Receiving a new block from the blockmakers is a tactile experience. I love unwrapping the package to feel the cool, smooth wood and admire the close grain.
This is a resurfaced block, which had been engraved on some 30 years ago. I sent it along with some others to Chris Daunt, (who doubtless had to give himself a steadying moment when he stopped laughing at the toe-curlingly bad engraving) and he shaved away the existing engraving and smoothed the block to a glassy shine on the engraving face.
You can almost make out the old design but the block is smooth and silky to the touch. A new engraving block is a thing of beauty. Contrary to the label on the wrapper, this is not lemonwood, but pearwood. I bought it from TN Lawrence in London in 1980 and it arrived neatly wrapped in a piece of newspaper. Now I hope to engrave on it a second time and I hope the result is more competent.
First I darkened that smooth shiny surface, by rubbing a little dilute writing ink over it, with a cloth. I darken the block so that I can see the engraved lines better, as they will stand out white against the dark. I don't darken it too much though, or I won't see the lines of my design.
As for the design...here is a rare shot of a drawing in the process of being tweaked and refined on my computer. I use a professional drawing programme, called Corel Painter and use it every working day for illustration work in my 'day' job, so I am very familiar with it. Mostly I draw for publications and educational material. In the days before graphic computers, we worked on paper, with pen and ink and paint. (Sometimes we still do.) Clients were supposed to make any amendments to a drawing at the rough sketch stage, but frequently we got asked to amend a finished piece of work. If it was only something small we could over paint or patch but often it was a big alteration that involved starting the drawing all over again. With the computer all this changed (when we got used to using the dratted things!).
Using a graphics tablet instead of a mouse I can sketch onscreen just as I would in a sketchbook. It's important at this point to realise that the computer DOES NOT DO THE DRAWING. If you aren't good at drawing on paper then you won't be any better using this programme. It's a tool, like a pencil. If the computer did the drawing, I would have left the profession and gone off to do something more interesting. The big difference for an artist is that pretty much everything done this way is editable, so I can change the size of my drawing, erase and redraw, reverse and change colours, you name it, it can be altered with no damage to the drawing. This is a huge advantage when you consider publishers are forever changing their minds about things!
I make no apologies for using the computer to prepare my sketches for engravings. Some purists may argue against it; but then consider that I could easily draw what is on the screen, on a piece of paper and it would look no different. But it would take ten times longer, with all the adjustments and rubbing out and redrawing. Life's too short, engraving time doubly so ; the computer does the donkey work of erase, resize, reverse etc and leaves me to do the creative bit.
So there you have it...here's the preparatory sketch done completely on computer but still drawn by hand. The lettering at the top is useful to be able to drop in but I still have to engrave it by hand with the rest of the composition. Wish me luck!