Posts Tagged ‘wood’

woodcuts, Dürer and the desperate man

June 13, 2013


I’ve been looking at a lot of Albrecht Dürer images lately.  I acquired a secondhand book about Dürer recently, and I already had a book of the etchings and engravings.  One day I must get the companion book of the woodcuts.  I’ve also been able to see some of the woodcuts ‘in the flesh’ a couple of days ago, since the Queensland Art Gallery has the entire Apocalypse series, plus a few other woodcuts, on display at the moment. (on show until 21st July 2013).  Dürer is of course, one of the greats of Western art history.  Born in 1471 in Nurenburg, he was part of the great revolution in image making and distribution brought about by the development of the Gutenburg Press around 1450.  One of my favourite Dürer images is the one above, sometimes titled ‘The Desperate Man’, though Dürer himself gave it no title.  It is not a woodcut, but an etching done in iron plate, and possibly his first use of this medium which was in it’s infancy at the time.  So, with all this as background, and having just bought some ply wood with the intention of making some new woodcuts, and armed with the love of reversals and contradictions perhaps common to printmakers, I set about making a new work based on The Desperate Man.


So, in making a woodcut homage to one of Europe’s first great woodcut artists, I’ve chosen to base it on one of his etchings – a medium he seems to have made infrequent use of (there are many intaglio prints by Dürer – mostly engravings).  When I teach relief printing, I seem to end up talking a lot about ‘black line’ and ‘white line’, 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 designs were ‘black line’.  An image would be drawn on the wood in black ink, and then the negative spaces lowered by carving, so that the lines would be left in raised relief (and hence the term relief printing) where they would receive black ink to then be transferred to paper.  Lately I’ve been preferring to make images with a ‘white line’ approach, thinking of the marks made by the carving tools as positive white lines on a black ground, coalescing to create and image delineated in white lines.  This doesn’t alter the nature of the way the process works – it is still the raised areas that receive and transfer the black ink, it’s just a different way of thinking about the creation of the image.  A lot of my recent images have been made in this way, from drawing with white chalk or pastel on black paper, to the monotypes of white clouds and skulls hovering in black spaces.  Indeed with this new print of The Desperate Man, I have continued my recent liking for bleed printing, that is printing right to the edges of the paper rather than leaving a white border.  I think this enhances the idea of the white line, making up the white object floating in a black field.  Viewers are sometimes fooled into thinking these prints are printed in light ink on dark paper, so used are we to the idea that the ‘negative space’ of an image equates to being ‘left blank’.  I love to watch that moment of confusion as people viewing these works figure out the mechanics.  To come back to that idea of printmaking being an inherently contradictory beast, this is indeed the case with a relief print, in the sense that the areas that print are those where no carving has taken place, but this is often masked in the way the conceptualy active parts of a design often seem to be made up of the blacks.  In a black and white image of course, as with any binary system, one side cannot work without the other.

Confusing?  Perhaps now you feel like The Desperate Man.

The Desperate Man (after Dürer), Woodcut, Peter McLean, 2013

The Desperate Man (after Dürer), Woodcut, Peter McLean, 2013. Printed in black ink on grey stonehenge. 28x65cm

(Yes, I know, I’ve left out his head. All the better to display the wonderful pose of the hands, which somehow makes me think of Child with a Toy Hand Granade by that rather more modern master image maker of humanity, Diane Arbus.  The Queensland Art Gallery, incidentally, also has some Arbus photographic prints on display at the moment).


island engraving

June 22, 2012

Eye Island, wood engraving,Peter McLean, 2012

This is the second of the wood engravings I have made in Fiskars, Finland.  A group of nearby lakes forms the shape of an eye on the map, and is my favourite area to go walking.  On my first visit there I was entranced by the light shinning behind this little tree filled islet.  Placing the image in the centre of this elliptical block of apple wood, the whole image has become rather eye-like.

I also posted a photo of this little island a while back on Four Feetour blog about the Fiskars Residency.

engraving on apple wood

June 18, 2012

wood engraving, Peter McLean, 2012

After some initial trouble getting hold of some suitable ink, I’ve finally been getting into some printmaking.  First off I edditioned this small engraving I did on some apple wood left by the previous artist in residence.  By traditional criteria, the apple turned out not to be ideal for engraving.  While it is reasonably hard, the grain is certainly not uniform, with rings of softer wood containing minute pits.  Perhaps this is the rapid spring growth.  The end result though, is quite pleasing.  The pits are just big enough to show up as lighter rings in the print, but not so much as to overly distract from the image, and I had made sure that the focal point of the image was at the centre f the growth rings so the two patterns would be working together rather than against each other.


Of course seeing how those growth rings show up, I also did some printing of other pieces that had been sanded smooth, but not yet engraved.  I felt like turning these into something more than the simple cross section, even though that is nice, and they became a little text piece.


Apple, relief print, Peter McLean, 2012

11 x 11

October 5, 2011

One project that I undertook during the JB Blunk Residency, was to make a print for a print exchange run by the Printmaking Centre of New Jersey.  The theme for the exchange was 11 x 11, and so I let that rattle around my sub-conscious for a few weeks before I came up with something.  With the influence of JB’s wall made of ‘scrap’ pieces, and the bedhead of similar aesthetic, I decided to fit eleven wood scraps into an 11 inch square as tightly as I could, and construct a printing block from that.  Of course, being found scraps they were all different thickness and far from flat, so making a flat printable surface was a bit of a challenge (which was not 100% achieved and so printing was a challenge too – but it got there).  With the inspiration of this work being so closely linked to the house itself, I chose it as the piece to leave in the house when I left for the last time yesterday.

the mountains keep secrets

September 22, 2011

"The Mountains Keep Secrets", relief print, Peter McLean, 2011

That’s the title of this little print.  It’s quite delightfully simple, a relief print from a little block of knotty pine found amongst the dirt, and yet there are plenty of depths and subtleties to keep me interested.  If you want to find out what secrets the mountains keep, than have a look here.

sky broadside now available online

September 8, 2011

Above is the broadside print that I made a little while back with the assistance of Ampersand Duck.  It features a poem by Brian Turner set with lead type along with a wood engraving cloud and the earth represented by a relief print from a section of borer attacked Acacia trunk.  The broadside is now available to order online from Ampersand’s store here.

and meanwhile, wood engraving

May 22, 2009

Regular readers will know, that I use this space mostly for some random musings, some disconnected photos and the sharing of images relating to some of the ephemeral art I make outdoors with found materials.    Now and then I do like to bring the discussion round to good old fashioned pictures on pieces of paper.  I call myself a printmaker after all, and I have been busy making prints and other work on paper – they just don’t make it to the blog so much.  Earlier this year I had the opportunity to do a wood engraving workshop at Megalo print studios.  I’ve been meaning to post something about this for a while, but somehow I kept getting put off .  In brief, wood engraving is a form of relief printing that makes use of hard end grain wood, sanded to a high polish.    Because of the qualitys of the wood used, and the fineness of the specialized tools, wood engravings can achieve incredible detail and accuracy of reproduction for a relief print.  Instead of telling you all about the workshop, I’m going to suggest you go and visit Ampersand Duck’s blog, since she was there too and has already given a blow by blow account, and with pictures!

So now I’m right into wood engravings.



This was the second engraving that I did – showing a campsite among the rocks in Namadgi NP.  My project this year is in part about the human presence within ‘nature’.  Wood engravings tend to be small – this one is perhaps two inches long, so probably about the size you see it on your screen.

I quickly became interested in finding my own wood to use, instead of pieces that had been machined by someone else from timber that I knew nothing about.  I wanted to see what could be achieved using the humble sticks to be found on my walks.  After collecting, cutting and much sanding and polishing, I become somewhat attached to these little pieces of wood.  I began to think about printing them just as they are, without doing any carving at all.


relief print

Now I hope you can see what I meant in a previous post about circles referring to elements of nature.  The prints are like little windows into another secret world – especially when you hold it in your hand on thin seemingly fragile Japanese paper.  This little block (about an inch long) then got an image carved into it before printing again.


Right now I’m late for a class, so I’ll leave it at that – more about engravings and circles later.

%d bloggers like this: