February 17, 2012

Work in Progress

        I hadn't done a wood block print in quite a while, and I recently bought myself a new wood-cutting small v-gouge, so I knew that I wanted to work with wood for my next piece.  I decided to try something ambitious (or possibly just foolhardy.)  I designed an image with lots of precise, geometric little details, just setting myself up for tiny lines of wood to break off and the grain to force my cuts in the wrong direction…
        I know that my wood block prints will always be rougher and less controlled than rubber block prints, so I don't just pick wood or rubber randomly.  I choose to use wood when I know that a rough, "carvier" look is what I want, as in animals with roughly patterned skins, or a scene in a more "primitive" style.  My first instinct with a design like this would be to keep it controlled and clean by using rubber.  But what about doing something a little different for once?  I thought a scene of medieval or Tudor half-timbered houses would look cool if it were a little rougher, in keeping with the age, imperfection, and wear-and-tear of such old buildings.  But of course until I get to the printing stage I really have no idea whether or not this will work.
        The first step is to draw the design, and since I don't like any of the ways to transfer a design to a wood block, I draw directly onto the wood.  This new design is heavily based on photographs of several wonderful old buildings in Germany and England, but it's really a fantasy, my own fictionalized image of half-timbered architecture.  Although there are lots of details, architecture is straight-forward enough to draw that it wasn't too hard to do it directly on the wood without excessive need for erasing.  And the only thing I worried about reversing was my initials, since it doesn't really matter which way the buildings face.
        And then I started carving.  Carving wood is slower than rubber.  It takes longer to clear out each unwanted area.  Sometimes I use an x-acto knife to cut across the grain, before clearing to make sure a cut stops where it should, and after clearing to free any
small shards of wood still hanging on.  Furthermore, because carving wood is more physically demanding, I do it for shorter stretches at a time.  So it could be quite a while before this block is ready to print.  And only then will I see whether all this carving worked.  All these little "mistakes" when too much or too little is cut away… will they give the piece a wonderfully natural, hand-crafted, antiquey-distressed look?  Or will they simply ruin the whole blasted thing?

[Pictures: pencil sketch on wood;
wood block in the process of carving, by AEGN;
Photo of my hands at work by PGN, 2012.]

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