Cutting these blocks is challenging. In my new printmaking journey there have been only a few woodcuts, so I knew this would be a learning process. However I chose wood to match my subject. It is the most appropriate and sympathetic material for trying to catch the essence of trees and that’s my main aim.
I am using very basic ply wood so cutting it is tricky because, as with all media, it has its own qualities and drawbacks. Unlike wood engraving blocks or quality solid woodblocks, it chips easily, does not take fine details and has a mind of its own, sometimes taking the cut in a different direction to the knife and it snags horribly if the knife is not sharp.
The plus side is that it is easy to physically cut.
The most intimidating aspect though is the “when its gone, its gone” problem. One slip of the knife, one thoughtless cut cannot be easily rectified, so there has to be some planning. But over-planning and following a careful drawing can make for a still, formal image … very good for some subjects but not for my trees! They need life and character.
My tools are very simple. So far I have used 3 main cutters, 2 x V points and a U shaped gouge. I keep a trial cutting block on the desk to try out ideas for cuts.
I spend probably too long looking at the rough drawing, trying to work out some basic lights and darks and the day slips by. Plans for careful cutting and planning go out of the window and I have to “ just do it”.
Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. At this stage, about half way through the series I have made the main cuts on 8 of the blocks. The plan then is to proof them and see what I have and how they work as a series. Then I will work on the details to adjust the tones and clean up the blocks. If I have cut away too much I will have to start again…angst levels are high.
A pile of rough working drawings.
And taking the block out again, this time to the field maples.There is nothing like working direct.
A series of anything are interesting to work with and I love the design stage. You need variety but also something to link the images, style, subject etc. This will be a simple book with minimum text, so each turning page needs to bring some delight, something visually interesting, and intriguing, which makes you look forward to the next turn, each image adding something new to the “treeness” of the book.
Ideally the complete book, the paper, the binding, the endpapers and the printing, will become a thing greater than the sum of its parts.
As I said, it is all a challenge and I am finding the fear of the pristine wood surface is even greater than that of blank white paper. I never thought I would find something more intimidating than that!