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Wood Engraving

R.J. Beedham



The highly-polished surface of the wood will not take the pencil or brush unless prepared, and the best medium for this is flake-white and finely ground brickdust in equal proportions. An amount sufficient to cover a threepenny piece is enough for a block of 6 inches by 4 inches; add one or more drops of water, and rub thinly and evenly with the fingers until it starts to dry.

Chinese white may be used in the place of flake-white. It can be used without the brickdust and applied to the wood by the fingers as before or spread evenly by means of a soft fiat brush passing by direct strokes over the surface. This method will be quite effective, but will not give such an even appearance as the brick-dust and white.

Indian and Chinese ink rubbed up in water and a fine camel hair brush are used for drawing, or a pencil may be used. The best is one of medium hardness. Too soft a pencil rubs out easily and soon gives a dirty appearance to the drawing; one too hard is liable to bruise the wood.

All drawing on the wood must be reversed. Even in cases where this is not necessary it is well to remember that the print from the engraving will be a reverse of the drawing. Make reversing a habit. Much annoyance may thus be avoided, for it is easy to produce an awkward absurdity, which, though not apparent to other people, spoils one s own enjoyment of the work. All lettering must be reversed. A view of the drawing in a mirror before commencing to engrave will reveal any incorrectness in reversing.

The engraver is to remember that the production is to be an engraving and not a drawing; that it is to have the character of an engraving - an engraving manifest and not an imitation of another drawing, half-tone, or any other process. Let the dependence be on the engraving tools rather than the pencil. As far as possible draw direct on to the wood. If this, by the nature of the subject, is impossible, it may be necessary to trace on to the wood.

Trace the subject firmly with a soft pencil and by waxing the sides of the block fix the tracing tightly over it, face down. Affix one side first in correct position, rubbing the paper on to the waxed side by means of a tool handle or other suitable instrument, and stretch the tracing tightly over until fixed in similar manner to the opposite side. In the absence of beeswax, soap will do, but it is not nearly so effective, or, failing both, the paper can be folded to the back of the block in such manner that movement of the tracing is impossible. Being assured that there will be no movement of the paper, trace again on to the wood by means of a hard pencil, or preferably, a steel point. If either of these is too sharp or pressed on too heavily, it will scratch or bruise the wood. By detaching the paper from one side the work can be examined without fear of movement, care being taken to fix again before continuing to trace. Only a very faint line must be expected and this is all that is required.

Another method is to scrape some red chalk finely on to a separate piece of paper (not too large, as it can be used over and over again) and rub it well on until the paper is evenly reddened. Place the reddened surface next the wood underneath the tracing - it need not be fixed - and proceed to trace as before. This method will produce a faint red line and will be useful when, as sometimes happens, the subject is to be reversed in the final print.

These faint outlines must be made stronger, the drawing completed, by means of camel hair brush and Indian ink or by pencil. Any shading can be put into the drawing by means of these, always remembering that it is to be finally expressed in terms of the engraving tool. To draw on the wood is awkward without some support; a piece of wood as high as the block will be necessary on which to rest the hand.

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