Three Down, Five to Go

Finished the third block for the Tintern Abbey edition today, although I haven’t proofed it yet. This sequence should show the creative process. I liken it to sculpture, where the form seems to be freed from the stone or wood in stages. Likewise, as I cut, I push back the black (sometimes too far back). It’s no surprise the early wood engravers carved their names in the block, followed by “SC”, the abbreviation for “sculptor”.

As mentioned previously, with this series of blocks – the first that I have attempted – I am attempting to at least interpret the feeling of the work of the great late 18th century wood engraver, Thomas Bewick. Wordsworth was enough of a fan of Bewick’s work to mention him specifically in one of his poems. So here is the work of some one from the Bewick school of engraving (click on images for a closer look):

One can only admire the detail in the foreground figures, the graduations of tone in the hills and mountains, the fulsome texture of the trees, the clever use of “shades” of grey and the overall balance of dark and light, one defining the other. And this is by no means a masterpiece, but the “lofty cliffs” and gentle river reminded me of the Wye River valley.

So, I did my own rough, in pencils:

And began to cut, this time using endgrain maple block prepared for me by a friend. (I spend an entire day sanding a couple dozen of these blocks perfectly flat, and to a glass polish finish.) I washed the block with India ink, then used a white colour pencil to rough out the drawing. I had the finely worked period illustration before me as I worked.

I realize now I should have had my own sketch, then referred to Bewick’s for technique. As a result, I have lost some of the definition of the “hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows” or clumps of brush and foliage clinging to the hills. What Bewick makes look so simple is incredibly hard to emulate!

It’s coming along. I like the cliffs, and the plume of smoke coming up from the homestead. I decided to pursue the background, since I judged that to be the more challenging area. I used the lozenge graver to cut the horizontal lines in the sky. One of these days I’ll get a lining tool, which will help create those neat parallel lines scene in the Bewick print. But I like the cluttered messy look of the hand drawn lines; it’s less clinical, more natural, and after all, this is an interpretation of period work, not an exact copy.

Once again, on the right I’m struggling to understand the need for dark to define light. In my efforts to emulate Bewick I over lighted these stands of trees. There is something about the graver that pulls me into the mid-tones. It’s odd, because I have no problem with this concept in my lino work. However, the patterns create the suggestion of pastoral business at least. I think I’ll go back in and lighten or remove entirely some of the tone lines around these bushes and trees. It may help define them.The old rule of block cutting: you can always take more away, but it is very, very hard to put back again…. It involves cutting the entire block again.

Now, here again, like with the first one I did, I really like the deep black of the river just like it is, but it unbalances the design, so….

The finished block, keeping the middle dark in homage to the original period cut. The foreground was supposed to possess more floral elegance. But leafy will suffice. The end result does have a certain charm to it, I think. Of course, it will print in reverse.

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2 Comments on “Three Down, Five to Go”


  1. Can’t wait to see this in the flesh!


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