Printmakers Andy English and Jonathan Ashworth come together in this remarkable look at the skilful printmaking technique of woodcutting. Both printmakers demonstrate this technique wonderfully in their prints which explore storytelling, nature, people and personal experiences.
Andy English is a printmaker, specialising in the delicate art of wood engraving. He engraves on end grain woodblocks through a lens and then prints his work using Victorian hand presses. He is in demand for book illustrations and has made engravings to accompany authors including Philip Pullman, Susan Hill, Sir Andrew Motion and well as Keats, Shakespeare and Dickens. He is also well known for his engraved bookplates and has received over one hundred commissions for these from around the world. They have features in many books and magazines about the subject. In 2015, Royal Mail issued a miniature sheet of stamps on the theme of honeybees. This featured Andy's hand coloured engravings. He also engraved some of the text and a floral border. The artist's work is in the collections of many museums and libraries, including The British Library, The Garden Museum, The Yale Center For British Art, The Ashmolean Museum and The V&A.
A word from Andy:
"Some of my earliest memories are of drawing and, from my childhood, I took pleasure in both detailed observational drawings and illustrating stories. My adult work has developed directly from these experiences but using the medium of that most exacting form of printmaking; wood engraving. This gave me the detail that is characteristic of my work and allowed me to make multiple images; something else that I have enjoyed since childhood. I like to make images which tell a story, sometimes with half hidden elements and visual puns. Yet another important childhood passion was the work of William Blake. His tiny, almost naïve wood engravings to illustrate Thornton's Virgil have influenced me hugely, as they did many before me. My personal work is monochrome, small of scale, detailed, rural and unashamedly autobiographical, in the sense that I make images of the landscape and wildlife of places that are important to me. Environmental issues concern me; current work is informed by the threat to bee populations."
What is a woodcut print?
Andy English explains how his woodcuts/wood engravings are created:
"Wood engraving is a form of relief printmaking. The cuts I make will appear white in my final image. What I leave will remain black. What draws me to this medium is the precision and detail that is possible. The tools I use are gravers, rather than gouges or knives. I use them to cut a mixture of lines and dots which I use to build the image. The woodblock that I use is cut across the branch so that I am working on the end grain. This allows me to cut in any direction without being hampered by the grain of the wood. I use blocks of a dense, close grained wood such as box or pear.
There are many ways of approaching wood engraving; this is mine. I darken the polished surface of the wood slightly with ink. I then draw the main elements of my image in reverse, using a black pen. I then make the cuts. Darkening the wood means that I can see each cut I have made clearly as the lighter wood inside the block is visible. Since I like to make detailed marks, I engrave much of my blocks using magnifiers. The marks are improvised using the pen lines as a guide, giving the print a livelier character than a more carefully planned approach. I roll ink onto the block and pull a proof in the press before the block is quite finished. This is important because I can always engrave more, but cuts, once made, cannot be reversed. This first proof is usually dull and flat but I can then engrave again to let more light in and clear up untidy areas. When I am happy (this sometimes involves proofing and engraving several more times) I am ready to edition the print. I print using Victorian Albion hand presses. They are operated by pulling a bar which then uses levers to put pressure on the inked block, transferring the image to the paper. I am always excited by the moment of reveal when I peel the finished print from the block."
Yorkshire printmaker Jonathan specialises in the production of traditional woodcuts and wood engravings. These are two closely related methods of printmaking that encourage feelings of other worldliness through the use of extremely fine and intricate marks. Each print method has a very distinctive appearance, but woodcut prints especially so, since they encourage the artist to work intuitively with the natural materials so as to bring out incredible subtleties of texture. Jonathan studied at the Royal College of Art, from where he graduated with first class honours in 2006, having previously completed a Fine Art undergraduate degree in Edinburgh. After exhibiting widely across the UK he won Young Artist of the Year 2012 at the Biscuit Factory (Newcastle). His work aims to meld the age-old sensibilities of the natural world with contemporary concerns of the city.