7.4 Engraving

In the course of the Guild’s history, several artists and craftsmen have produced various techniques of printmaking, namely engraving, etching and lithography. This article tries to offer a brief guide as to what these involved.

Wood engraving

Wood engraving is at once the simplest and forms of printmaking. The print is made, first, by engraving the reversed design or picture to be printed into the mirror-smooth surface of a block of endgrain wood. Boxwood is best, though cheaper alternatives such as lemonwood and synthetic materials are now frequently used.

Secondly, the block is rolled up with ink (on its top surface) and printed onto paper. The cuts that were made into the wood therefore come out as white, the remaining top surface which gets inked, as black; the artist is, in effect, drawing with light – with a white mark as opposed to the black mark that comes from a pencil, brush or pen. Most wood engravings tend to be closely worked and relatively small because the tools used are finely pointed. Because the finesse of wood engraving produces a particularly rich tonal range, wood engravings are usually, but by no means exclusively, black and white. Wood engravings appear both as prints and in books. In galleries, as artists’ exhibition prints, taken by the artists themselves from the woodblocks, they are customarily ‘editioned’ prints, as expressed by the ‘fraction’ written on the print near the artist’s signature. 10/75 means the 10th print in an edition of 75.

In books, they may also be original prints. ‘Fine print books’, limited editions made to the highest standards with traditional hot-metal type, are often illustrated with wood engravings. Since these are also printed direct from the woodblock, which can be set alongside the type in this sort of printing, they too are original prints.

Eric Gill, David Jones, Philip Hagreen and Edgar Holloway all used this technique. It often lay behind the illustrations produced by the St Dominic’s Press.

Woodcuts

Woodcutting is a technique similar to wood engraving, but cut along the wood grain rather than in the end-grain. The result is that woodcuts are more solid and more suitable from printing within books. Philip Hagreen concentrating of this technique for high-quality publications for St Dominic’s Press.

Etching

Carving into copper or stone and then using ink to make prints. Edgar Holloway used this technique prior to his Guild days and returned to it in 1970.

Lithography

This depends on the repellent properties of oil and water. There is no carving – an image is drawn on the stone and then ink is used to make prints. Not generally used by Guild members.

Linocuts

Like wood engraving, but using linoleum. Disapproved of by the Guild.