Saturday, 17 September 2011

Heart & Hand: What is Wood Engraving, Wesley Bates?

There are many different types of wood carving.  In the last blog post we learned all about chip carving with Peter Findlay.  Today we ask Wesley Bates, renowned wood engraver, to tell us all about his art form, its applications, and how he got his start as a wood engraver.
Wesley Bates hard at work.
1. How did you start with wood engraving? 
I was given my first set of engraving tools as a Christmas present in 1980 or so. Before that I had no idea what wood engraving was. I lived in Hamilton at the time and went to McMaster University Library and looked Wood Engraving up. I found a shelf of books related to the topic and through trial and error and comparison with examples in those books managed to get a feel for the medium. I was very interested in the British engravers, Joan Hassall, Gwen Raverat, and the German/American engraver Fritz Eichenberg in my early days.  

Engraving table: engraved block, engraving tools and proofs

2. What is involved in creating a wood engraving?  Can you explain your process for us a little bit?
Roots To Earth - "The Buildings" by Wesley Bates
Wood Engraving is a relief printing medium related to lino cut and wood cut. Wood Engraving is done on the end grain surface of the wood unlike wood cut which is done on the side grain. When a line is engraved a ribbon of wood is removed thereby lowering that line from the original surface of the end grain block.  After all the engraved lines are completed then ink is applied to the "relief" surface of the block (the part of the block not engraved) and then paper is press against the ink/engraved block and the result is a print. 

3. What has been your most exciting project to work on?
In 1997 I engraved eight images to accompany eight poems by the American writer Wendell Berry. I published the poems and engravings in a portfolio entitled ROOTS TO THE EARTH under my own imprint, West Meadow Press, with the generous help of Will Rueter of Aliquando Press. That project was my introduction to Wendell Berry himself and to Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey Kentucky. It has turned into a 15 year relationship during which time I have worked with Gray and Wendell on five books        and several broadsides. 

4. What's next?
At present I am working on a wordless graphic novel. It is a very large project and is already three years in the preparations.  In addition to that I have several commissioned engraving projects that I am working on. 

Visit Welsey's website and Facebook page for more info and pictures. Don't forget to say hello on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Heart and Hand Festival at Joseph Schneider Haus! 

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