What Is Wood Engraving?

Wood Engraving is a form of relief printmaking; a block is cut and the remaining surface, when inked, will print an image. In wood engraving, the starting point is a block or wood like this:

From the visible "rings", you can see that this block has been cut across the grain of the wood; it is called an endgrain block. This is very important as it allows the engraver to move the tool in any direction without having to cut against the grain of the wood. This block is made of boxwood, the traditional choice of the engraver as it allows the cutting of fine, detailed marks.

Here is another block:

I have started to draw on the wood with a narrow pen with dense ink. You can see that I have divided the drawing into areas. These will be engraved with marks that give different tones in the final engraving. The next step, for me, is to darken the block with diluted ink. By doing this, every cut I make will show up light against the darker background. This helps me to achieve the balance of light and dark that I am looking for in the final image. Here is a later stage in the same project:

The photograph shows that some areas have been cut quite deeply. These will appear as white areas in the final image. The darker areas remain unengraved. When I was finally satisfied with the figure, I took my pen again and sketched in the other elements. The finished block was placed in my press, inked and a proof was taken.

Here is the final image. You will see that I have been working in reverse on the block:

The title of this engraving is "If He Be Dead". This is an illustration for Shakespeare's poem "Venus and Adonis" commissioned by Barbarian Press of British Columbia, Canada. Adonis - modelled by my elder son - lays on the grass, killed during the hunt. In the poem, a flower grows from his blood. That is the fritillary flower in the bottom left. I have added a fritillary butterfly breaking out of the frame of the illustration. This was achieved by engraving the butterfly and then cutting away all of the surface of the remainder of the the top.