Been Goodman – Wood Engraving: An Introduction

I attended this course last year but am only getting round to writing about it now.  I’ve wanted to try Wood Engraving for some time now so was delighted to see that there would be a one day course at UWE, Bristol.  Seeing Sarah Bodman Tweet that this course is going to be run again this year prompted me to finally get around to writing about it. So if anyone is thinking about trying wood engraving hopefully this will give you some idea of what to expect.

My first thought was how much can you do in one day? We managed to get one block carved and printed plus go through the basics of the process. My next question was – if I like it can I try it at home and continue with it? The answer is yes – there was an opportunity to buy some basic tools on the course and you can also buy some small wood blocks online. You don’t have to have a printing press – you can place your paper on the wood block and rub the back with a bone folder – similar to what you do with a baren or wooden spoon in lino printing. Obviously the prints from the press are sharper – but if you want to practice at home it’s good that you can print this way.

Our tutor was Ben Goodman – you can see his own beautiful work here.  As a Tutor he was very knowledgeable, patient and explained the process really well.  He started by showing us the various tools used and we were each presented with a little box with all we needed to make a print.

Wood Block & Tools – Wood Engraving

I decided to use my bat image, which I had been working on at the time. This image has now been used for a rubber stamp print, a copper plate etching and now a wood engraving.

Bat Image for Wood Engraving

When preparing your image it is worth keeping in my mind that the wood block is quite small – we used a 7.5 x 5cm block. I had brought along a few photocopies of my image but they weren’t small enough. Having now attended several courses at UWE I came prepared and had some images saved on a USB stick.  So with the help of Sarah and Paul Laidler we were able to reduce the image size, which was then printed off for me.

We were also given a full list of instructions on the process. If you are very confident you can draw freehand directly on to the block.  I preferred to cover the back of my sketch with graphite and then place it on the wood block and draw over it.

Wood engraving - Preparing image
Graphite on back of drawing.

Then place the drawing on the block and go over it again.

Wood engraving - transfer image to wood block
Bat drawing on Wood Block
Wood engraving - image transferred to wood block
Bat Drawing Transferred to Wood Block

Then I went over the lines again with pencil first and finally with a permanent felt tip pen.

Wood engraving - drawing image on wood block
Bat Drawing – Pencil
Wood engraving - image on wood block
Bat Drawing – Permanent Felt Tip Pen

Next you need to darken the block. You can use diluted black ink or another dark coloured ink such as sepia. You need to put the right amount on so you can still see the drawing underneath. That is why we used a permanent felt tip pen in the previous step – the pencil line would not be strong enough.

Ben showed us how to add the sepia to get it just right on the wood block.

Wood Engraving Class - Ben Goodman
Ben Goodman – painting sepia on to wood block
Wood engraving - sepia on woodblock
My Bat drawing covered in sepia.

Then the fun begins! Start carving. This wasn’t as difficult as I thought but not that easy either.  I was still in rubber stamp mode – which is a bit like a hot knife through butter and long strokes – with wood engraving it’s more short and sharp. Ben demonstrated a number of different ways to carve the wood block and off we went.

Ben Goodman - Wood engraving demonstration
Ben Goodman – Wood engraving demonstration
Wood engraving - carving my wood block
Begin carving Wood Block
Wood engraving - image carved on Wood Block
Bat Image Carved on Wood Block

You can also add chalk dust to the image to see the lines better and then you can refine the carving if necessary.

Wood Engraving - chalk dust on image
Chalk Dust on Wood Engraving

Here is my little bat inked up.

Wood engraving - ink on wood block
Wood Block Inked Up

And here is the first print taken by placing paper on the wood block and going over the back with a bone folder. I messed up the eyes a bit but Ben helped me rescue it – I couldn’t get my head around the process of carving the circle around the eyes – especially at this size. Ben explained this in simple terms and demonstrated how this could be done – so I managed to do it – which is no mean feat given my level of confusion and effort to get this straight in my head 🙂

Wood Engraving - Bat Print
Wood Engraving – Bat Print

This is Ben demonstrating the process on one of his wood blocks and then the final print. You can also see a sheet of glass with ink on it. The ink is rolled on to the glass plate “until you get a thin layer that resembles velvet”. The the ink is applied to the wood block with a roller.

Wood engraving - printing
Paper on Wood Block – Printing with bone folder

Having gone through the process you realise the skill required to produce the image below – not to mention extreme patience!

Ben Goodman - Wood Engraving Print
Ben Goodman – Wood Engraving Print

You have to continually sharpen the engraving tool as you go – you will feel it become blunt as you carve. This was also demonstrated to us.

Sharpening wood engraving tools
Ben Goodman – Sharpening wood engraving tools

We also got a chance to make prints using this lovely printing press. Just a quick run through of the process below.

Beautiful old printing press
Printing Press – CFPR, UWE Bristol
Wood Engraving using printing press
Wood Block on printing press – place paper on top
Wood engraving printing press
Turn the handle on the Printing Press
Wood Engraving Print Process
Print Process Wood Engraving
Wood Engraving Print Process
Print Process Wood Engraving

To finish here are some more images of a print produced on the course and one of the wood blocks carved by my classmates. So if you are teetering on the brink I am hoping this gives you some idea of what to expect and maybe try this out.

I visited the Society of Wood Engravers Exhibition in London the year before last and was totally blown away by the work there. Now that I’ve actually had a go myself and realise the hard work, skill and patience required I am even more impressed!  Having said that, it’s not as scary as I thought it would be and I was surprised and pleased with my print.

Here is the link for this year’s course and also a link to the Society of Wood Engravers website with lots of information, advice and beautiful work.

Wood Engraving - UWE CFPR, Bristol
Wood Engraving
Wood engraving Wood block
Wood Block – Wood Engraving

2 thoughts on “Wood Engraving, 1 Day Course, UWE Bristol”

  1. Thank you – yes it is great that these skills are being kept alive – agreed about bats – and what wonderful bats you have in Australia 🙂

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