Monday, February 13, 2023

Making Woodblock Prints by Merlyn Chesterman and Rod Nelson

A very good concise overview of techniques and materials
I’ve been doing linoleum block prints for years, and I recently decided to give wood a try. I haven't done an actual woodcut since college, so I was looking for a refresher course. As an amateur printmaker, I tend to collect books on the subject, and I have quite a number of how-to manuals. Making Woodblock Prints, published in 2015, is one of the better ones I’ve seen in recent years. It was written by two printmakers from the UK, Merlyn Chesterman and Rod Nelson.

This paperback book is only 112 pages long, but within that length it provides a very good brief overview of the necessary techniques of block printing. The writing is clear and accessible but not too elementary. Beginners will find the education they seek, and more experienced printmakers will also find some useful tips and techniques. The book is heavily illustrated with photographs showing materials and processes, as well as a few useful diagrams. Overall, the presentation is well thought-out and well executed.

Chesterman and Nelson’s teachings on woodblock printing offer a happy medium between classic traditions and modern convenience. They emphasize the need for planning and persistence in producing a print, but they also encourage the reader to experiment and explore the happy accidents of the medium. Older textbooks on this subject often expect the artist to go cut down trees and plane your own wood blocks. Chesterman and Nelson are aware that most 21st century artists are going to purchase their materials from a printmaking supply store, and they offer intelligent advice on quality tools and materials and how to take care of them.

Unlike many recent publications on this subject, Making Woodblock Prints is not a book of projects—how to make a greeting card, how to make wrapping paper, etc. Chesterman and Nelson want to guide the reader in making his or her own art. In addition to the how-to component, books on printmaking often also present a gallery of images showing the possibility of the medium. Usually that involves showing a variety of styles: for example, Albrecht Durer, German Expressionism, Japanese landscapes. In this book, Chesterman and Nelson mostly show their own work as well as the work of some of their like-minded friends. Some of their fellow artists are Chinese and Japanese, but all the works illustrated in the book display a similar style, an abstraction of natural forms that emphasizes textures like tree bark, flowing water, and craggy stone. So on the one hand, the authors want to teach the artist enough to have the freedom to follow their own path with the medium; on the other hand, it seems like they kind of want you to make art that looks something like theirs. 
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