ABOUT wood engraving

Wood engraving is one of the simplest of printmaking methods and one of the most enduring. A boxwood block can be printed many thousands of times whereas a metal plate can wear out quite quickly.

It's a relief printing method, that is to say the image is printed from the flat, top surface of a piece of wood. If nothing was cut away from that surface it would print a pure black shape. When material is cut away a gouged line or mark is left which doesn’t receive the ink rolled over the surface, therefore doesn’t print and therefore works as a white mark against the black. Many relief prints have been made using this fact to cut around the lines of a drawing, which then stand proud and print as a black line such as might have been drawn with a pen. These are often woodcuts, cut with knife or gouge on a plank of wood, or on lino or various alternative materials.

The wood engraving tradition by contrast uses fine tools and fine-grained materials to produce an image made with a white line, as though the artist is drawing with light (though this never excludes the use of black-line too). This and the finesse and rich tones of the image that results constitute the principal appeal of the medium. The wood is classically boxwood used on the engrain (that is, the tree-trunk is cut into sections not lengths) and planed to mirror-like smoothness, though other woods and synthetic materials can be used in the same spirit. The tools are like fine chisels of varying sections.

 Wood engraving was implicit in the woodcut traditions of Europe and the East alike but was actually developed in the way we think of it today by Thomas Bewick in the 1780s and 90s. It is the only artistic medium which can be said to have been developed in England and has a strongly English image, for all that it is used by artists in many countries round the world.