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.
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.
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.
Then place the drawing on the block and go over it again.
Then I went over the lines again with pencil first and finally with a 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.
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.
You can also add chalk dust to the image to see the lines better and then you can refine the carving if necessary.
Here is my little bat 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 🙂
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.
Having gone through the process you realise the skill required to produce the image below – not to mention extreme patience!
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.
We also got a chance to make prints using this lovely printing press. Just a quick run through of the process below.
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.