some thoughts on black line

Some time back now, I wrote about beginning work on some wood engravings. That has still been going on, I just haven’t been writing about it here. Indeed my approach to engraving underwent something of a rapid evolution during the year from my first beginners attempts at mimicking traditional forms, to working in a way related to my own drawing style. This has led to a lot of “black line” style prints. That is an image that is made up predominately of thin black lines like an ink drawing, rather than the image being created from white lines on a black background. Why the distinction? You have to remember that I’m talking here about a form of relief print taken from carved wood, so creating thin black lines requires carving away all the spaces between the lines, a rather more tedious process than thinking of an image in terms of white marks on a black ground.

Peter McLean 'Phragmites' wood engraving, 2009

The following is something I wrote in my sketchbook some time back when I was thinking about this stuff.

On one level, these prints seek to reproduce an ink drawing.  On another level this reproduction is bound to fail.  This tension may be the essence of a black line relief print.  There are inherent binaries in these prints.  The line retains the fluidity and spontaneity of the ink drawing on the block, but in addition it has been given weight and solidity in the process of carving and printing.  I have spent time with every line.  I have had the opportunity to alter or erase as I slowly move the burin across the wood.  Every line has been given consideration and certainty.  The gestural has been balanced by the solidity of physical form in hard wood.  The instinctive has become emphatic.  Each line says “I am here and could not be anywhere else”.

Peter McLean, untitled, wood engraving, 2009

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2 Responses to “some thoughts on black line”

  1. artistatexit0 Says:

    Interesting process…I’ll wager that as you carve the wood block, you can “feel” the negative spaces around each line in a renewed way.

  2. woodcuts, Durer and the desperate man | art out and about Says:

    […] and indeed I thought about this again in making this print (and I wrote about black line way back here).  You see, when Dürer made woodcuts, along with those that followed for many many years, his […]

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