Wood Engraving (Relief Printing) Tutorial Evening

Or A Rose by Any other Name (or technique) will smell the same!

I am currently a 3rd year Illustration student at London Metropolitan University, but I am highly motivated and passionate about art in general. During my studies I mainly focus on character design and children book illustrations. However, I am always up and ready to learn and explore new techniques and skills.

I work a lot with digital illustration but also try to do analogue work as I think it’s important to have a wide range of skills available. With that in mind, I was very happy to be asked to take on a wood engraving workshop with Peter Smith a master painter and printmaker as part of my internship at St Bride Foundation.

A complete novice to wood engraving – I wasn’t sure what to expect. As an illustrator I do a lot of drawing and tend to focus on 2D work so I was a little nervous about using my skills on engraving a piece of wood. Still I was really excited to give it a try because I absolutely loved some of the prints that I’ve seen around the wood engraving workshop. There were six other students attending the workshop and most of them were skilled in wood engraving already as the session was a tutorial for these who already specialise in wood engraving. The foundation also does Tester Days for beginners which is something I might look more into in the future. The fact that I was the only person that has completely no idea how the process works made a little nervous, but Peter took his time with me and explained everything step by step.

He gave me a piece of wood and asked me to draw something simple on it so I decided to draw a rose. After I was done drawing he showed me what tools to use to cut into the wood and how to hold them correctly so that I don’t injure myself as the tools are very sharp.

It took me about two hours to engrave a rose in a small piece of wood. Although the process is quite long and requires a lot of patience I really enjoyed it and it was surprisingly relaxing!

When I was done engraving the flower Peter showed me how to prepare the wood for printing and how to use the printing press. The printing process is quite quick – all you have to do is align the wood with the paper and make sure it’s sturdy.

I was really happy and excited about the print I created – you can judge by yourself. I wasn’t sure if it will come out clear but for my very first time ever using the technique of wood engraving, I think it came out pretty good! 

As I absolutely loved the whole process and outcome of the workshop I decided to visit the Society of Wood Engravers exhibition at the Bankside Gallery on the 9th on February. It was amazing to see so many different prints and now that I know how the process works and how much time and precision it takes to create each piece, the whole experience was even more breath-taking. Peter also introduced me to a few people, one of them being Miriam Macgregor. It was amazing to meet her and see the person behind the beautiful prints exhibited at the gallery.

Engraving tools:

There is a lot to learn about the tools as there is so many different shapes and sizes. If you’re looking to try out wood engraving yourself and want to buy the tools, make sure you do the research and speak to someone that can knows what works and what doesn’t.

The ‘burin’ is the generic term for all engravers’ tools, whether for wood or metal. There are four main kinds of wood engraving tools and each one of them comes in several sizes. The tools are steel and set into a cutting point of about 35 to 40 degrees and set into a wooden handle. The tools are designed in a way that makes it more comfortable to use. The wooden handle is flat at the bottom so that it can be held almost flat with the block when engraving and its mushroom shape allows for an easier and more comfortable grip.

Other materials you will need:

  • Ink
  • Roller
  • Paper
  • Block of wood

The process:

From what I learnt during the one workshop that I attended, the process is time consuming but quite simple. Firstly you need to decide what design you want to put on your block of wood. Next, you can draw on top of your block with pencil to then later on go over it with a black marker. Once you have your design ready, you will need to stain your block of wood with a small layer of ink to make it easier to see where you cut when you begin engraving as the unstained wood will be exposed. Once you have prepared your block you are ready to begin engraving.

When the engraving process is completed you need to prepare the block for printing. You can print by or with the use of a printing press. As I was showed how to do it using the press I need to research more into how to print without one. When you are using the press, you need to align your block and make sure it stays in one place with the use of magnets. The magnets will keep the block from moving when run through the printing press. It is also very important to align the paper to the block for the best results. One that is done you are ready to print!

Details of all workshops at St Bride Foundation (including Wood Engraving, Letterpress and Bookbinding) are available on the website www.sbf.org.uk/whats-on/

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