John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Chapter 5



AFTER the student has practiced every kind of line he can think of, and has got into the habit of using the tools when holding them properly, he may consider starting his first engraved design. Although the temptation to start cutting immediately is strong, he ought to stop long enough to remind himself that, in spite of the importance of the craft in wood-engraving, the most important thing of all to be considered is whether the design and composition are really worth engraving. No amount of skill or delicacy in using the tools will ever redeem a bad or uninteresting design. The artist-engraver must remember that he is using the medium as a means of self-expression, and that what he has to express matters more than his way of expressing it. This is not to say that the actual subject must be considered more than anything else, but that the pictorial treatment of his subject will show his aesthetic reactions to nature, and these will show whether he is really an artist or not.

It is better to work from a pencil drawing in which the tones are indicated, or from one in black and white wash , than from a pen and ink drawing, as the hard black line of the pen is apt to be too insistent and to influence the engraving unduly. Looking at the design and trying to visualize it as a wood-engraving, one should endeavour to see it built up in tones rather than as a series of single lines. The number of tones from black through various greys to white should be as small as possible. A light grey placed next to a dead black will appear much lighter than the same grey surrounded by white, and so by the skillful juxtaposition of a few tones one may give the effect of a rich harmony, and make the design seem full of colour.

The smaller the block the more contrast of pure black and pure white can one have, but what is a pleasing and lively contrast in a small print becomes monotonous in one several times larger. For a large design the colour scheme must be as rich and as varied as possible, running from white through a chord of greys to black. Otherwise, if designed in simple contrasts, it is more suitable for cutting on the plank or in linoleum.

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