Working on Engravings

I've recently returned from another week at the amazing John C. Campbell Folk School, but this time I had the rare opportunity to kick back and enjoy the week as a student. I signed up for Jim Horton's wood engraving class after hearing so many wonderful things about Jim as a superb teacher and all-around nice guy.

I've actually been engraving on-and-off since grad school in 2008, so I came to the workshop prepared with sketches and drawings, all ready to get to work and whip out a bunch of new prints. However, after the first night of introductions, I realized that I would be putting to waste this unique opportunity if I just spent a week doing the same thing that I've been doing. So, I scrapped those projects (I can just work on them when I get home) and decided that instead, I would push myself to try something more challenging; a straight-line engraving, Barry Moser style ( To be honest, when I look at that type of work, it looks like sorcery and I have no idea where to even begin, so this was the perfect place for me to get started on figuring it out.


Inspired by his portraits and self portraits, along with a friend who recently printed her own self portrait, I decided that it was time to make my own (I've never printed a self portrait, and I think that last time I drew one was for a class assignment back in 1998 - yikes!). I first practiced the straight-line technique by carving an acorn on a small block, about 1"x 2". That was day one, and on day two I jumped right in to the self portrait.

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There are, of course, a few issues with the cut, but overall I'm pleased with the results and, quite frankly, a bit surprised by how well it turned out. I'm excited now to try more portraiture, and also to put these techniques to use in other ways!

I finished printing the self portrait on Thursday, which meant I had an afternoon and another full day to make another print, so I looked for my next challenge... all I knew was that I was sick of cutting straight lines, so I wanted to go back to my comfort zone of cutting furry critters. I pulled out a block of Corian that I've been saving for about 3 years, waiting for that "perfect time" to test it out, and that day had finally arrived! I decided to make a small cut of a hedgehog as part of my continuing series of 6"x 6" animal prints, and jumped in right away with so little time to spare.

Without the luxury of time to worry about making each cut perfect, I just dove in and cut until a little furry hedgehog face was looking back at me. I'm surprised by how much I like the Corian; it holds such a fine detail, falls away like dust, and doesn't get bruised as easily as endgrain. 

Overall, I've impressed myself with how much could get done in one week, and I'm definitely feeling more confident with my engraving skills. Now, to just keep that momentum going...

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