Wood engraving is a long established ‘relief print’ method, pioneered by Thomas Bewick in the 18th century and much of the process remains unchanged since then. It is principally a way of producing monochrome prints by engraving on the end grain of wood (as opposed to the long grain of woodcuts) and this allows for minute detail.
First of all the design is drawn onto the mirror-smooth surface of a specially prepared wood block, normally boxwood or similar. The detail is then engraved using traditional tools, cutting through the darkened surface of the wood to the paler wood below – the areas that are cut away will appear white on the finished print, and the surface left intact will print black. Engravings can take many weeks to complete and mistakes cannot be rectified easily. I work using a magnifying glass under good light and the block is held on a traditional leather covered sandbag for ease of turning.
Next the engraved block is carefully inked with a roller so that only the areas of surface that were not removed will hold the ink. Paper is gently laid on top of this surface and pressure applied to transfer the ink to the paper. The resulting print is a mirror image of the engraving on the block.
I use a vintage Farley cylinder press to print my cards, and an antique Albion Hopkinson press (circa 1840) for most of my limited edition prints.
Every single print that I produce - including each card – is produced from the original engraved block and must be inked and put through the press individually, giving slightly different and unique results each time. The engraved blocks can be printed many times over without degradation of the image (with careful cleaning and storage). My card designs are ‘open edition’ prints ie. there is no set number of prints that I will take from each block. But my limited edition prints are all numbered and are strictly limited to the edition size that is set – they will never be reproduced and sold as reprographic prints.