This is my first woodcut print of 2016, and rather special to me. It grew from my wish to engage artistically with the 'Refugee Crisis' which we are currently hearing so much about every day.
'Drypoint' is the most simple of the 'intaglio' printing techniques. The design is incised into the surface of a metal or plastic plate, using a drypoint needle with a tip of diamond or hardened steel. The needle has to be held upright or it won't 'bite'. The resulting line has a characteristically angular, 'scratchy', and not altogether predictable feel about it. As with all 'intaglio' techniques, ink is held in the cut lines, but there is a quite unique softness with drypoint, as the ink is also held in the burr raised by cutting.
Ink is applied to the plate with toothbrush or similar, and then the excess is wiped away. The 'inking up' is a very important part of the process, as more or less ink can be left on the plate, different areas can be treated in different ways, and different coloured inks can be used. Drypoint prints require the pressure of a press, and the burr will be weakened by every pass. Therefore drypoint prints tend to be printed in small, variable editions.
I am very interested in drypoint, as it is so different in approach and results from my relief printmaking. I find using such a simple tool to make lines in such hard and resistant materials a real challenge; the primal work of the stone age cave dweller carving into his walls.
I have recently cut my first 'proper' drypoint. It is on a zinc plate. That seemed like a good idea at the time, as zinc is so much cheaper than copper. I've now learnt from experience that it's a great deal harder too. I haven't yet inked my plate, but when I do I'll pop a picture up here.
My first drypoint, cut on zinc, which was very hard!
Each impression is inked by hand, using a variety of pads and brushes. The ink has to be pressed firmly into the incised lines, and then wiped from the surface. It's tricky! The plate can be cleaned and reinked with different colours and strengths, so different possibilities can be explored.
Sebright Bantams Wood Engraving
Susanne and I have recently attended a three day wood engraving workshop with Hilary Paynter, an absolute master of her craft, and her daughter Leonie. We came away exhausted by the utter concentration required - and completely hooked!
Engraving tools are completely different from the tools used for woodcut printmaking, and the marks they make are generally far finer. Wood engravings tend to be small in scale, because the woodblocks traditionally used are cut from the end-grain of dense and even, slow-growing trees such as Box and Lemonwood. Blocks for wood engraving are so hard and resilient that thousands of prints can be taken without any loss of quality.
I am enthralled by the potential for detail and intensity in wood engraving. Of all the art forms I have practised it seems to me to be the one requiring the highest degree of technical skill, and I think sometimes that some wood engravings
show little else. But when that competence is simply the key to opening up the possibilities of the image on the block, then the wood engraving can sing forth mightily, for all it may be small in scale.
I'll post my first wood engravings here as I print them; have to start somewhere!