John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Chapter 11





To return to the actual engraving of the wood, it is as well to repeat that the tool must be held comfortably in the right position, and at the proper angle to the surface of the block; and in engraving a long line the point must run along at an even depth without going deeper or increasing the width of the line. There is no necessity to cut deeply. No matter how fine the lines are they should print perfectly. The side of the thumb should rest on the block, and if the line is a very long one it need not necessarily be done in one sweep. It is possible to rest in the middle of the stroke, keeping the point well pressed into the wood and relaxing the hand. The stroke may then be resumed without a break being shown in the line. When the tool comes to the end of the line it should be lifted up sharply, still continuing the forward pressure. If it is withdrawn the line may not finish cleanly and a small piece of wood may be left sticking out. If the beginning of the line has to be as sharp and of the same width as its end, one should start a little along the line and then, when finished , turn the block around on the sandbag and engrave the line back to the beginning.

The scorper is used for making short and broad marks, or for cutting out a white area. If only a small space of white is required it need not be cut at all deeply, but a larger area must be made deep enough to prevent the paper on which the print is made from sagging down into the hollow and picking up any ink which may have been left by the soft gelatine roller.

Before spending endless hours of needless toil in cutting too deeply into the wood, one should wait until a print is pulled off, and then if the white space is covered with black marks it should be deepened. But it is a waste of time to cut more deeply than is necessary. Again, when cutting away the white do not cut right up to the edge at first, but cut another outline just inside and work up to that line. This extra line can easily be cut away afterwards and it will save the edge from all sorts of misfortunes, such as hacks made by the tool running too far and marks made by the pressure of the face of the tool. Also it will enable one to work more freely and to cut away the wood more quickly.

Where the space of white is so small that there is no room for this sort of natural buffer, or again where one wishes to make a series of lines starting from and at an angle to another line, place a card so that its edges will lie just where your lines will start. A cigarette card will do perfectly. The pressure of the face of the tool will be taken by the card and leave the wood unmarked . If this is not done, each of that series of lines, instead of running cleanly from one side of the starting line, will show on the other side and will appear to be preceded by a tiny white hair-line in the print.

Again, when the engraver wishes to introduce black lines into his design (and there is no reason why one should not have some black as well as white lines), he must always have this card beside him to be used when necessary. Where he has to make some sort of cross-hatching, say a railing with lines crossing one another and leaving rectangular spaces to be cut out, in either grey or white, it would be almost impossible to get sharp unbroken edges without the use of the card even though the most extraordinary care were taken.

Another necessity is an oilstone at one’s elbow. The tools must never be allowed to become blunt, and must constantly be sharpened. Some people seem to find difficulty in this, but it is a simple matter to lay the flat end of the tool on the stone and run it backwards and forwards, keeping it at the same angle.

Do not ever attempt to sharpen it by rubbing either side of the blade on the stone. That will only alter the shape of the tool without sharpening it.

I find also that it is a good plan to have a small circular grindstone clamped to the bench, in case the point of the tool should break.

gwenda morgan lynmouth

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