Archive for the ‘Wood Cuts’ category

Run, Rabbit Run

May 29, 2015



A Rabbit was called for, by the title alone. I found this old hand-coloured engraving, rendered it greyscale in Photoshop then did a sketch on tracing paper. I could flip the tracing paper before copying the image to the block, reversing it so that rabbit is running in the correct direction.

This was the only block in the project that was not cut from wood. It is Resingrave, a polymer compound that they’ve been tweaking for years and years to get it to emulate English boxwood. Still not quite there, but the block was the size and shape for what I needed, and worked sufficiently well for the subject matter.

IMG_2367When Hugh asked me for art direction as to where illustrations would go, I told him “just leave me some gaps” meaning I had no idea what illustrations I would come up with. My little rabbit fit nicely right in between title and author.


Creating Relief Blocks and Prints Workshop – OCT 12 & 13, 2013

September 1, 2013



Creating Relief Blocks & Prints
with Larry Thompson at Greyweathers Press
Merrickville, Ontario

SATURDAY & SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12 & 13, 2013 – 10 AM TO 4 PM

Want to explore the graphic possibilities of relief printing? Discover how to think in reverse; learn about the tools and how to use them; transfer a design to the block; explore cutting techniques; make your own prints by hand and on a printing press. Read more


It’s going to be a great weekend. Hope to see you here!

The Third & Elm Press

November 4, 2012

Click to view larger

Business and good fortune had us visiting Newport, Rhode Island a couple of weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy. The weather was extraordinarily beautiful and temperate, literally a calm before a storm. When I travel with Holly, I try not to schedule too much press activity, which can easily usurp a timetable. But destiny took a hand. While visiting a photography gallery called Blink, we learned that the owner’s mother ran a letterpress in the heart of Newport. On our last day there, Holly and I made sure to visit The Third and Elm Press, named (as you probably surmised) for the corner on which Ilse Burchert Nesbitt’s shop is located.

The home of the Third and Elm Press, located at Third and Elm in Newport, Rhode Island.

Ilse came to America from Germany in 1960, and set up the press with her husband, a calligrapher and book designer, in 1965. There are details and sample of her work on her website at She is now 80 years old and not showing much sign of slowing down.

Isle has a very nicely organized studio. It is not large, but it holds an early 19th century “acorn” iron press, a good sized floor standing platin press, a cutter and several banks of type. While she has printed several books over the years, her primary focus these days is in making wood cut prints. In the long-established German tradition, she cuts her blocks using knives, as opposed to gouges and gravers.

A relief wood cut carved with knives on the plank.

The style of knives that Ilse uses for cutting her blocks.

Close-up of the plaque on the ‘acorn’ iron press.

A close-up of Ilse’s work-horse platin press, with a rainbow hue of inks on the underside of the inking disk.

I admired Ilse’s cutting desk, which folds down elegantly when not in use. Most print studios need space-saving solutions like this. (Mine certainly does!)

All the type drawers have beautiful calligraphy labels. Since I live with a calligrapher of some note, I have put Holly on notice that I would like this treatment for my type cabinets as well.

I make a habit of carrying samples of my books and prints with me where ever I go, so I was able to show them to Ilse and recieve a critique. She was refreshingly frank, or perhaps I should say refreshingly Teutonic. She thought my lines might “open up” and become more naturalistic if I abandoned gouges and gravers and adopted the knife as my principal tool, something I will certainly try when I turn my hand to cutting on the plank. She felt that my lines were too clean, that they followed each other too closely, that I needed to “loosen up.” All good advise, and in a sense, that’s the direction my linos had been going prior to my jump into wood engraving.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon visiting with Ilse, hearing her thoughts on the ‘business’ and dropped some money in her gallery upstairs on a book and two prints. Most of all, it was simply inspiring to meet a fellow printer and print-maker who is steadily pursuing her passion and not letting anything, least of all aging, get in the way.

The Idle Fool / Is Whipp’d at School

September 16, 2012

When my friend and letterpress printing colleague Jason (of Three Bats’ Press) announced a couple years ago that he was seeking artists to illustrate an upcoming project, naturally I took interest. He had taken the text from an early New England primer designed to teach children their letters by infusing the little tykes with a healthy fear of God, or in other words, scaring the holy snot out of them. Artists could choose a letter and with the associated rhyme for the letter. For example: A = “In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all.” Or this for J: “Job feels the Rod / Yet blesses God.” Or Y: “Youth forward slips / Death soonest nips.”

Cheery, is it not! Jason was clear in saying that he wanted a “re-interpretation” of these poems, and by handing off to a bunch of recalcitrant artists, I’m thinking he’ll get his way.

I chose F: “The idle Fool / Is Whip’d at School” out of a sense of personal irony (as a student I was neither devout nor studious) and envisaged a period engraving showing the enraged schoolmaster, a la Dickens, taking his fury out on some hapless kid.  But as I thought more, the extreme violence and fear overtly suggested in the statement and insinuated in the other quotes, and the religious extremism implied in the the whole primer, I conjured the impersonal image of great big meat-hook hands clenching a heavy barbed-studded leather strap, with all the menace of impending violence that seems to go hand in hand with extremist ideals. I may go that route, or I may throw it back in the puritans’ faces and do something associated with that odd cast of kink enthusiasts who have an entirely different attitude toward the whole question of whipping. With all the popular fervour for Fifty Shades of Gray and similar works, called “accessible erotica” or less generously, “mommy-porn”, that might be the right choice.

A first attempt at turning the quote on its head, so to speak, played with the curve of a back to create a lower case ‘f’ from a whip and a belt for the cross-stroke. It had the uncomfortable look and feel of something out spiny out of Predator. Another quick effort incorporated a similar stylized letter ‘f’.  I’m really not entirely sure about pursuing this route.

Perhaps my discomfort comes from a certain reserved nature, but it also has to do with the violence implied for the woman in the picture. Making it a male back, or elongating the drawing to show the woman holding the whip would certainly change the dynamic.

No matter what, there will be a stylized letter “F” formed from the coils of a whip.

Jason tells me that he is expecting some very extreme submissions for some of these puritanical aphorisms, so perhaps I’m worrying needlessly.

Wood Engraving for “Tintern Abbey,” Part 1

January 8, 2012

I’m working this week on Resingrave, a synthetic compound that emulates the effect of engraving done on the end-grain of boxwood, a la Thomas Bewick, the great English wood engraver from the late 18th century. English boxwood is now scarce and expensive, so here in North America it is common to substitute end grain maple. (More on that later).

I’ve been fretting for some months now as to what I would do for the illustrations in Greyweather’s upcoming edition of Tintern Abbey. Illustrations done in the manner of Thomas Bewick would certainly be ideal, but probably well beyond any skill I have developed though working with linoleum cuts. Perhaps something more interpretive, less literal?

Click on the icons to see the remarkable skill of Bewick (from his own hand, or perhaps from his shop of apprentices):

It is really unbelievable what could be cut by hand!

So, it turns out Wordsworth grew up in similar rustic environs to Bewick, and that the poet even praised the engraver in the same book of poems in which Tintern Abbey was published, saying:

Oh now that the genius of Bewick were mine / And the skill which he learn’d on the banks of the Tyne / Then the Muses might deal with me just as they chose / For I’d take my last leave both of verse and prose.

What feats would I work with my magical hand! / Book-learning and books should be banish’d the land / And for hunger and thirst and such troublesome calls / Every ale-house should then have a feast on its walls.

I could not agree more. Well, perhaps all that book banishing business I could do without, but the rest…. sure. It did settle the question as to the manner of illustrating the book. After the manner of Thomas Bewick, then.

Easier said than done. Bewick’s work sits comfortably in the public domain, so I briefly considered finding existing period prints and rendering them into magnesium plates…. a few high res scans and voila! But where’s the fun in that? So began my first serious foray at wood engraving.

I have made attempts before, with varying degrees of success. This time I used the gravers on a piece of resingrave , the white surface treated with India ink. I created a rough drawing directly on the block from a variety of sources, including Bewick and 2oth century illustrators such as Buckland-Wright and Canada’s own home grown cutters, like Wesley Bates, Alan Stein and George Walker. Mostly Bewick though, spending a long time studying the way he did his bushes, trees, leaves, shore lines etc.

A cliff on the left, a ruined arch on the right, the bucolic Wye River in the middle.

After the first tentative cuts, I liked where it was going, but I was still making the illustration up on the fly more or less, and as time went on, the white watercolour pencil would wear off, leaving room for even more interpretation.

The broad ferns and foliage originally planned at the bottom morphed into tree roots, but I had already started a work on the bottom of a cliff face.

From stone to wood, then, as the cliff face morphed into a tree. I loved the striking look of the white leaves on the black background, but Bewick never worked like that. He used tone, and a lot of black line work, especially around the top of the drawing.

And as far as I had gotten yesterday:

I had pulled out a copy of Kubla Khan yesterday, and realized this design resembles somewhat the linocut I did for that book, seven years ago now. Weird.

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