For Christmas this year my Dad bought me a beautiful book of Eric Ravillious Wood Engravings…
Dad and I are both huge Ravillious fans, but the book of little engravings were a revelation. Above are my favourite three: I love the tiny, styalised perfection of them! I’ve long wanted to get back to some kind of proper, formal print making. As a textile deigner I did all sorts of silk screen and block printing at college – I loved it all. But once you set up on your own, print making can be quite a tricky thing to access, so I’ve let it all lie.
Wood engraving, as opposed to wood block printing, is the engraving of the short, end-grain of hard wood blocks with small chisels (not scooping tools, like with lino). It’s hard – in every way. But I find the restriction of scale very appealing. Since I was small, producing little watercolours on the backs of old tickets, and filling little perfume sample bottles with beads for dolls house cupboards, working in minature has always appealed!
I digress… So – in May I went away for 4 days to learn. Cherryburn is a small National Trust owned property near Prudhoe. It is the birth place ot Sir Thomas Bewick – an english artist and naturalist. And the father of wood engraving. The course was held there – in the long room, surrounded by Bewicks wood blocks in glass cases.
There were 10 on the course. All lovely people. Some very talented engravers; lecturers; professional illustrators. I was the dunce at the bottom of the class with absolutely no experience of wood engraving. It was nice in a way, to go with no pre-concieved ideas or expectations. I didn’t even know how to hold my tools! The course was led by Chris Daunt – an excellent, encouraging, and calm teacher, and creator of beautiful engravings.
We were sent down to the river to draw. Cherryburn is on the Tyne – it’s an incredibly beautiful bit of the country.
Wood engraving is daunting! Not least because the blocks are expensive (they are such beautiful things in themselves) and any mark you make cannot be undone. But the only way to learn is to do it. A peculiar thing happens to time when you start wood engraving. You begin, and when you next look up, hours have passed. There were 10 of us in that room, sat completely absorbed in our tiny wooden blocks, the only sound coming from Bewicks Grand father clock in the corner.
My first ever wood engraving!
I learned so much! And there were definitely marks I made at the beginning that I wouldn’t have made by the end. But all in all, I was rather proud of my first attempt and gave the print to my Dad for Father’s Day.
It will take YEARS – possibly a life a time – to get good at this. So I’m at the very beginning of a journey. I loved it though, and came away desperate to do more.
After the course I had ‘Whispering Ruins’ to complete for Chantry House Gallery, so it’s not really until this week of unplanned isolation that I’ve been able to carry on.
In April 2023 I will be exhibiting with Heart Gallery again. The exhibition is to be called ‘Home’. It will be my first exhibition at home since 2018. One of many (overly ambitious) ideas is to produce a Hebden Bridge A – Z in tiny wood engravings. I plan to only use small practice blocks so that I can learn and ruin them as I go. And I figure that over the course of 26 letters, I will learn and improve. Whilst at home with covid this week (and not in the South of France with my husband, and without children as I should have been!) I’ve started my tiny but ambitious project.
Stuck at home I’ve just been hand burnishing my prints, with varying results. But I did find this beautiful old book press which I’m planning to get set up to print my blocks.
So this is the beginning of something new and completely different. But just to prove that I have no intention of painting any less, I also completed this yesterday: