TO DO IT" SERIES
"HOW TO DO IT" SERIES
I MAKING AN ETCHING
By Levon West
2 WOOD-ENGRAVING AND
By Clare Leighton
Others in preparation, including
3 MAKING A WATER-COLOUR
By George Pearse Ennis, President
American Water-Colour Society
These books may advantageously be
studied in conjunction with The Studio
series, MASTERS OF ETCHING,
The Studio Special Number, THE
NEW WOODCUT, the series
MASTERS OF THE COLOUR
PRINT, etc. They provide, as well
as a knowledge of the craft, a better
appreciation of the works by famous
artists which are there profusely illus-
"How to do it"
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LONDON: THE STUDIO LTD.
44 Leicester Square, W.C.2
NEW YORK: THE STUDIO PUBLICATIONS INC.
381 Fourth Avenue
The thanks of the author and publishers are
due to all the artists who kindly gave per-
mission to reproduce their prints; also to
Mr. Douglas Cleverdon for the use of Self-
Portrait, by Eric Gill. The photographs
showing the method of wood-engraving were
made by Mr. Cyril Jenkins. The illustrations
on pages 41, 47, 59, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79 and 81
are reproduced from The Studio Special
Number, The New Woodcut; those on pages
49, 57 and 83 from Modern Book Illustration
in Great Britain and America.
First Published, October, 1932
* '. * . .
Printed in Great Britain
ILLUSTRATIONS OF METHOD
General view of artist engraving a block 8
The way to hold the tools 10
Close-up of tool engraving on the block 12
Inking the roller 14
Inking the wood-block 15
Placing printing paper over block 16
Printing block 17
Removing print from block 19
Set of tools 20
Sharpening tools 21
EXAMPLES OF WOOD-ENGRAVING & WOODCUTS
Print of block cut to show marks made by different tools 23
Gill, Eric. Self-Portrait, first stage 25
Gill, Eric. Self-Portrait, final stage 27
Leighton, Clare. Loading, first stage 29
Leighton, Clare. Loading, second stage 31
Leighton, Clare. Loading, final stage 33
'Raverat, Gwendolen. Bowl Players in France 35
Gibbings, Robert. Portrait of William Walcot, R.E. 37
Gill, Eric. Girl with Cloak. (a) Surface printing; (b) intaglio 39
Sainsbury, Hester. The Lamp 41
Daglish, Eric. Nightingale 43
Hughes-Stanton, Blair. Illustration from Gregynog Press Comus" 45
Hughes-Stanton, Blair. The Turkish Bath 47
Hermes, Gertrude. Frontispiece to the Pilgrim's Progress" 49
Parker, Agnes Miller. Catte and Chyken 51
Borman, Emma. The Circus 53
Nash, John. Foxgloves 55
Gill, Eric. Page from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales 57
Taylor, C. W. Lamberhurst 59
Cole, Timothy. Abraham Lincoln 61
Murphy, J. J. A. Morning Gossip 63
Daglish, Eric. Bullfinch 65
Nash, Paul. Design for book cover 67
Jones, David. Illustration for The Chester Play of the Deluge 69
Gibbings, Robert. Pandanus Grove, Tahiti 71
Hermes, Gertrude. A Spring Bouquet 73
Smith, May. Still Life 75
Sandzen, Birger. River Nocturne 75
Skoczylas, W. Tite d'un Vieux Montagnard 77
Underwood, Leon. Mexican Fruit 77
Gag, Wanda. Spinning Wheel 79
Rice, Bernard. Beggars 81
Craig, Gordon. Page from The Tragedie of Hamlet" 83
Gauguin, Paul. Tahiti print, Mahna no varua ino 85
Schlangenhausen, Emma. Christ stilling the Waves 87
Leighton, Clare. Cutting, over-inked print 89
Leighton, Clare. Cutting, under-inked print 91
Leighton, Clare. Cutting, properly printed 93
Of all media, wood-engraving is the one in which there is the least
to be taught and the most to be learnt. The principle of the modern
woodcut is that of a white chalk drawing on a blackboard, while the
principle of etching is that of a black line drawing on white paper.
Every cut made on a wood block prints white, so that one is always
working up from the black towards the light. If the new, unengraved
block were printed, it would be but a rectangle of black ink.
The technique of the wood block has changed radically since the days
of the pioneers. The early prints, which should be called woodcuts
rather than wood-engravings, nearly always gave the effect of black lines
on white, but the white line on a black background is the natural and
more direct method. All black line work requires the less spontaneous,
more laboured process of cutting away the surface of the wood on both
sides of the line to be left black. Occasionally a block is printed intaglio
as a curiosity-that is, the ink is pressed into the lines cut and wiped-
but the accepted process is a matter of surface printing, such as is used
Materials. The materials needed are simple and fairly inexpensive.
I will describe them under separate headings.
Blocks. For wood-engraving these are preferably of boxwood,
though apple or pear are possible materials. The section of the wood
is used and is cut into thicknesses of about one inch-that is, type
high"-so that it may be used in conjunction with type for books. This
top grain gives the engraver complete freedom from splitting or
roughness of any sort, enabling him to draw the finest and most diver-
sified lines. For woodcuts, the wood used is softer and along the grain,
and any smooth-grained wood will do, such as lime, cherry, American
whitewood or maple. For lino-cuts, which are really the same thing in
method as woodcuts, ordinary smooth household linoleum is used.
Tools. Although time can be saved by having a greater variety with
many graded sizes, yet only three tools are necessary-the scorper, the
graver, and the spitzsticker. The following are their uses, adding a few
extra tools that are undoubtedly good to have:
Scorper. For cutting out large surfaces or making thick cuts of any sort.
Graver. For any fine straight line or specks.
Spitzsticker. For any curved lines.
Square scorper. For corners ; useful in lettering, also for thick white
Flat chisel tool. For shaving off any upstanding points of wood from
a large cut away surface.
Tint tool. For finest white lines.
Multiple tool. A very dangerous tool, apt to make the work look
cleverer than it is and mechanical. Useful for even greys.
For woodcuts on soft wood or linoleum, an ordinary knife can be
used, but as this requires that two cuts should be made-each downwards
and slanted towards each other-in order to get a white line, it is better
to use a scrive, or hollow V-shaped tool which will cut the line at one
go. Semi-circular hollow tools called gouges are used for cutting out
Paper. Each engraver must decide this for himself by experience,
discovering what paper suits his particular type of work. Any good
Japanese or India paper will do. All that is necessary is that forehand
printing it should not be too thick to allow of the pressure taking
up the ink.
Ink. This can be any good printing ink, and is best bought in tubes
so that it shall not coat or dry. Coloured inks can be got. For surface
printing avoid any thin ink that will run into the engraved lines and
On the opposite page is a general view of a wood-engraver at work. The block is on the leather
sandbag, so that it can be rotated at any moment. In the reflection in the mirror it will be seen
that the left hand grips the block below the level of the surface so that it is out of danger's way
should the tool slip. The tools are handy at the right side of the block, with the handles
towards the engraver. It is better to sit with the light towards the left, as the shadows do not
then fall on to the lines that are being engraved. Notice the way the little finger is gripped
round the handle of the tool.
(A) The right way to hold the tool. It can then be slid
along the edge of the thumb, piston-like, as a line is
being engraved. The head of the tool lodges com-
fortably in the pad of the palm by the little finger.
(B) An alternative way to hold the tool. Greater grip ii
possible this way, but much less freedom of movement
from the wrist. As the engraving of a block is not i
matter of sheer physical strength, this way is not really
so satisfactory as (A).
In addition to these things a sandbag is needed. This is a round, flat
leather bag filled solidly with sand, and is used as a rest for the wood
block. A rubber roller is required for inking-any photographic one
will do ; a piece of glass or, preferably, a lithographic stone on which
to roll the ink, and an ordinary tea spoon for rubbing the print. For
sharpening the tools it is good to have a hard Arkansas stone.
Method of working. There are various ways of starting, but as the
surface of the block is highly polished, it is desirable to cover it with
something in order that the tool may not slip. The methods are very
individual, determined by whether the artist feels happier evolving
the engraving directly out of the wood as he works, letting himself
be dictated to more or less by his medium, or whether he wishes to be
sure of his design before he starts. For the first, it is better to blacken
the block with a coat of Indian ink or black water-colour paint. The
design can then be traced on with a red or blue carbon paper, drawn on
with a lead pencil that will show shiny, or even engraved direct on to the
wood with the tools. Probably this is the highest form, but it pre-
supposes great sureness, as it is impossible to erase an engraved line.
The second and more usual method is to cover the block with a thin
coat of Chinese white. The design can then be drawn or traced with
a pencil, carbon paper or black paint. Indian ink should not be used
as it is apt to peel off. Care should be taken to fix this design on to
the wood with an ordinary sprayer and fixatif. Some artists have their
drawings photographed on to the block, but this is apt to deaden one's
The block is now placed on the sandbag. This allows the left hand
to grip the sides of the block, and also enables the engraver to swing
the block round when a curved line is being cut, for it is the block and
not the tool that moves.
The way to hold the tool is best shown by the two photographs on
the page opposite. If an even steady line is required, the tool
must be held with its point parallel with the surface of the block;
otherwise, if pressed down, it will sink too deep into the wood, or if
Close-up of tool engraving on the block. The wood block is on the sandbag so that the left hand can grit
it at the side. The tool is pushed forward by the little finger, and any curve of line is produced by swinging
the actual block round. The block in this photograph has already had a trial proof taken of it so that the
engraved lines look dark from the cleaning (the petrol-diluted ink has run into them). Note the part of the
block that has been scored out and shows white.
held too high, will slip up above it. Variety of line is got by variety of
depth of cut, for the lower into the wood the tool goes, the bigger is
the mark made by the tool, which widens up from its point.
All wood-engraving is done away from the body.
All wood-cutting with a knife is done towards the body. There is
no rule as to how next to proceed. That must be left to the artist. Some
will engrave the main outlines of the design and then take a print,
playing about on the rough print with Chinese white in order to see
what effect they wish to produce. Some will first remove the wood
from the spaces that are to be the large masses of white (this can be
done with a gouge or with a chisel and mallet). Others engrave most
of the block before taking a print (see Eric Gill, page 25), stopping
short only in order to be more certain of the grey values and to clear
away any remaining upstanding wood that will catch the ink on the cut
away surfaces. Others again (such as Agnes Miller Parker, page 51,
and J. J. A. Murphy, page 63), take nothing before the final print. This,
of course, is easier where the block has been coated with black rather
than with white; powdered French chalk rubbed into the engraved
block so entirely gives the effect of the printed block that the actual
trial proofing is unnecessary.
Printing. The printing of a block should be as much part of the
artist's work as the actual engraving. A detailed account of how this
is done will be found under the photographs of the different stages of
the process. A block should be so well engraved that it will stand the
test of being printed as mechanically as a copper plate visiting card ; on
the other hand, provided the particular block is not to be used for book
illustration, I see no reason why the artist should not experiment with
his printing, even as an etcher is allowed to do. Gauguin lowered parts
of his blocks and wiped ink off parts in order to get some of his blacks
greyed. Fine sandpaper rubbed over any part of the surface of the
block will lower it so that the inked roller does not touch it so strongly
-or the ink can be carefully wiped off any desired portion. But care
should be taken that none of this amounts to trickery. No individualness
The roller is flattening out the sticky black proofing ink on the lithographic stone. (A piece of glass will
serve as well, but is apt to get broken or to tear the rubber of the roller if it goes over the edge of the glass.)
This has to be done until the ink on the stone and on the rubber roller is smooth as satin.
Sroller charged with this satin-smooth ink is passed over the wood block. Experience alone will determine
xly how much ink to have on the roller. It must be put on very evenly, and it is advisable, before printing,
rand the block up on its four sides and wipe off any ink that may have gone over the edges. This will
ensure a perfectly dean outline to the print.
A piece of printing paper having been cut into the required size-allowing a fair margin all round the block-
it is preferably breathed upon, or even damped over the steam from a boiling kettle. This, though, is not
necessary. It is then carefully placed over the inked block, care being taken that it should not slip at all.
Once placed completely on the block, it is rubbed all over with the palm of the hand to ensure its adhering.
The actual printing now starts. An ordinary tea spoon is better than any of the burnishers sold, as a greater
intimacy is possible. By placing the two first fingers inside the spoon one can feel how one is progressing
and can exercise the necessary care over delicate portions of the block. It is better to have a thin smooth
card between the spoon and the printing paper as this prevents the spoon from suddenly ripping up the paper.
Some people rub a beeswaxed card over the paper to get a smoother surface for rubbing; but this is not
necessary. The entire block should have a general rub so that the eye can see which parts of the block corre-
spond to the printing paper. (N.B.-In this photograph the paper has not been properly pressed down at
the left-hand corner. This shows the risk that arises of letting it slip.) The photograph shows by the different
colour of it which half of the block has been rubbed and which hasn't. As soon as the general rubbing is
finished, the card can be dispensed with and the spoon used in direct touch with the paper. This is so that
the black parts can get the extra pressure in order to make them as rich as possible. Care should be taken
not to rub hard upon the cut-away white parts. Especial care is needed for the edges of these white parts,
else the paper might tear.
of printing should ever be used to hide bad drawing or sloppy,
Particulars of the sharpening of the tools will be found beneath the
photograph of this operation (page 21).
Repairs. Any large gash or slip is best repaired by sending the block
back to the maker and getting a patch put in. A small slip, however,
can be mended by inserting a plug. Drill a hole over the accident ;
cut and round a tapering peg from a piece of spare boxwood about
the size of the drilled hole. Dust the hole with powdered resin, place
the peg in the hole and hammer it well in. Part of the peg will be
standing above the surface of the block. Take a piece of card, cut a hole
in it and slip over the standing part of the peg so that it lies on the
surface of the block. Now with a very fine toothed saw cut all round
the base of the peg, the block being protected by the card. Any part
of the peg remaining above the surface of the block can be shaved
with the flat tool and then rubbed with the finest possible sandpaper.
Any line which has become bruised by being accidentally pressed down
by the back of the tool can be raised by first wetting it and then immedi-
ately drying it with a lighted match.
It is not possible to give much in the way of preliminary advice.
The only thing to remember is always to be as direct as possible. A
re-engraved or touched-up line invariably shows and looks tired.
Discover what marks can be made by each tool, make your cut once for
all, and get tools of varying thicknesses rather than go over any cut
that has been made. The best engravings are those in which the tool
marks show deliberately.
In the following examples I have chosen prints rather as illustrations
of varieties of technique than for their interest as works of art. Care-
ful study of these prints through a magnifying glass will give more
help than any amount of reading.
Having rubbed intelligently and discriminately over the surface of the paper, the printer can now dare to lift
the paper up from the block. If it is done carefully, practically the entire surface of the print can be looked
at before the paper is finally removed; the only thing to see to is that each part of the paper that has been
lifted should be replaced on the block before any other part is raised. This prevents slipping. When it has
been ascertained that the print is satisfactory, the paper can be peeled off, as shown in the photograph. This
is the finished print.
A set of wood-engraving tools. It will be noticed that the handles are only rounded at on efe so that they
may not knock against the block. The slight angle at which the shaft of the tool is fixed into the handle is
also shown here.
From left to right at the top row the tools are as follows:
i. Rounded scorper 4. Smaller square scorper
2. Smaller sized rounded scorper 5. Gouge for soft wood cutting
3. Square scorper
2nd row-left to right:
I. Graver 3. Large tint tool
2. Spitzsticker 4. Smaller tint tool
3rd row left: Multiple tool (this does not show dearly, but it is a cross between a square scorper and a
rake). Right: Flat chisel tool.
'his is a close-up photograph of the sharpening of a tool. Put a few drops of sperm oil or typewriter oil on
Sa Hard Arkansas oil stone. Grip the handle of the tool in the palm of the right hand with the lower spine
f the tool to the front. Place the oblique base of the tool perfectly flat on to the stone in the pool of oil. The
greatest care must be taken that it is absolutely flat, else the tool will be sharpened unevenly and the point may
e blunted. Move the tool backwards and forwards, up and down or round and round. The direction does
ot matter so long as the tool keeps flat on the stone. This should sharpen it in a very short while. Try
ie point across a finger nail and if it sticks into it the tool is sharp enough.
or snapped points or badly blunted tools, a larger, coarser stone may be necessary; but if the tools are
trefully handled they should never get beyond the need for the Hard Arkansas stone.
member that a blunt tool means bad work and slipping and mistakes.
Scorpers (round). Various sizes. The increasing width of the
white marks being due to the extra depth that the tool has cut into the
wood (that is, that the tool is wider as it goes in deeper). The little
jabs and specks on the left are caused by pecking at the wood with the
Graver (lozenge-shaped). (There is a square one that makes the mark
a bit thicker.) The same tool has been used for all these marks, to show
the possible variety-all due to the depth of the tool in the wood.
This can be seen in the three long lines to the left; pressure has been
put in the different parts of the lines and, in the bottom line the pressure
has been even throughout. Note the right angle made with the tool.
Spit sticker. All the marks on this line have also been made with
the one-sized tool. The tool, which has oval sides, is the best one always
for any curved lines.
Tint tool. There are very many different sizes of these tools. They
have very much less width as they go up the depth of the tool and so
are admirable for any work which consists of even white lines. They
can be used for straight lines or curved ones. The two tools here shown
are of the very fine and the very wide size.
Square scorpers. These shown are of two sizes. They are especially
useful for white corners or for lettering.
Flat chisel. This tool is used for levelling off the rough cut away
parts of large white spaces, so that no upstanding peak of wood may
catch the inked roller. It is also good for planing away any edge of a
block that is not wanted. An amusing little wriggly mark can (as shown
here) be made with it.
Multiple tool. There are two sizes of this tool. It should be used
very sparingly and should be avoided altogether until one can manage
without it It is apt to enslave the artist, as it gives a clever effect with
very little trouble. When cross hatched it gives an effect of a white
check pattern on a minute scale.
Wood-engraving tools, blocks and other requisites may be obtained
in London from Cornelissen & Sons, T. N. Lawrence, W. Lawrence,
Lechertier Barbe Ltd., W. Y. Rhind and C. Roberson & Co.; in
New York through E. H. and A. C. Friedrichs Art Stores.
Print of block cut to show marks made by the
Self-portrait (First Stage)
(Actual size of print)
We have been especially fortunate in getting the first stage of this
Self-Portrait by Eric Gill. By comparing this print with the one on the
following page, more can be learnt than by reading volumes. Here it will
be seen that Eric Gill has engraved everything about which he was
certain, not bothering to wait before taking the trial proof until he had
cleaned away all the white background. Upstanding bits of wood that
have not been removed from the cap and the neck and the forehead
still catch the inked roller and print black. The mere position and
direction of hair are shown on the beard and eyebrow, and the shadow
down the neck, which is grey in the following print, is here still a black
space. Compare the weight of the modelling on the face at this stage
with the final form. Here the grey under the cheekbone is very obviously
crossed white lines on black; in the next print these white lines will
have been crossed so many times more that mere tiny specks of wood
will remain to take the ink and print black.
By courtesy of Douglas Cleverdon
Self-portrait (Final Stage)
(Actual site of print)
Here we have the final print. All the background has been cleared
away, and the cap and the neck and the shoulder print white. The
shadow against the cap and the back of the neck have been greyed by
lines engraved across the existing white lines, giving a mesh-like
appearance. Notice the work on the hair and the beard, and the fine line
where the cap meets the forehead. The modelling on the face has been
reduced and extensively lightened. All the odd pieces of upstanding
wood have been cleared away, leaving the entire print clean.
So much can be learnt even by taking some small portion-say, the
nose-and very carefully studying the difference between this and the
There is a separate version of this Self-Portrait in which large patches
have been put into the block behind the ear and above the glasses,
bringing the hair up to the ear behind and up to the cap in front.
By courtesy of Douglas Cleverdon'
Loading (First Stage)
(9x II, in.)
First trial proof taken while the block was being engraved. The
positions of most of the figures are merely shown by leaving black spaces.
The large masses of white have been cut away with a scorper. The
shapes of the grey shadows have been indicated, but as yet the greys
are too dark and the edges too hard and sudden.
Loading (Second Stage)
(9 x II in.)
In this second proof the greys have been lightened by numberless
crossing white lines engraved with the tint tool. The light on the logs
is growing by means of curved lines made with the multiple tool. The
central figure is forming. The edges of the grey shadows on the snow
are still too much marked.
Loading (Final Stage)
(9 x nI in.)
This third and final proof shows a great jump forward. The figures
have been engraved and the background cleared up around them. Light
has shown up the form of all the logs. The background has been
considerably lightened-the central figure has light accents on it by
means of occasional thicker white lines. The tree trunks have been
made more solid. The greys of the background have been crossed
yet again with fine white lines, thicker cuts towards the white parts
merging the edges of the grey until they show as minute black specks.
The sections of the logs have had the multiple tool used on them.
Bowl Players in France.
(Actual site of print)
In Mrs. Raverat's Bowl Players in France we have the painter's attitude
towards the block rather than the draughtsman's. There is a complete
absence of any continuous black or white line outline, the lighted
planes on the figures running uninterruptedly into the lighted parts of
the background. The texture of the trees is got by a series of pecks
with the spitzsticker. The blacks are nearly all greyed by small white
lines following the form. The light on the figure with his back towards
us is got by cross-hatching white lines running into the scorped-away
white part. There is nowhere any direct meeting of black with white.
William Walcot, R.E.
(I2x 5 in.)
This print swings to the opposite extreme. In this portrait of
William Walcot, Robert Gibbings has attacked his block from a purely
decorative point of view. Here there are no greys, no single white
lines, no subtleties of tone or lighting. It is an excellent example of
clean cutting, and the whites could equally well be cleared away by a
scorper on hard wood or a gouge on soft wood or linoleum.
Girl with Cloak
(Actual siZe of prints)
Eric Gill has printed this block, Girl with Cloak/, in two ways-
(a) surface printing and (b) intaglio. In the intaglio print the ink has been
rubbed into the engraved lines and wiped off from the surface of the
block. This is the same principle as in etching, and is very rarely used
with the wood block. Greater pressure is needed in the printing, which
must be done on a press, and the paper must be damped.
Hester Sainsbury gets a rare grading of her blacks into her whites
through cutting the edges of the surface blacks at an oblique angle into
the white with a flat chisel tool or square scorper; thus parts of the
oblique plane of the wood take some ink and pressure. This is to be
seen on the standing girl's skirt and on the shoulder of the sitting figure.
Note the greys made by the multiple tool on the skirt and the neck of
the sitting figure. This contrasts well with the coarser cross-hatching
with the graver on the lighted folds of the curtain.
By courtesy of the Redfern Gallery
(Actual site of print)
This block, by Eric Daglish, has been entirely engraved with the one
tool-the tint tool. It will be noticed that there is no variety in the
thickness of the line in any part. Any difference of greys that there is
being due to the engraved lines being closer together or further apart,
as on the breast of the bird and the much darker back. The tint tool,
properly handled, gives a very beautiful fine line. It should be used
swiftly, rotating the block on the sandbag and keeping the hand holding
the tool more or less in the one position.
By courtesy of the Redfern Gallery
Illustration from Comus"
(Actual site of print)
This print by Blair Hughes-Stanton is exceedingly interesting. It is
about as clean in its cutting as is humanly possible. There is no
" bruising in any of the fine white line drawing, and no spluttering "
in any of the curves.
Note the fine cross-hatching with the tint tool that greys the stockings
and the lace, and the sharp clean work on the folds of the dress. Much
can be learnt by looking at this through a magnifying glass. Blair
Hughes-Stanton, Agnes Miller Parker and Gertrude Hermes are the
three engravers who have perhaps, of all others, combined a modern
creative vision with amazingly fine technique.
By courtesy of The Gregynog Press
The Turkish Bath
(71 x 91 in.)
This shows the same technique as in the previous print, plus a wider
range of tool marks-as on the ground behind the figures, where the
scorper has crossed its marks at right angles, and in the obvious large
marks of the scorper edging some of the white portions. Especially
interesting are the varying greys in the bottom left-hand corner,
lightened chiefly by additional lines cut across in yet another direction.
Notice also the way the grey in the archway behind the left figure is
shaded off into white by means of more and more crossing fine white
r ,e -~i.
Frontispiece to The Pilgrim's Progress"
(94 x 7 in.)
This print shows a greater variety of technique than most. Direct
lines are made with varying sizes of scorpers. Fine parallel lines with
the tint tool break up the blacks of the figures into even tones of grey,
deeper lines of cross-hatching in most places merging these greys into
the white spaces. An especially interesting thing is the grey of the
background on the extreme left made by wriggling the wide flat chisel
tool from side to side along the block. The work on this block has been
very deliberate. Exactly the right sized tool has been used for each
cut. There has been no retouching." Compare the size of the scorper
used for the swirl of water in the foreground with the fineness of tint tool
line on the greys of the figures. Notice also the interesting solidity
that is got by engraving thick white lines across already engraved
thinner ones, as on the sky and in the water.
By courtesy of The Cresset Press
AGNES MILLER PARKER
Catte and Chyken
(Actual siZe of print)
This amazingly fine piece of engraving should be studied carefully-
preferably with a magnifying glass. It will be seen that all the work
has been done with a very fine tint tool. The only exception to this
is where the background curves of grey tone merge into the white by
means of little jabs with a spitzsticker or a small scorper. This is
about the cleanest work that is being done to-day, and at the same
time the most solid. It combines sensitiveness with precision and is
conscious throughout of realized form. Note how the solidity is got
by running the grey tone on the cat's body right up to the outline of the
form. The same can be seen on the cat's tail. There are no meaningless
shapes in this print. There is great variety of technique on the
cock and it is interesting to compare this with Eric Daglish's
Bullfinch (page 65). Gradation of tone is admirably shown in the
little patch of background in the bottom right-hand corner. This
print shows cross-hatching at its best.
Illustration for Esope (The Gregynog Press)
(13i x i61 in.)
The Circus, by Emma Borman, is on soft wood and is a very big
block in the original. It comes interestingly after Agnes Miller Parker's
work. Here we get a rough-hewn, strong print, with no thought for
delicacy or modelled form. There are no continuous lines, and the
whole effect is got by nervous jabs with the gouge, of varying size and
length and closeness according to how much light is needed. It is
especially interesting to notice the gradation of light up the pillar in
the foreground, and to compare it with the gradation of light on the
cat's body in the previous print.
(Actual size of print)
John Nash is an artist who is not afraid to show the marks of his
tools. There is great range of tool work in his Foxgloves. A large
scorper has cut the light part on the leaves; a smaller-sized scorper has
cut away the ground behind the leaves that are in shadow in the fore-
ground. This same tool has been used for the stronger work on some
of the flowers themselves. The rest of the block has chiefly been engraved
with the graver, in some places with short straight lines, and in others, as
on the top of the flower in the upper left-hand corner, in minute cross-
hatching. The lines are cut to follow the form a great deal on the
It is a block that has been engraved because the artist wished to do it
rather than to show off his craftsmanship.
An illustration made for Poisonous Plants (Haselwood Press)
Page from The Canterbury Tales"
Eric Gill has here, in this page from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales,
shown us an engraving successfully married to type, the weight of line
being in each case about equal. The whole principle of this block is
one of black lines on white, which involves the double work of cutting
away the surface of the wood on either side of the remaining upstanding
black line. The actual scorper marks are shown on the scallops under
the bed, and the shading of the leaves is made by scoring from the
central veins outwards, so that the instinctive additional pressure on
the tool towards the end of the cut thins the remaining black lines
towards the outside. The large areas of white may in a case like this
be removed mechanically. This print is an answer to those people who
complain that a wood-engraving is always too black properly to balance
the weight of the type, and so should not be used as a book illustration.
Bv courtesy of The Golden Cockerel Press
Disposeth ay your hertes to withstonde
The feend, that yow wolde make thral and bonde.
He may nat tempten yow over your might;
For Crist wol be your champion and knight.
And prayeth that this Somnours hem repente
Of hir misdedes, er that the feend hem hente.
SHIS Somnour in his stiropes hye stood;
Upon this Frere his herte was so wood,
That lyk an aspen leef he quook for yre.
'Lordinges,' quod he, 'but o thing I desyre
I yow biseke that, of your curteisye,
Sin ye han herd this false Frere lye,
As suffereth me I may my tale telle!
This Frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,
And god it woot, that it is litel wonder;
Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder.
For pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle,
How that a frere ravisshed was to helle
Inspirit ones by a vision;
And as an angel ladde him up and doun,
C. W. TAYLOR
(7 x 9 in.)
This print by C. W. Taylor, Lamberhurst, shows the absolute opposite
approach from that of Eric Gill on the previous page. Here the entire
work has been white upon black. There is not much variety of tool
work, the direction of the white line being used to denote the planes.
The thicker white lines on the road are crossed to give greater light
and solidity, and the horizontal black lines on the left of the sky have
been lightened by oblique white cuts. There is very little use of any
large spaces of pure white.
(i x 8- in.)
The American master-engraver, Timothy Cole, here shows us the
tone possibilities in a wood-engraving. This amazing piece of crafts-
manship is about the high water mark in its own line. Spiritually, it
belongs to the middle of the last century, and Timothy Cole quite frankly
admits to working from a photograph on the block. But it is an
astonishing feat. Note the interesting treatment of grey in the frame-
work ground, made by cutting wide parallel lines one way and then
cutting across them more fnely, leaving upstanding dots of black.
Look very closely into the mesh-like work that gives the grey tone and
modelling to the face. The form is got by multitudinous cross-hatched
curving parallel lines, a wider tool being used where, as on the nose
and the cheekbone, a whiter light is needed. Unlike some of the
moderns, Timothy Cole never cross-hatches his lines more than once
(compare with the greys on the snow shadows in Loading on page 33).
By courtesy of William Edwin Rudge, New York
40I j \44.ox
S ..,Z A
J. J. A. MURPHY
The Morning Gossip
(Actual siZe of print)
I have purposely put The Morning Gossip, by J. J. A. Murphy, directly
following Timothy Cole's Abraham Lincoln, as it makes a most interest-
ing extreme. The one was intent on copying tone and the other on
creating form; each being a fine craftsman in his own way.
J. J. A. Murphy prepares his design on his block very carefully with
black and white paint, knowing beforehand exactly what his greys are
to be on which planes. He then engraves the entire block without
taking a trial proof, using an exceedingly large number of tools so that
he knows which size scorper is needed for which particular grey.
By cutting the block up into these over-emphasized planes a great
feeling of strength is given.
Notice the extreme cleanness of the cutting. There are no fine lines
in this print, but the range of cutting is so large that it makes some
lines look fine by comparison.
This is a print to learn much from, for the craftsman as well as for
-~ I III III!
(Actual size of print)
This Bullfinch by Eric Daglish is a most instructive example of the
wide range of greys that can be engraved within a small area. On the
bird's body is the whole scale of tone, from dead black on the head to
the purest white at the start of the tail, under the wing. The lines
always follow the shape of the form, and the greys are lightened by
engraving thicker lines with the tint tool, and placing them closer
together. It is especially interesting to watch the way the grey on the
under part of the bird lightens to white as it gets towards the tail. The
whole of this block has been engraved with fine tools.
An illustration for Woodcuts of British Birds," by Eric Daglish (Ernest Benn Ltd.)
Book Cover Design
(Actual site of print)
This is a pattern paper for the Curwen Press, designed and engraved
by Paul Nash. It shows the possibility of using the wood block for an
abstract repeat pattern. There is nothing representative to distract
one's mind in this block so that one can study the craft of the actual
Note the solidity given to the design by the cross-hatched lines.
Also, the different size of the tools used for cutting away the whites.
Illustration for The Chester Play of the Deluge"
(Actual site of print)
David Jones is another modern-minded artist who expresses himself
in wood-engraving. He has a very subjective attitude towards the
wood block, and while not thinking as consciously as most artists about
the technique of his medium, achieves some extraordinary qualities. By
outlining each of his forms with thick white scored lines he gets a most
interesting solidity, and in this print, one of his illustrations to The
Chester Play of the Deluge, he gets a very beautiful shimmering quality
of light on the water that it is hard to analyse. He has drawn the shape
of each wave with light, modelling them by working towards the white
outlines with deepening cuts with the graver. His white lines follow
the shape of the form he wishes to get.
By courtesy of The Golden Cockerel Press
Pandanus Grove, Tahiti
(Actual siZe of print)
Robert Gibbings always engraves with exceptional cleanness of
outline. His simple masses of black and white have extra solidity given
them by the cross-hatching work with the graver videe the tree trunks)
which merges the black into the white with a grey. All his greys have
a definite shape by being cut off along their edges by the whites. This
means that his white and his black masses also are definite.
An illustration for lorana : a Tahitian Journal" (Gerald Duckworth & Co.)
(12 x 7 in.)
From the technical point of view, this Spring Bouquet, by Gertrude
Hermes, might almost be called a sample page of possible tool marks.
For there is a rich variety, from the different-sized scorpers to the finest
lines made with the tint tool. Not only is there variety of tool, but
variety of use of each tool; compare the long swirling lines of the
scorper on the bottom left part of the background with the shorter
jabs with the same tool at the very bottom of the block, and again with
the small picks with the same tool round the fringe of lighted back-
ground at the top of the print. There is a strength and deliberation
about all the larger cuts which gives full contrast to the fine work on
The same variety has been made with the graver; compare the large
cuts made with it behind the daffodil on the right with the small marks
above the same flower, where the background merges into the black.
In some places, white lines have been cut across the white jabs, in
order to lighten them.
The work with the tint tool and the graver on the flowers is very
beautiful. The strong feeling for form and texture has excited the
artist so much that she has had no rule as to how she should model the
flowers; in some places-as in the middle daffodil-she has engraved
deep lines the way of the petals, losing her outline into the white
background. In others-as in the primrose leaves-she has crossed her
lines so that the greys melt into the white as small black spots. Again,
with the catkins, she has given the texture by wriggling the flat chisel
tool in the way she has discovered.
This print is a mine of information.
.i,:~ ~3'r, fr.1=--
~ ~:::'.:i' r.~i~2~~
Solid form made by an almost exclusive use of the multiple tool
On the mushrooms the different greys are made by extensive cross-
hatching with the multiple tool. This method is much used by modern
French engravers. Contrast is given by the strong direct work of the
graver on the outside of the bowl. A very interesting solid tone car
be got in this way, though, if the engraver is not careful, it is apt tc
become monotonous and mechanical.
By courtesy of The Redfern Gallery
In direct contrast is this River Nocturne, by Birger Sandzen. This
print has been done entirely with the scorper, the whole effect being
one almost of wool work or bead work. There are hardly any con-
tinuous lines, and all the tool marks seem about the same size. It is
interesting to compare this also with the engraving by Eric Daglish on
page 43, which, again, was done entirely with one tool. It would be
difficult to find a greater difference of outlook between this print and
the one above.
Tete d'un vieux Montagnard
Here, again, are two interestingly contrasting prints. The block by
Skoczylas is a rough, strong thing, revelling in the quality of the wood.
All the cutting is deliberate and follows the direction of the form. There
are no fine lines. Two cuts have never been made where one could do.
A scorper has outlined the modelling of the face, with scored lines
running towards the white outlines. There is no cross-hatching.
Compare the treatment of the sky in the two prints.
Mexican Fruit, by Leon Underwood, is as different as possible. Here
there is no revelling in the tool marks as there is in the upper print. The
engraver's main interest is in form, and he does not mind how many
lines he engraves so long as he can achieve the solidity he wants.
Except for the white parts on the fruit and for the horizontal lines made
on the sky by the scorper, there is no large tool work on this block.
The modelling is got by countless small lines running in all directions
-following the form, going across it or cross-hatched.
These two prints complement each other.
c -2C ?
A technique consisting nearly entirely of little jabs with a small scorper,
varied by even smaller jabs with a graver. Differences of light are got
by varying lengths of tool marks, closer together or further apart.
Note that there is no continuous white line engraving in this print.
This print rather resembles The Circus, by Emma Borman (page 53), but
it is smaller and less rough, and done on hard wood.
By courtesy of The Weyhe Gallery, New York
(6 x 7 in.)
Bernard Rice makes his own block, of soft wood, ingeniously using
the texture of the wood and the pattern of the grain to enrich his own
design. This he especially does in his skies, but here in this example it
is noticeable in the intentional unevenness of the background, especially
on the left. Like Hester Sainsbury (page 41), he cuts away his wood on
the slope, so that it catches uneven ink between the blacks and the
whites. This can be seen on the man's leg.
He is an engraver who is justified in his individual manner of printing,
as he is bearing out the character of the strong-grained wood blocks he
makes and uses.
By courtesy of The Redfern Gallery
EDWARD GORDON CRAIG
Two Pages from The Tragedie of Hamlet"
(Reduction to 1 of original page siZe)
This is another interesting example of an individual manner oj
printing-this time in book form. Count Kessler, in his famous Hamlet
illustrated by Gordon Craig, has a very beautiful grey tone on his whole
page. Compare the manner of doing this with the page from Eri<
Gill's Canterbury Tales (page 57), where the balance has been got by th<
black line engraving being of the same weight as the type. Here, Crai
has cut his blocks with single white outlines, and the whole tone effec
is given by the printing. The ink has three degrees of blackness.
By courtesy of The Cranach Press
ACT In SCENE I]
THE TRAGICALL HISTORIC OF
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HAMLET Pi'INCE OF DENMARKE
ACT Il SCENE 11
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Mahna No Varua Ino
(8 x 14 in.)
Gauguin was no respecter of his tools. His block and his knife had to
obey him. He would cut and scrape on the roughest kind of plank-odd
pieces found, after his death, to be stopping up pigstyes in Tahiti.
There is a wild vigour in the slashes he makes with his gouge and a great
deal of use is made of the grain of the wood. In places the surface of
the block is lowered so that it may not receive the full amount of ink.
Sometimes the grain is so pronounced and rough that there are long
seams which the ink fails to reach. Again, in the printing, the already
uneven ink is wiped off so that large spaces of grey are to be seen.
Reproduced from The Modern Woodcut," by Herbert Furst (John Lane)
Christ Stilling the Waves
(13 x 8 in.)
This is a print cut on soft wood, and is an especially interesting example
of an individual method of printing. The very definite, clean-cut shapes,
if printed in the ordinary way, might have looked metallic and abrupt.
But Emma Schlangenhausen uses excessive oil in her ink so that in the
printing it blurs over her outlines, giving a lighter fringe between her
darks and her lights.
The original is printed in a rich brown ink, and in some places the ink
has been slightly wiped off, as on Christ's halo. This is essentially an
.....i. -:~I Lla~a~~:~
Cutting (over-inked print)
(I x 8 in.)
This is a very much over-inked print, unintelligently rubbed, so that
the greys in the background have come out far too dark. The finer lines
all over the print have nearly all been lost by the clogging of the ink.
Portions of the background that should have printed white have been
carelessly pressed down on to the wood, which has caught some of
the surplus ink, and have come out with black specks and marks on them.
Cutting (under-inked print)
(II x 8 in.)
This is an under-inked print, carelessly taken. The entire surface
has not been rubbed by the spoon, so that there is unevenness and
greyness in the blacks. In some places the ink has hardly come off the
block on to the paper. There is nowhere any dense black.
F T j-,
Cutting (properly printed)
(II x 8 in.)
Here is a print of Cutting which has been taken with just the right
amount of inking. It has also been carefully rubbed. The blacks are
deep and rich, and yet none of the finest lines are clogged. All the
countless lines on the back of the left-hand figure have come out clearly
and the edges of the grey shadows on the snow merge properly into
the white. In this print we have now got the right values of the greys
and the complete range from the dead black up to the white.
When one faces the enormous rush of wood-engravings produced
nowadays, one asks oneself what are the reasons for the modern use of
this medium as the artist's direct means of expression.
The reasons, I feel, are several and very definite. To start with,
there is the unromantic but unavoidable consciousness of economic
conditions and demands. A widening of the circle of good taste
through the spread of education has brought about a desire for original
works of art. But this bigger public is not wealthy. Fortunately, the
boxwood block, unlike the copper plate, will yield an almost indefinite
number of perfect prints. A large edition of a wood-engraving at a
low price is therefore the ideal thing to satisfy the modern public in
the modern home. And always, through the centuries, demand has
produced and directed supply. In its pioneering days wood-engraving
leapt into popularity to meet the need of pilgrims who wanted a
souvenir of the shrine they had visited. It was used to decorate the
calendars and the manuals of devotion, which were almost the only
printed books that had in those days a wide circulation. In our own day
it is interesting to note that while the disappearance of a leisured upper
class in Russia has all but killed the demand for studio paintings, the
growth of a vast new public of readers has brought an immense stimulus
In the modern world generally a continually increasing number of
illustrated books are concentrating on wood-engravings. Probably
one of the main reasons for this is the mechanical ease with which the
engravings can be printed on the same paper as the type, whereas
illustrations in so many other mediums have to be printed on separate
paper and bound in. This understanding of the harmony and balance
possible between the wood-engraving and the printed page is best seen
in the work of Eric Gill. Most artists overbalance the type with too
much blackness in the wood block.
But the wood-engraving should not limit itself to this ambition.
Working for book reproduction is distinctly hampering. The artist
must always restrict himself to the required dimensions. Worse still,
he must adjust his temperament and outlook too much to the book to
be illustrated. Above all, he must only engrave the kind of work that
will reproduce mechanically without loss to its quality. Any original
effects of printing, too, are impossible when the block has to be handed
over to the professional printer, and very fine white lines are apt to get
clogged with ink.
Used as a wall picture, the wood-engraving, with its rich design in
black and white, is pre-eminently in keeping with modern ideas of
interior decoration and harmonises with the primary colours that are
being used in houses to-day.
More interesting are the reasons why the artist wants to do wood-
engraving. We are more exacting and scientific than our fathers were,
and the wood block, through its wider range of keyboard from blackest
black to dead white, permits of far greater precision of tone and of a
much stronger rendering of form, which is the intellectual element.
Compare its possibilities with the relatively restricted range of the
etching, where the white is never white and the black at deepest is a
dark brown. Fatigued with the photographic representation of life
in the more conventional etching, we call for greater subjectiveness.
This is more readily attainable in the wood-engraving than in any
other medium. These illustrations show the wide variety of technique
that can be achieved. The draughtsman, the painter, the sculptor, the
decorative designer, the traditional objective artist, and the modern
abstract artist, one and all can satisfy their particular special talents and
temperaments to a degree impossible in any other medium. Compare
the painter's mind of Mrs. Raverat with the sculptor's mind of Eric
Gill. Where are there to be found greater extremes than the Pilgrim's
Progress frontispiece of Gertrude Hermes, with its subjective outlook,
and the calm traditional feeling of C. W. Taylor's Lamberhurst ? Or,
again, what difference there is between the informing draughtsmanship
of Eric Daglish and the naive creativeness of David Jones.
The wood-engraving appeals to any artist who loves strong, clean,
deliberate drawing, for it is impossible on the wood block to codge "
or re-state. The thinking must be done before the engraving, and
whereas in the etched plate accidents or uncertainties-or even poor
draughtsmanship-can be hidden by a stronger bath of acid, there is
in the wood block no way out except a new start.
Wood-engraving is a dangerous craft, inasmuch as it is possible so
easily to get a showy effect. The modern creative engraver has dis-
covered that he can use the wood block as a direct means of self-
expression. This is a new development, for in the last century the old
professional engraver, before the invention of mechanical methods of
reproduction, merely translated the artist's drawing into a wood-
engraving. This has had its danger, for whereas the good artist realises
that the best work is that which uses the medium to the uttermost,
never abusing it, the indifferent artist is apt to excuse his careless,
slovenly cutting, by saying that he is getting a woody quality into
his work. From the one extreme of the over-grey reproductive
engravings of the nineteenth century we are running into the other of
the shoddy, facile, over-black prints that an ever-increasing band of
young artists turn out by the hundred to-day. Only when the artist
realises that he must also be a craftsman, and the craftsman aspires to
be an artist, shall we preserve and develop the outstanding school of
wood-engraving that is our glory to-day.
PRINTED AND ENGRAVED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY HERBERT REACH LTD. 43 BELVEDERE ROAD S.E.I