), I worked up the background and puttered about with the middle foreground, more or less composing on the block. Reminding myself that this was supposed to be “play,” and that it was a first effort, I kind of let loose.

Next I tackled the ruined arch on the right. Initially I intended to just cut masonry blocks, but oh no! had to go for a carved multiple column with a mid break leading into a carved riser, and I experimented with marks that would define these features. This is the finished block:

It looked OK on the block, but would it print? Here is a decent proof, done on the same paper (St. Armand’s Canal paper) that will be used for the Wordsworth book.

Still more work to be done, clearing some of the white areas and lightening up here and there. It ain’t Bewick, but I like it. And I am totally and completely hooked on wood engraving, and gearing up to try out some engrain maple.

Here are a few things I learned, in no particular order:

  1. While working on the block, the stress level increased the further I got into it. Wesley Bates once told me that he starts with the toughest parts of the block first, and finishes off with easy areas. Makes sense.
  2. Handling the tools is tricky. It takes a while to get in the zone: not holding the graver too high or too low.
  3. Sharpening is essential. I’d return to the sharpening stones after about 15 minutes of cutting. And there’s a knack to learn about that too. The angle of sharping has to be pretty much dab on, or the blade and cutting point can be damaged.
  4. White marks define dark areas. That’s it. Bend your brain around that and you’ve got it made. Do enough of this kind of work and suddenly your brain will go “Click!” and it all falls into place. I’ve been there. I’ve done a lot of this type of work on lino, but I’ve still got a lot to learn about defining light and dark with engraving tools.
  5. “This little cut makes a tree. This little cut makes a stone.” Hard metal tool, hard flat surface, but a master can make it seem as though a semi-substantial ghost is emerging from a design. The whole idea of different marks for soft things as opposed to hard things in the illustration introduces a sea of technique possibilities. Very exciting!
  6. As you may have deigned, I am in a little bit of awe of wood engraving. It is a very subtle art. In many respects, I was over-heavy with the graver, doubting that some marks would even show. But even the tiniest prick on the surface shows up in the printing. That is a lot of potential. And I only really used three tools: graver, spitsticker and a small chisel for clear the white areas.

The graver is indeed a subtle knife!


Note: I’ll print a limited edition hopefully in March, when the book is complete, and will offer it for sale at that time.

Explore posts in the same categories: Block Printing, Wood Engraving

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3 Comments on “Wood Engraving Part 2 – A Subtle Knife”

  1. jacksoncreek Says:

    Excellent work, stick with it. Do a few blocks in a row, get in the groove, so to speak.

  2. alain Says:

    Look’s good keep it up.


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