I attended Artist Anne Desmet’s wood engraving workshop in Oxford.
It has been my favourite workshop to date, wood engraving was completely new to me, I was fascinated by its history, the variety of materials that can be use and how they all behave differently.
Before I went I thought that being partially sighted may make working on such a small scale and in such fine detail a challenge but I discovered to my surprise this was not the case, because you tint the wood with pen ink before working on it, to seal it, this also offers a high contrast when the wood is engraved into.
I prefer wood engraving to copper engraving it’s a more satisfying process for me, I like the feel of the materials and the marks the tools make, this course has reminded me how much I like working with wood.
Above image the tools i selected and used on the course.
I also learnt that although it’s called engraving it’s actually a relief process and what you take away remains white unlike copper engraving which is an intaglio process and what you take away is the colour of your ink.
I experimented with different mystery Japanese papers, hand burnishing each one with a spoon, I've always enjoyed printing with Japanese paper I'm fascinated by its delicacy and translucent qualities yet it's surprisingly strong. This I have just found out is due to the long fibres in the Japanese plants they use to make the paper.
It's transparency enabled me to print one block on both sides to create a mirror image, you can hardly tell which side I've printed on, this opens up lots of possibilities. This paper has great movement and I can envisage creating installation prints with it that hang from the ceiling and move with the air current.
Above image double sided wood engraving on Japanese paper
Whilst on the course I used a relief press and used Zerkall 100g. These prints came out really well and were slightly embossed,
Above image wood engraving on Zerkall 100g paper, This is piece inspired by Paul Nash wood engraving 'Contemplation' 1924
This image is Paul Nash's wood engraving 'Contemplation' 1924 which I picked as my inspiration for one of my wood engravings, this was to help me think about mark making and how I use the tools, I really enjoyed this exercise.
I then spent the rest of the course experimenting.
I also over laid the same block several times to create a larger piece, this completely changed the feel of the print.
Above image over laid wood engraving
I tried doing this technique but leaving a white line in between each block, so the white gap becomes part of the work,
Above image wood engraving leaving a gap in between each block
I could have spent ages doing this, there are so many possibilities all from one block.
I have enjoyed this process so much that I have already ordered some lemon wood, (only named this because it smells like lemons, not because it comes from a lemon tree) and a box of mixed hard wood.
I was taught how to look after my wood blocks, so they wont crack. Heat, moisture and cold can all cause problems, they need consistent temperature. I may let one of mine naturally crack, I like the idea of natural fractures in materials and working with them rather then trying to fix them.
This course has reminded me how important wood is as a material and it’s also making me look at how I respond to other materials.
I now appreciate that working with metal does not give me the same level of satisfaction.
After having done this two day intense course I admire wood engraving artists like Anne Desmet RA even more, I understand the skill that’s involved and the processes history.
Wood engraving was once used to illustrate newspapers, the papers would employ whole teams to create one large image using multiple blocks. So much work went into what was essentially a disposable image.
Wood engraving End grain
Above image Anne Desmet Wood engraving demonstration
Before attending Anne Desmet’s course I wondered why engraving wood (End grain) is so much more expensive then wood cut wood (long grain) I learnt it’s because the wood they use for wood engraving comes from slow growing trees, this makes the wood harder, box wood and lemon is popular. End grain is the middle of the trunk, you should be able to see the trees growth rings on your piece of wood. Because you are cutting across the growth rings it enables more precision and you can create much finer detail.
When you look at the masters of wood engraving like Thomas Bewick and Albretch Durer it is amazing what a wide range of marks they achieve on such a small block.
Copper Engraving further investigation
Although this has been my least favourite process so far I decided to have another go and explore this technique further, whilst discussing with the printing technician that I would find it easier if there was a contrast to the surface like you have in wood engraving, He suggested I put a hard ground on the copper, engrave in to it and then etch it, this made the process less of a battle and I enjoyed the reveal when it came out of the ferric chloride but I’ve decided over all this process is not for me.
Above image copper engraving plate
Sublimation & marbling
I’ve decided to have a go at another modern process. I have no expectations but I feel it’s important I learn these processes and make an informed decision from my experiences.
The marbling was different to marbling I've done in the past, I normally use marbling inks and solution which provides intense colour.
Today I was using disperse dye, a tray of water and a small tub of diluted washing up liquid.
I dropped the inks on the surface of the water, added the washing up liquid sparingly this created white areas, laid my paper in the tray and lift it up to reveal,
Above image marbling with disperse dye
I left my marbling print to dry and put the heat press on, taped marbled paper to pre treated aluminium and put it in the heat press, left to cool for 2 min, then I took off the paper to reveal the finished piece.
Above image finshed piece marbling on metal
When I first tried this I was expecting intense colours on the paper but they were pale, so I was surprised that my subtle marbling had translated into vibrant colours on the metal.
I did another two on metal one where I cut shapes out of different coloured paper that had been painted with disperse dye, I layered all these shapes down on the metal, covered it with heat prof paper and printed it, once again this was far more vibrant than I had expected.
Above image cut out shapes transffered onto metal
The third one I drew shapes in wax on paper, covered my paper in Disperse dye, selected fabric and textured wall paper and painted those, pressed them on the yellow background to get a textured look
when dry I taped it on aluminium, placed it in the heat press.
Above image created using wax and disperse dye
This was my favourite and once again it came out far more vibrant then I had anticipated.
I also printed on fabric but there was not as much contrast as there had been with the aluminium and the aluminium works as part of my practice.
The fabric although interesting to learn the process, does not feel relevant to my practice at this time.
I now have a good understanding of how these inks behave and how I could incorporate this process in my practice.
I was surprised I enjoyed this, I think I’m drawn to the vibrant colours on the metal and I’m still physically drawing / painting my image, it’s not all done with a machine, which is what I had presumed.
Dry point on Perspex
I had a tutorial with Justin to experiment further with Drypoint. He suggested I try laying a sheet of sand paper on top of my Perspex printing plate and roll it through the press. I did this three times to create a tone similar to that of an aqua tint. I then inscribed my design onto the plate, I inked and printed this, I inked it up again and decided to distress the image by putting white spirit on selected areas. I really like the results from this print, I think in future I maybe more selective about where I put the sandpaper but for me this is part of the learning process, being taught a technique then adapting it to my own practice.
Above image Dry point on perspex using sand paper and white spirit
Printing on plaster
I decided to finally try and print in plaster, it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. I inked up the Perspex plate, rolled out some clay, lay my printing plate on the clay built sides and filled it with plaster. When dry I had a tile with my printed image on. The image printed really well but the quality of the plaster tile was not as good as I had hoped, I’m wondering if my clay base and sides were not even and so the plaster did not settle evenly?
Above image first attempt at printing into plaster, I also used white spirit to distress it
This process really weekend my printing plate but I feel I would like to experiment with this process further using copper plates instead of Perspex and also find a way to get an even tile. I will have to book a slot with Gay, the plaster technician when she is back, to find out how to get better results.