Wittsy's Way of the Woodcut

 

NGREDIENTS

 

 

For my slightly idiosyncratic woodcuts I require:

One faithful old Stanley knife and lots of spare blades - I get through at least one packet on a large block.

Two chisels, small & tiny, for 'pinging' out my 'waste' shapes.

A 'plank' of Japanese Maple ply - sustainably grown , I've checked.

Half the kitchen table ( back off, kids! )

Flagons of Tea - apply liberally throughout proceedings.... 

 

 ETHOD

 

   All my woodcut ideas begin with a sketchbook scribble; many of 'em end there too.

When I have chosen a drawing to develop, I start scribbling again, only now directly on to the ply. Gradually, from my tangled skein of lines, an image will begin to appear, and, with luck, I will have found what I need to begin cutting.

   90% of my woodcutting is done with a Stanley knife. I begin while my sketch is still very fluid. One of the great joys of the process for me is being constantly required to make decisions and adjustments as I go along. Another lies in endeavouring to coax the grain of the wood into allowing my knife to follow my chosen path; we usually meet half way!

   I do not work to a 'Master Plan', and have little idea how the final picture will turn out. Cutting a large block will take well over a week, and to spend all that time knowing my final destination would make it a far less creative journey for me.

   'Mistakes' can be rectified by the use of small amounts of filler or a spot of fairly exacting carpentry. Much better to adapt & incorporate. I believe that a strong work can bear its imperfections, and that it is the combined work of head, heart and hand - slips and all - that gives the piece its humanity.

   We print by hand using a Gerstaecker Press, and currently work mainly with water-based inks and a variety of fine papers. There is a huge amount to learn about the seemingly simple tasks involving ink and paper and press. Susanne  has a natural feel for this side of things, and leads the way in the printing department;  even my best friend wouldn't call me a  neat & tidy worker!

   Finally, the prints are rolled off the Press, and carefully laid to dry on every available surface. Maybe time for just one last cuppa... 

 

RTY TOPPING - Heavy fare, best skipped by those of  faint digestion!

 

   

Perhaps you have occasionally stumbled sadly across a dead bird, and been amazed at how little the tiny bundle of feathers in your hand resembles its living brethren, once its 'spirit' has flown? I try to capture that living essence in my work metaphorically; not by a 'realistic' depiction of feather, flesh or fur, but through visual re-imagining, using the simple, direct, pictorial language that my woodcutting technique enables. It's not a  picture of a Lobster, it IS a Lobster, albeit one who lives on a paper seabed, and has a shell of ink.

   Using a knife almost exclusively, one forgoes the textures  obtained from the traditional woodcutter's  gouges. I have only 'black' and 'white'; pattern and shape.

   Line is fundamentally important to me, yet my lines cannot share the fluidity of graphite sliding over paper. I am constrained by the grain direction and the resistance of the wood to the blade. Also, my lines are in fact two dimensional 'shapes', as each one, whether black or white, must be cut from  both sides, and have a certain width to be rendered visible. 

   Every mark must be made with purpose, because all will remain at the final printing. I can neither 'rub out' nor 'paint over'. And, to cap it all, I have to constantly bear in mind that the darned thing'll print backwards! 

   

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© Julian Witts