Here's the block inked up and locked onto the press bed.
The first proof. I need to do a fair bit of tidying up, removing especially the spots in the sky area and tonal adjusting generally. The edges need to be more irregular so I'll fade off the squareness a bit down that left hand edge. The forgeround lady's cap needs lightening somehow. The shadow under the wave is too regular and needs adjusting.
I'll leave it for the rest of the day and think about it.
Here's the block as it is so far sitting on it's leather sandbag alongside one of my favourite tools, the spitsticker. I've made a start on the wave and am enjoying depicting the textures and movement of frothing water.
The other actor has suddenly burst onto the stage....what is going to happen? The audience grip their cups of coffee and glasses of wine, in silent expectation. The seagull looks impassively on, she's seen it all before and knows that if a pod of dolphins pass by, the dramatic moment and the audience will be lost.
The sketch is generally only a rough guide to follow and if I'm very lucky, I find the block evolves as I engrave it. Things get altered; a bit lighter here or a texture there and additions or deletions (before they're engraved, of course!).
I think the central stage area will be mostly white with small areas of light texturing (I shall take away some of the texturing I've already done as I like the bold silhouettes of the audience against the white.) I'm seriously considering removing the plant from the bottom right and replacing it with something else Minack-ish. Maybe a portion of the wonderful carved stonework they have there. Or a half-finished cup of cocoa on the grassy ledge perhaps!
It really is a fantastic place. It was created by one determined woman and her grumpy gardener. http://www.minack.com/ Below are a couple of photos I took when I went.
A panorama of the auditorium
And just before the play opened. Note the moon over the distant cliffs. Magical!
Here is my engraving space today. You can see the block I'm working on. It's lying on a leather sandbag for ease of moving the block under the tool. That's raised up on top of a computer software manual, which is just the right thickness! The small block next to it is a scrap piece used to try out textures before I commit them to the block. The small grey corner of card is used to protect the block from being bruised by the back of the tool. My tool sharpening block is on the tabletop, along with a nice stiff (ex-stencilling) brush for sweeping away the wood chips and my magnifying goggles which make me look like Mrs Magoo, but save my eyes from undue strain. For light I use a vintage Anglepoise lamp, which I would like sometime to exchange for something that runs a little cooler! And there's a nice cup of tea to keep me going, served in a jolly mug I received from an illustrator friend in a 'Secret Santa' exchange.
Today I have been concentrating on the plants at the bottom. I've rubbed a little talc in the lines to show them to you clearer. I wish I hadn't used that white paint to sketch on the block though, it has proved impossible to wipe away and makes gauging line size harder. Luckily it'll go when I pull the first test proof.
Going on from my last post, I have now turned the composition 90 degrees to 'portrait' ratio, putting the split on the block on the bottom third (see red line on the scribbled rough). With a fair bit of compositional squeezing and jiggling it now misses all the vital components and can be gently eased out of a starring role.
While I was there, I have enlarged the rock samphire plants at the bottom, added a flying gull and given the whole image a cut-away outline. I like this version better.
A couple of blog posts ago, I showed a sketch of my next proposed engraving; the old lifeboathouse at Lizard Point.
The block I have decided to use is the last uncut block of my vintage early 1980's stock. I bought several good size pear and boxwood blocks back then (when I had more disposable income!). But my first attempts at engraving at this time were unsatisfactory and my interest and patience waned. Working in isolation didn't help and I went back to painting.
Blocks, burin tools, roller and sandbag all ended up in a box in the loft, surviving 3 house moves, until 2008 when the engraving bug bit me again. Harder. Out of the loft came my engraving equipment. The roller had melted, not unsurprisingly, but the new durathene roller refill fitted my brass frame and was even better. I had several of my smaller old blocks that had been engraved (with toecurlingly bad results!) resurfaced by Chris Daunt, who recreated a fine surface for my newer work.
This particular block is 7" x 5 1/2" , one of the largest I've got. It's pearwood, I think and has never been touched by a tool. The challenge lies in the fact that the block was made using three pieces, jointed and glued. One of the joints has over the 29 years in storage, opened out a little.
To see how much of a problem it might create, I inked the block up and ran it through the press.
Granted, it's a relatively light impression, but the split is still clearly visible. The question is: can I work around it and obscure it when I cut the design? I think probably, the human eye being what it is, it will be slightly noticeable, even if I position the design so that much of the split is cut away or textured. I'm not overly bothered by it really.... to me it speaks of the wood the design is cut into. It's not a perfect, inert plastic surface, impervious to changes of temperature and humidity.
I have awful trouble thinking up zippy titles to my blogs, which usually means I end up naming them something pretty lame like 'Progress!' and 'More progress!' Sigh........
I have stolen some more engraving time from my 'ordinary' work schedule and the block is taking shape. I rather enjoyed doing the texture on the stonework of the foreground cottage. At the base of it I have decided to add some dark foliage, as if there's a sunken courtyard garden down there.
I must away now and sharpen my burins, it's amazing how quickly they lose their edge.
Here is the block as it stands. I'm amending and altering as I go, trying out textures and tones and generally just enjoying myself. I want to allow the background to be a bit gloomy, as if a showery squall was heading in to add to the figure's discomfort.
The Society of Wood Engravers' 72nd Annual Exhibition is now displayed online at their web page; click on the 'online gallery' button. My submission, 'Dinner is Served' is on page 10 and I'm pleased to see that they have used it also in larger form to embellish the page.
The block is cut as far as I want and I now need to pull a proof to make sure all is well. If I need to do any additional cutting, the proof should show me where. You can see from the scan above that I've brushed out all the white powder that I had rubbed into the engraved lines to help keep an eye on where I was cutting. You have to be very thorough about this and make sure none is left because it could make the ink clog the engraved lines or cause the prints to be spotty.
Hopefully I shall proof it tomorrow and blog the result as soon as the ink has dried sufficiently. If it needs any more cutting I'll mark up a proof and blog that, too, for the interested. And I have to think of a title...something I'm really not very good at!
And now, I must have a tidy up of my studio, because there's the detritus of a full working week, papers, briefs (not the sort you wear!) and reference books all piled on top of my press bed. Oh for a larger work space!
I spent another session outside in the hot sunshine yesterday, engraving at the little table, while hubby laboured mightily pulling weeds under the deep shade of the old apple tree. It was very hot indeed and I had to sit in shade, too. Engraving outside is a joy, quite different to sketching, I find. When you sketch, your focus is more outward, towards your subject; your general awareness taking note of the light and atmosphere around you, which you hopefully transfer to your sketch.
Engraving outside is insular, inward-looking. You're concentrating on a block of wood (or resingrave!) a few inches in front of your eyes. Your subject is set days before, perhaps weeks. Every cut is considered carefully. You enter a gentle meditative state, lulled by the rhythm of your modus operandi. The way you hold your burin, the act of cutting, slow but deliberate, brushing away the tiny burrs of wood that form in front of the blade as you make the mark. At the same time, you're aware of the warmth of the sun on your back and sounds around you and what could be better than birdsong? It's a sublime state.
Back to the block, and I decided to cut the sky / background area because I wanted to see how the lighter area would affect the rest of the design. It's hard to tell from this photo what will print and what not, but generally I have scorped out much of the sky, leaving small pieces and ridges of wood to flick life into the white. Also I've cut a wispy cloudy formation to help act as a bit of a frame and hold the design in. It's a device I use a fair bit in my illustration work, not just to act as clouds, but gentle curvy strokes around certain elements of a composition can unify the whole. I had wondered how I could start to translate the technique to the starker wood-engraving medium. We'll see how this prints up.
For now, it's Monday. I have a lot of illustration work to do for Cambridge University Press and when my daily quota is done (or if a thunderstorm turns up, forcing me to switch off the computer!) I shall set to and carry on cutting. I hope the next stage you'll see will be ready for a first proof.
This morning was warm and sunny so I decided to take my engraving kit outside to the patio and work there.
I set up my stuff as usual; block on the leather sandbag, burins in groups to the right for easy access, dish of talc to rub over and make the cuts more visible and small practice block to the left, on which to check tool sharpness and test textures. Also visible is the little arkansas block for sharpening and my sketch. The only thing missing is my lamp, but I have plenty of light coming from the great lamp in the sky..........
I had a marathon session today, adjusted the seagull and concentrated on the courtyard scene. I had to get the magnifier out for the seated figure, my eyes aren't as good as they once were. Note the radioactive-eyed cat in the window! What do you think it's seen? I think I'll leave the uncut courtyard wall behind the seated figure as it is, as deep contrast. I'll decide for sure after first proof.
I've also moved one seagull down away from the distant houses and added another to the left. I don't think I've mentioned the size of the block but if you're interested, it's 9cm x 12.7cm (about 3 1/2" x 5" ).
It's been ages since I've worked with such enthusiasm and reluctance to pack up at the end of the session. The temptation to just cut one more passage........ but that must be it for today. My eyes are complaining and I have a nice glass of red waiting for me in the evening sun of the courtyard; a bit like this couple on the block. Hopefully no predatory seagulls lurking, though!
I seem to be working on different areas at once this time. That could be dangerous if I start losing touch with the tonal relationships of adjoining areas. I'll have to be careful.
I'm making tiny amendments and additions as I go; in fact I woke in the dark of the night, thinking, "Oh no! I must remember to make the seagull's chimney granite, not brick!" This because granite is the building material of preference down Cornwall and would go better, rather than brick. I hoped I would remember when I woke up and not too late when I'd cut it; luckily it popped into my mind as I got up and I was able to scribble a note on my sketch.
Tomorrow is engraving day! Hooray! A whole day on it. Ah well, for today...back to the deadlines......
Here is another stage of the cut. I managed to do a little last evening, but the light wasn't too good as I was out of the studio, so I took things slowly. You can see I rub talc into the engraved lines so I can see a little better where I've been and how I'm doing. It's a useful trick, but you have to be scrupulous about brushing it all out before you approach the block with a rollerful of ink!
I've decided to add a little foliage to the patio area; a few pencil marks on the block serve to remind me. I hope to cut some more this evening, maybe I'll remember to take my lamp this time. I think my eyes would thank me for it.
I wish I could ditch the day job and engrave more, but, sadly, a living has to come first. I do actually enjoy many aspects of the day job (educational illustration), it's often fun, sometimes a challenge and importantly, a steady income. I can work in my jim-jams if I like (but I never do!) as my studio is a spare room at home. No rush-hour traffic for me. This is the life I always wanted, so bring on the lottery win....then the day job can be gently released into the wild and I can enjoy my printmaking more often.
As you can see, progress has been made and although I need still to lighten some areas, such as the ghostly player at the back and one player's shirt, I'm just about ready for a preliminary proof. I'll keep the background a bit rough and choppy for now.
As this is a maple block and a bit crumblier than box I'm having to keep my burins very sharp. It's quite tricky to do without bowing the cutting face of the blade and I definitely need more practice to get it right.
And here you can see the beast I've got on 'permanent' loan from my mother...a 'Vision England Stereoramic 'magnifying light. It's rather heavy and was rescued from my Dad's drawing office back in the 70's, when it was being thrown out. It has x2 magnification, which is perfect for my purposes. Just enough to take the strain off my eyes, not so much that I'm tempted to cut detail too small for the naked eye!
The photos here show the design reversed and transferred to the maple endgrain block. It's just 2" x 3" but I think the bold design will carry it off.
As you can see, the design has been adjusted and strengthened by overpainting in dry white gouache. Mainly , I did this because when I darkened the block, my pencil lines all but vanished so I thought I'd take another hint out of Simon Brett's book (see last post) and use a little gouache.
It's a good way to adjust the design on block, actually. I had my doubts, but it works. If you use carbon paper or any direct tracing technique to put your image on the block, you can find the design looks stiff and lacks the immediacy of your pencil sketch. I like to sketch direct onto the block, but in this case the positioning of the elements was important so I did a simple carbon transfer then used that as a base to sketch over it in fine black pen and white gouache.
Now for the cutting, which will take a little while as I have a couple of illustration jobs to do before my holiday starts on Saturday. I shall post again before I go.
I've had it in mind for some time to do some engravings of rugby players. There's something very formal and dance-like in some of the set piece aspects of the game such as scrum and line-out. The players form patterns, lines and circles. Straining limbs intertwine in the struggle for the ball and knots of bodies end up on the (usually muddy) grass. Then suddenly there will be an explosion of movement as one player streaks towards the try line with the ball under his arm with a wake of opposing players thundering after him. I love it!
I wondered what it would be like to engrave from a tonal sketch, rather than a more linear one (as I normally do), as suggested by Simon Brett in his book 'Wood Engraving, how to do it'. So I've done a little sketch with the watercolour brushes in Corel Painter, on my computer............ I have a 3" x 2" maple block, all I need to do now is transfer the design.