First of all I must confess something. Until last Sunday I had no idea there was a difference between woodcutting and wood engraving. I know, d'oh! I knew that there were two basic types of block - side grain and end grain - but I was totally unaware that the method used to cut them was completely different. For anyone else as clueless as me; woodcutting uses side grain blocks of wood, the cutting method and tools used are similar to linocutting and the grain of the wood can often be seen in the final print. Wood engraving, however, is done onto finished endgrain blocks, which are much finer and smoother than side grain, meaning they're easier to carve, allow for more fine detail and produce a blacker print. The tools are points and edges rather than gougers and have names like medieval weapons - spitsticker, bullsticker, scorper...
So. The class. We each got a sample block which we used to get used to the different tools and the marks we could make, followed by a 'real' block which we set about once we were comfortable with our technique. That's my sample piece above.
I wanted to try engraving out as a way of incorprating my printmaking with my drawing, which is more detailed and less stylised, and I absolutely loved it. I took along the Chickens book I illustrated for Kyle Books a few months ago, partly so I could compare two similar images in different mediums, but also because I thought all those feathers would be perfect to recreate this way. Here's how I did:
Not bad for a first-timer, huh? I'm actually so pleased with this print that I can't stop looking at it. And I made ten editions. I started off using a Japanese tissue paper and burnishing by hand as I normally do at home, but I actually found I preferred using the thicker Zerkall and a small letterpress roller - the print came out lovely and crisp and dark. Yum.
It was amazing how differently each member of the class set about their block. We did a load of group prints too, so check it out, this is what everyone came up with. Pretty diverse, no?
I'd like to do a lot more of this. If only the blocks weren't so ruddy expensive! Even T.N. Lawrence's 'cheap' maple blocks cost over £5 for a 2x3" block. Cripes! Must look into other sources....
I really recommend anyone with an interest in printmaking check out the Leicester Print Workshop, they do courses in every type of printing under the sun, provide all the equipment you'll need and the tutors are fantastic. We had the wonderful Geri Waddington teaching us, check out her work here. So inspiring.