September 25, 2015

English Wood Engravings

        This year I bought myself a wood engraving by Andy English.  The thing that’s always so amazing about wood engravings is how tiny and detailed they are.  As I’ve explained before, engraving is exactly the same principle as any relief block printmaking, but the difference is that the carving is done using different tools on a surface that’s hard and without grain.  There is a synthetic material called resingrave that can come in any size, but true wood engraving is done on the end grain of the wood and thus is usually limited to much smaller blocks than woodcuts carved into planks or plywoods.  So my piece by English, showing two turtledoves and Ely Cathedral, that looks as detailed as any piece I’ve ever done, includes all those tiny lines in an area only 50x75 mm (2x3 inches).
        Andy English has a blog post showing the step-by-step of a wood engraving of swifts, and there are a number of things about his process that I find really fascinating.  You can look at his whole post here.  The first thing I find interesting is that he drew and then even carved the large swift before drawing in any of the rest of his scene.  Looking at some of his other posts about his work, it seems that’s his standard way of working.  I wonder why?  Then, like most of my guide sketches for my prints, his sketch really is very sketchy - areas aren’t fully outlined, spaces aren’t marked for black or white, or even particular textures.  Wood engravings really are all 
about the texture.  Large areas of white aren’t carved out (because the tools are more line-making points rather than space-filling scoops.  You can see this in the sky behind the swifts).  And generally large areas of black aren’t left.  In fact, this is my complaint about many engravings: they read as grey all over instead of satisfying contrasts of black and white.  But English has lovely contrast in many of his pieces, and especially lots of black in some, such as the hedgehog.
        English does really beautiful work, with a lot of birds, animals, and scenes of interesting buildings and countryside - all things I happen to be particularly drawn to.  So I’ve added some of my favorites, because of course I couldn’t resist.  (I’ve been wanting to do a hedgehog myself for years, but have yet to do it because I don’t know how any effort of mine could avoid seeming like a cheap copy of some of the other beautifully carved hedgehogs I’ve already seen.  But someday I’ll get some inspiration of what I can bring to the hedgehog block print celebration!)  Anyway, I hope you enjoy these beautiful little relief block prints.

[Pictures: Two Turtle Doves, Ely, wood engraving by Andy English;
The View from Swift Cottage, wood engraving by English, 2012;
Hedgehog, wood engraving by English;
Light, Ely, wood engraving by English;
Giverny: Bridges, wood engraving by English, (Images from Andy English’s web site).]

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