Update: Prints of Richard are available for purchase in my store
Anyone with an interest in printmaking and California landscape probably knows the work of my hero, Tom Killion. His insanely beautiful prints of the coast of California and the high Sierras depict landscapes of delicate beauty, boldness and reverence, executed with amazing skill. It’s almost painful for me to look at my very favorites of his prints.
Last Saturday I was fortunate to have been able to take a woodcarving class from Tom. Save one experiment with an X-acto knife and a block of pine I found in my carport, I’ve worked only with linoleum. It’s hard for me to express how meaningful it was to me to be able to ask questions and learn from someone whose work I’ve admired for so long.
The theory behind linoleum and wood carving is the same: the “white area” (the empty space in the design) is cut out of the block using knives and gouges, until all that is left on the surface of the block is the design you want to print. That surface is then rolled with ink and printed onto paper.
I chose to work in class on a portrait of my friend, master printer Richard Seibert. I started with an illustration I made of Richard, transferring the design to a wooden block.
Above: The wood block I carved, plus some carving tools, lots of wood shavings, and a corner of the original working sketch.
I quickly learned that the biggest difference between the two mediums is that wood has a distinct grain and direction whereas linoleum doesn’t. Carving wood requires patience and concentration to make sure the natural fibers of wood can pull up along the grain and remove part of your design. Richard’s upper eyelid narrowly escaped being shaved off completely when my mind wandered.
I had thought the material would be hard as stone, but with sharp tools I found that it required less strength than carving cold linoleum (or maybe I just need to sharpen my lino tools!) I have been using a certain set of tools to print my own work, so it was great to be able to try out a variety of Tom’s tools to see the difference they made.
Above: A closeup of the carved wood block.
I learned that when you cut away all but a very thin line perpendicular to the grain of the wood, it can begin to fragment and chip away. You can see in the detail above that the line of Richard’s glasses is a little ridged, as some of the wood pulled away when I was carving. It’s not super noticeable in the final print, but it is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for future prints.
Linoleum often shows a color gradient between the surface and the interior, so it’s quite clear where your cuts have been made. Wood doesn’t have that clear distinction. The light in the room wasn’t great, and I think a stronger light would have thrown stronger shadows and helped me figure out where I had made my cuts. I found it was most useful to put my face just a few inches from the block to carve very detailed areas.
Above: The finished wood block, inked and ready to print. The blobs of ink on the lower right and left will not show in the final print because they are on much lower areas of the wood and won’t touch the paper.
We carved for about five hours. By the end I felt very bleary-eyed from staring point-blank at the surface of the wood, but very happy. I am super lucky to have been able to learn from Tom. Learning about the temperament of the material gives me even more respect for the medium and artists who work with it.
Above: The finished print.
Prints are available for purchase at my store.