Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mosquito paralysis

My first clumsy engravings were really carved almost without thinking.  I didn't really consider what I was doing. I had a block, and a couple of tools so I just cut them and printed the resulting image without giving any thought to how I was working or the still unknown ways of working in wood engraving.

After finishing my last simple Puppet engraving, I finally picked up a copy of Simon Brett's book,"Wood Engraving How to do it",  that I had purchased some time ago.   I must admit that going through it has sort of stopped me in my tracks.
There is a great deal of useful information and illustrations: this section on how to make a "sampler" of the tools and the different ways to consider letters is really helpful.
Illustration from Brett's book on engraving showing lettering styles.
But further on,  he discusses and illustrates the varying ways one can approach an image and this other series, illustrated to show multiple examples of the same image, engraved in differing ways has stopped me completely.  There are just too many choices--

Illustrations from S. Brett's Book on Engraving.

There are more examples--many more as this image gets resolved in many different ways and styles.
Many aren't suited to my work or habit but in theory, I should be pulling from these as needed when solving issues of tone and depth require differing techniques.

So I'm back to the block thinking: now what?
I've done enough trials on scrap wood that I'd like to try a piece of real boxwood and see what the smoother cutting and fine grain will allow.  I have a small off-cut of European Boxwood that I've been saving for a small work and I have an on-again, off-again series of parasites and small insects that I wanted to add to and I have many small mosquito thumbnails that I've drawn over the last weeks and from which I managed to cobble together an image I'm happy with.
The above photo shows my prepared drawing applied to the surface of my block. The block is just 2.5" in diameter so the image is pretty small.  So now I'm ready to go but I've been hesitating. Thinking for example of how to resolve the "tiger" aspect of the alternating black and white bands of the insect legs.
 And in this case, my small frail insect on a round of box can be resolved in lots of ways.....most of which I had never even considered until now.  The biggest decisions--whether to carve the insect as a white drawing lifted out of the black ground or to engrave around my drawing--preserving the drawing itself by cutting everything else away which is a bit more natural for me coming from my moku hanga experience.

The good news however is that while I've been procrastinating, mulling over in my mind what I think I'd like to do, I've been sharpening my tools. Slowly I've been selecting the gravers I'm likely to use, and they've been cleaned and sharpened and honed and then honed again and so are actually ready to cut.

Meanwhile, as I stare at the block, I have to keep the fan on as the mosquitoes are honing in on my exhaled CO2 and my bare ankles and calves under the table while I sit, inactive, thinking about the first cut.

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