Monday, January 30, 2012

Woodcut tips

Recently, while I was getting prepared to make some new prints, I discovered a new guide to making woodcuts. Written by the printmaker JJ Lankes, it contains a wealth of information I hadn't encountered elsewhere. It is even available to read online, at

While going through this book trying to digest the new information, I became aware of the contrast between guides to printmaking and painting. Books such as this one on printmaking were written by practicing artists in the twentieth century. They are easy to relate to, being relatively contemporary. In contrast reviving the craft of traditional painting, necessitates perusing sometimes ancient documents. While some things, such as the plight of the artist, never seem to change, we share little else. This leads to a lot of uncertainty. Language, materials and working methods have changed immensely. One often encounters a broken trail of technique, formulas and advice. The need arises to fill in the gaps somehow.

Eager to try out some of the tips in the book, I began preparing a new set of poplar boards for carving. Before carving, Lankes recommends coating each piece with linseed oil. This has the effect of sealing the wood he says, so it is more stable. It is also supposed to tighten the surface grain, reducing its tendency to split under the carving knife.

Here I am preparing some linseed oil on my stone block. I mixed the oil with some turpentine to thin it, as instructed in the book. This will accelerate its drying time.

Here is a shot of one of the poplar blocks, partly coated with linseed oil.

The oil quickly soaked in. I allowed it to cure about a week. The early results are a panel with a nice smooth, tight grain. I will make my final conclusions once I have finished the print.