Posts in Wood Engraving
Wood Engraving Process!
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Hello friends! You responded with such enthusiasm to our last process post, I've returned with another. I aim to please! This time, I've documented the wood engraving process from idea to final print.

I started taking wood engraving classes in January of this year, and have completed 8 engravings since then (about one a month). To see some of my journey in learning wood engraving - check those posts out hereherehere, and here. I really didn't expect to fall in love with engraving the way I have. It's so satisfying to create my own printing blocks and see my ideas come to life. I've done all my previous engravings under the watchful eye & expertise of Carl Montford, but this is my first time working solo start to finish here in the studio. I'm excited about how it turned out, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the process!

Atticus the Studio Finch

Atticus the Studio Finch

1) Have an idea & produce an image. As soon as we brought Atticus home, I knew I wanted to do an engraving of him. I pictured it with lots of detail, and his little orange beak & feet being hand colored. Brad and I gave birdley a little photo shoot, and this image surfaced.

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2) Plan initial line work. I printed the image out at full page size and emphasized the lines and shading with a Staedtler pen. This is definitely where a lot of the thought & planning starts - where will the lines, shading and solids be? What will I emphasize? What will I change or leave out?

3) Make a xerox. I walked over to our local UPS store, shrunk the image to the size of the block, and paid the $0.09 it costs to make a photocopy nowadays. (This was not exciting, so I didn't take a photo.)

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4) Transfer the image onto the block. I use Resingrave blocks by McClain's, because real wood blocks are crazy expensive. I cut the xerox down to the size of the block, but left a half inch or so on either side of the image for taping. (You don't want the image moving around.) Once it was securely attached face down on the block, I applied a few drops of mineral spirits onto the paper. (It makes it cool and transparent.) Then I used my handy dandy transfer tool! It's a weird power tool that will burn the poop out of your hands if you're clumsy like I am. (Who needs feeling in their fingertips?)

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It takes some patience and fortitude, but eventually the image transfers permanently from the paper to the block, leaving the paper looking opaque and white again.

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5) Tint the block I used some thinned out red printing ink to tint the block, making it easier for me (and you!) to see what's been engraved.

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6) Get to work! I started on the whitest parts of the bird, carefully clearing out the pure white sections. Then I worked on the basic texture of the bird's body, starting to get a feel for the types of strokes required to create this image. I was a ballet dancer for a long time before becoming a designer/printer, and this feels a lot like that - each piece requires a different visual style and quality of movement. It's physical and intuitive. And it's risky! I'm carving and chipping away at the block, and it's easy to become overzealous and remove the wrong parts. You really can't put it back. There's no "control z," but that's what I love about handmade work.

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7) Work on the background. This background is fairly simple, but required a lot of patience to clear away the white without taking out a bar of the cage too. There are a few strokes I wish I could take back, but I know they'll give it authenticity when all is said and done. I am not a computer. I am still learning. (Sara pep talk #1.)

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8 ) Add more detail. The beauty of a subject matter like bird is amount the texture & detail required. I definitely didn't intend to put in every feather, but wanted to give the general appearance of feathers and light/dark shadows.

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9) Head for the iron handpress! Once I've finished a first pass on the whole block, I like to see where I'm at by making a proof. And my friend Wendy is the best for proofing wood engravings.

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10) Ink the block. I use an oil based printmaking ink from Daniel Smith for wood engravings. It's smooth, thin, and works really well getting solid black prints. Before printing each piece, I also dampen the paper with a spray bottle and dry it off with a blue paper towel. The water softens the paper fibers and allows for more solid printing & deeper impression.

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11) Pull a proof and check it out! I hold my breath a bit when I'm about to see a first proof. It's so exciting to see the image come to life on paper for the first time!

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12) Establish what to tackle next. The background in a few sections needed to be cleared deeper, the back foot is disappearing on the branch (oops), and birdley's chest & tail could use some improvement. Time to head back to the engraving bench with proof in hand.

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13) Back to the block. It's all gray once it's been proofed and cleaned, so it's important to have the proof next to it for reference.

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14) Get stressed out and nit-picky. Make tiny changes & proof it a bunch. Just kidding. Sorta. This part is all about figuring out what needs to be done so that I can be happy with it. At this point, I think the top of the head and the mid-section need some additional work.

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15) That's better! It's important to know when to call it finished. You can certainly overwork a block. Once you've taken something out, you can't put it back.

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15) Finish it up and give it your personal mark! Carl uses an M for Montford. I've chosen a little star.

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16) Print the run!

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17) Hand color the beak & feet! Instead of using watercolor (my first thought), I decided to use a Copic marker, because I find them easier to manage.

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18) All done! Sort, sign & number the prints and send them out into the world. To take home your own little studio bird (in letterpress form), visit our Etsy store!

Wood Engraving Update & We Got a Bird & I Got a Tattoo
A playful baby bear & our entrance at 110 Cherry Street

A playful baby bear & our entrance at 110 Cherry Street

I realized today that I had been doing blog post updates about my wood engraving classes and I left you hanging. Sorry, friends! Life & work get crazy and all bets are off. But I'm still stuck at home with a bad back, so lots of writing is happening.

Here's the tardy update: I've been continuing on with my classes with Carl each Friday, and have finished several new pieces. (They aren't available online anywhere yet - still enjoying doing them for me, and trying to decide how to present the new work. I'll keep you posted on where you can see them all soon!) Having the iron handpress has been amazing for printing my new work - engraving & handpresses are the perfect combination! Brad is seriously the winner at gift giving for this year - these classes have changed so much of how I work and think. It’s been so much fun discovering new methods of problem solving and image making.

A quick, expressive exploration in mark making

A quick, expressive exploration in mark making

I’ve been sneaking away from my computer and other work often to play and practice and create. I've been inspired me to do art work that’s all for me. I love working with my clients (I really really do), but I was an art school kid. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have an idea (inspired by my life, my relationships, my struggles) and DO it. Right then. Just to get it out. I’ve been going to wood engraving & printing on the iron handpress often – as a place to express myself, to experiment, to create. My platen press is a finely tuned piece of machinery for production. But my iron handpress? It’s forgiving, welcoming of trial & error, user friendly. I almost can’t remember what I did before “Wendy” came home.

Atticus the Finch

Atticus the Finch

In other news, we got a studio bird to keep me company! He's a tiny zebra finch, and it's been a joy to hear him singing and flapping and chattering away. He's at home with me right now - I couldn't bear to think about him alone in the studio all week while i'm stuck in my chair. Aaaaand, he'll very likely be my next engraving. Can't you picture it, with his little orange beak & feet hand colored? And a To Kill a Mockingbird quote? Fun to think about. (Especially since i've been stuck in a chair on the laptop all week. Ready to work with my hands again.)

A new kind of ink in my life. (And apparently I'm always drinking coffee.)

A new kind of ink in my life. (And apparently I'm always drinking coffee.)

In other other news, I got a tattoo awhile back. I went to Anchor Tattoo in Ballard, and it was an awesome experience. They were super sweet, even though I was a giddy 26 year old girl in a sundress, getting her first tattoo. I've been talking about getting a tattoo for years, but I never got up the nerve to make an appointment. It took the peer pressure encouragement of friends who already have tattoos (I'm looking at you, Jon & Paige) to get me to finally do it. And i'm so glad I did! I love that I see it while doing all the little everyday things that make up my life. I wanted it to be something that's always present - a reminder of my anchor & my hope. For my thoughts on anchors, take a look at the post I wrote about my first wood engraving.

That's it for today, folks. I've been enjoying writing this week (despite crazy back pain), and will be trying my hardest to keep it up.

Sure & Steadfast Anchor
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Hello friends! I printed my first wood engraving last week, and i'm excited to share it with you!

To see my progress getting to this point, check out these previous blog posts: Week One and Week Two. I finished the project off by printing it on Magnani's Pescia, along with some lovely 30 pt. Century Nova Italic lead type. (And now it's about to get real honest up in here - consider yourself warned encouraged to proceed.)

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My career so far has been a major learning experience (starting a small business at 23 means you're figuring it out as you go along), and this project was a really clear reminder that I need to give myself some patience as I'm learning. I made a lot of mistakes while engraving this piece. There's no way to put something back once you've slipped and carved it out. But looking at it now, I can see what I learned with each mistake - and though I was tempted to photoshop out the imperfections, they're part of the process and I want to remember the lessons learned.

It was really refreshing to work on a creative project that isn't "work." Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that my job allows me to be creative all the time - but deadlines, bills, and the general pace of life can make even the best project feel like work. It's so easy for me to feel like i'm being tossed around on the waves. There really isn't a manual for how to grow a business, lead a team, and have a healthy body & marriage all at once. It's hard, and I often find myself feeling like i'm floating out to sea.

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I tend to come back around to the same questions over and over. How do I stand firm in the middle of this crazy life? What hope and purpose do I have in this uncertain world? It often feels like too much, too hard, too scary, too exhausting.

A few months ago, the pastor at our church gave a sermon on that really stuck with me. In the midst of my busy, uncertain life, I've held these verses of Scripture close to my heart.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

Pastor Tim said it this way:

"The Hebrews writer is telling us that the world is like water spiritually. It’s always moving, changing, and insecure, so we need an anchor for our soul. We can attempt to anchor our soul in the things of the world, such as human relationships, health, family, and career, but ultimately those are always changing, moving, and insecure. We need an anchor that goes through the water and provides the safety, security, and stability we need in the drifting and storms.

Thank God he sent Jesus to be the anchor we all need that provides what nothing else can. I don’t know what life will bring my way...but I do know I have an anchor for my soul, who is Jesus Christ, who is my trust, security, and hope."

When I feel like i'm adrift, I can stand firm in the strong encouragement and hope that is before me, that I have a perfect Father who has chosen me, pursued me, healed me, saved me, and made my broken heart whole. He is unchanging, and I am never alone.

This little piece of artwork is a reminder for me of all of those things - and I would love to share an anchor with you, as a gift. If you'd like me to send you one, or even if you'd just like to talk, you can e-mail me: (sara AT constellationco.com)

Wood Engraving Class: Week 3
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Hello friends, here's my weekly wood engraving class update!

I've finished the engraving portion of my anchor print but haven't had a chance to print it yet. It was a busy week with client work, events, etc. This coming week I'll be setting type to go along with the image and getting it printed. I'll be sure to share it with you when it's finished. In the meantime, I started a new engraving during my class time with Carl this week: a sweet baby bear!

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Here's the backstory on little bear: In 2009 Brad & I made our epic road trip from Florida to Seattle, and we stopped at every fun tourist destination in the west. Seriously. The best place we came across was a drive through wildlife park called Bear Country USA in South Dakota. All of the animals were awesome, but we spent the most time watching the baby bears play. They were so adorable. We took a bunch of photos and quite a bit of video footage. (You can ask our families about the video montage we sent home...I think it was mostly bears.) I rediscovered this photo I took this past week, and i'm really excited to tackle an engraving his little fuzzy self!

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The sun was shining into Carl's home studio and it made for such a beautiful, restful morning!

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Carl uses a super handy photo transfer method using a xerox copy, mineral spirits, and a heating tool. It's really helpful for pencil challenged folks like me.

Wood Engraving Class - Week 2
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Hello friends! I'm about to run off and do Friday night things, but I wanted to show you my wood engraving progress.

I had another lovely morning in Carl's studio - the natural light was lovely as the sun tried to make it's way out from behind the clouds.  I had made some progress on clearing out the white background by hand for my "homework," but today Carl introduced me to the dremel power tool and things went quite quickly from there. It felt like "high stakes" - I might twitch and clear straight through the printing area at any moment! (Thankfully I didn't.) We made a first proof of my engraving today, which will help for clearing out and doing final touch ups. You can tell I made progress today because of all the "chips" in the photo. I think it looks like confetti - which is perfect because it's Friday, and a weekend this badly needed is cause for celebration! It was a crazy week for me. How was your week?

While I go have a glass of wine and unwind, here's a little something for you to do. I would love it if you folks reading the blog would comment - so, the first person to speak up and say hello (or anything for that matter) will receive a free card of their choice from our Etsy store!

Always Learning: Wood Engraving Classes!
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For my birthday a few weeks ago, Brad gave me unlimited wood engraving lessons with Carl Montford!

Carl is absolutely a master of his craft, and I am honored to call him a friend. He was the "matchmaker" who brought us together with the seller of our first press, and he even helped us move the press into our studio (not an easy task). Carl is an absolute treasure of the letterpress community, and I am so excited to be learning from him!

The photo above is the progress of my first engraving project. I'm working on an anchor image and using a Resingrave block. I learned so much in just the first three hours. It's so exciting to be learning a new skill from such an amazing artist. Cherish is taking classes as well, so I'll see if I can get her to share her progress too. I'll keep you posted as we progress!