Posted tagged ‘wood engraving’

On humility….

March 2, 2016


Yes, that’s a litter box under my press. As Tennyson fades into extreme old age, he chose the space where I kept my rags under my press as his salle de bain, so it seemed to make sense to move his litter there. Also, using an antique section of banister, we are able to keep the dogs from devouring the contents of the litter, which is simply gross and where I draw the line at humility. It means as I work on getting the type printing just right or fighting with make-ready on wood engravings, I catch the occasional whiff of…. Is it me? Surely not! Ahhh, the cat.

The press, being both the source of beauty, elegance and style – and Tennyson’s depository – does bring me down to earth when things are going well, as they have been for the past year or so. In 2015, I received word that the University of Toronto’s Fisher Library wanted to acquire all books and broadsides printed to date, with a keen interest in anything else I come up with.

The year also saw me blaze through 20 shows: indoor with table or booth, and outdoor under tent. These shows were on the whole very successful, and just a few changes I will be repeating the same number in 2016. Shows are a wonderful way to meet new people, and to keep up with friends and collectors.

As for what shows I’ll be doing, I’ll be adding a page to this blog, but a listing will also appear in my newly reinvigorated website, complete with an on-line store for prints, all to be found at

The biggest news this year will be the release of the most ambitious project yet from the press: Ecclesiastes. Yes, Greyweathers Press is getting biblical, with a heft that will weigh in at an estimated 80 pages of beautiful Arches Text Wove, illustrated with 60 odd wood engravings. Stay tuned, a detailed announcement is forthcoming.

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An early draft of the title page design.

So with all of this activity, Tennyson’s periodic visits to my press keep me from getting too full of myself, and rightly so. It is all about the work, after all, and not the accolades.




2015: A Fresh Start

January 10, 2015

Ohhh, look! I’ve got a blog! I should really use it…

So, a new year and an energized press. By way of explanation, the last couple of (bookless) years have been a time of thought and entrenchment, crisis and recovery. With Greyweathers Press’ 10th anniversary this year, it is time to rip loose. For starters, I’m going back a couple of years to a project that ground to a halt in media res, a little Gothic Trifle with the rather clunky title of The Necromancer and the Seventh Daughter. A while back the title seemed fine, but now with the popularity of The Hobbit, the term ‘necromancer’ is known wide and far. Oh well. The original title used ‘sorcerer’, another word now famous, or rather infamous, considering real people burned with this brand are losing the heads in Saudi Arabia!

This is the second foray with Septima, her first being centered on dispatching a high-born vampire who was drinking her way though all the beautiful youth of the City. (There are still a couple of copies available.)

Now, keeping up with trends, it’s zombies, a festering golem, and something of an environmental message, along with Septima’s spunky “don’t fuss with me” girl-power attitude (a la Buffy & Joss Whedon). Setting type began just over a year ago, so that will resume, with my attention now on illustrations. Below are five of eight thumbnail sketches and an idea of what I’m thinking for Septima: The Sequel.


Sketches are very rough, the finishing will be done on the block. It is similar to what an inker does for the art in a comic book. In this case, it’s kind of hard seeing Septima standing there wearing an ironic look at something very tall. I added the stone cobbles behind her to help with perspective even though in this sketch it fights with the mummy-like wrappings she wears. I’ll work it out on the block.

Septima does a lot of running in this story. I found the image of a leaping runner going flat out; actually, this its more of a ballet prance than a sprint, but it looks as though she's goin' like stink! I may add a few zombie hands reaching out from the right side. We'll see.

Septima does a lot of running in this story. I found the image of a leaping runner going flat out; actually, this its more of a ballet leap than a sprint, but it looks as though she’s goin’ like stink! I may add a few zombie hands reaching out from the right side. We’ll see. The dress needs work – lots of ripples and wrinkles to show movement.


The Ghost Fleet that threatens the City. A rough re-working of another image, probably of the Black Fleet, again from Tolkien. I will probably embellish the ships with dragon heads and skulls etc. The dramatic sky will give me a chance to try out my newly acquired multiple liner.


And that’s just the eyes and forehead. So it’s really, really big, consideting there’s Septima, the wee little thing, down at the bottom. She’ll be tricky to get right… it only takes about six or eight tiny cuts to do a figure that small, so every one has to be perfect. Might use my big doughnut magnifier on this one. The letters on the forehead are backwards for a reason.


Septima spends a lot of time in this installment crawling around in sewage, so her reward for saving the City and her family (AGAIN) is to be hustled off to a vigorous bath. I thought it was kind of funny at the time, until considering how to illustrate with propriety a 15 year old superhero in the bath. The solution is lots of bubbles, and just enough expression on her face to show her what she thinks about it. Of course, how I’m going to carve bubbles from wood is anybodies guess, but we’ll get there.

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!

Grimsby Wayzgoose 2013!

April 24, 2013

“Wayzgoose” is one of those old words of mysterious origin, but what is certain is that it was a time of celebration for printers, and printers are people who particularly enjoy celebrating! Today, the term is applied to  book artists to exhibit and sell their beautiful hand crafted work. And yes,  to celebrate as well.

The Wayzgoose in Grimsby, Ontario is a venerable book arts show, founded by the renown Bill Poole, and one we’ve exhibited at for the past five or six years. Once again, we’ll have a table there offering books and prints. Hope to see you!



Tools of the Engraving Trade

March 5, 2012

About five years ago, I went out on assignment to cover the Tools of the Trade show, near Toronto. About 30 or 40 dealers had tables covered, selling everything from your grandfather’s screwdrivers right up to plough planes worth thousands. I’d covered the show before, but that year I went with a mission of my own, to find wood engraving tools. I didn’t have much hope, but asked each dealer until I found one who handed me a plastic bag filled with the familiar “chopped” mushroom handle. It was literally a mixed bag, to say the least. The tools were very old. The handles showed either considerable airburn from the passage of time, or a lot of handling – probably both. I bought them.

Spitsticker showing the "shaved mushroom" handle.

Once home, I realized I had spitstickers and tint tools, perhaps a lining tool or two, but no burins. Clearly some had been better cared for than others: the angle of the points on some were absurd, and others had bowed faces, meaning they would need to be ground to the proper angle again. I ordered two burins from McClain’s, along with a Crocker sharpening jig, because I had no idea how to sharpen the tools, and they must be very sharp to work properly.

So here is my wood engraving kit so far:

Engraving tools.

At the top left, coarse and fine grain ceramic blocks for sharpening the blades. I use the Crocker sharpener prior to beginning work on another block to get the shape back on the top of the blades. While working on the block, I return fairly frequently to the stones to give the blades a touch-up. The Crocker jig works, but it’s not terribly well manufactured, so I’m keeping my eye open for something similar that has been better milled, perhaps in brass. I’m still having some trouble sharpening, and that’s causing some problems in my engravings.

Through the middle are the tools themselves. From left to right; a flat graver (with a full mushroom handle), a rather hefty scorper (or round graver), two spitstickers, a square head and a diamond head burins (from McClain’s), three tint tools (the second and third have points in need of reshaping), and finally two very odd looking tools that might be for stippling. At the bottom are some carving chisels that were in the bag, and one mushroom headed flat graver that needs some work,

The books say that gravers must be cut to fit the hand, and based on the early work I have done with these tools, this is most assuredly true. I’ll have to contact McClain’s or Lyons to see if they can cut the tools to my hand size.

Scorper or round graver


Square burin and diamond burin


Tint tool

Tint tools with badly shaped points.

Stippling tools (I think....)


Three Down, Five to Go

February 22, 2012

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.

Another Old Year – Achievements

January 23, 2012

Well, it’s rolled around again, and again I’ll do my  brief summing up. Overall, I didn’t stroke much off the big list of major projects. Work and life got in the way. But as usual, when I add up what I did achieve, it surprises me. A lot of work on marketing this year, and my first exhibition of prints and books in a gallery setting!

Last time, I set the following goals:

  1. produce ten books in five years
    I’m not really on schedule for this, since the current book project, Tintern Abbey, was pushed into 2012 by a sudden and welcome flood of work in the studio.
  2. step up production value
    What I did produce this year certainly shows more confidence, in keeping with the “get serious!” theme of the next 5 year phase of the press.
  3. marketing: on-line presence, adverts, launches, more shows, book sellers
    Some of the ground work on planning and pushing the books paid off, with some books winding up in special collections. We hired a marketing consultant late last year, and I am determined to stop whining and learn to love social media.
  4. intensify illustration: my own, but working with other artists as well
    I’ve got some irons in the fire with work from other artists, and my own frontiers have opened up with my first efforts on wood engraving (see previous blogs).
  5. form working alliances with writers, illustrators, printers, bookbinders
    I approached a Queen’s University prof to write the intro for Tintern Abbey. He said yes, so that is about to be set in type possibly within days.
  6. further my studies in book design and typography.
    That is an on-going project indeed. I did spend some free time trolling through book spreads on line, making some observations but it’s hardly a concentrated study!

What I did do this year was a lot of little things done, including:

1) a new years card – I’m silly late this year, though!
2) Pondered reorganization, and made some minor progress
3) Tintern Abbey book got pushed, although my Wayzgoose anthology contribution made for an early study of the idea
4) Two rare commercial jobs, both invitations
5) Did the usual shows, organized one of them
6) Saw the work produced by Saint Lawrence College students from the printmaking course I taught the previous fall at their year end exhibition (That was a highlight!)
7) Collaborative calendar with the Ottawa Press Gang – (I’m April)
8) Wrote an article for Ornamentvm on the Canadian fine press scene
9) Took professional advise on marketing
10) Produced a broadside type sampler
11) Tried out wood engraving, although rightly that belongs to 2012
12) Spoke to the 2nd year architecture students at Carleton University about book arts
13) Had my first gallery show in Kingston at Studio22

Almost everything mentioned above is covered in some form or another in the previous couple dozen blog entries.

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