I recently tried my hand at woodcut and learned several valuable lessons:
- Make sure your tools are sharp: Depending on the type of wood that is cut and the size of the wood block, the cutting tools need to be sharpened at least once a day – definitely not my favourite job, but blunt tools are more likely to slip and create jagged edges. I may think I am saving time if I keep going without a break, but in the end will spend longer on a piece of work to correct my mistakes. As a writer, I consider my mind my key tool (though a clean keyboard and/or a sharp pencil do not go amiss either!) As a morning person, I am more likely to create good prose when I am writing early in the day. (I must remember that next time I am writing this blogpost!). Staying sharp as a writer also means getting up from my desk regularly and noticing the knots and tensions in my body.
- Remain authentic: I experimented with many different colour combinations to create my image of the jetty. Many people on the course printed in shades of blue , grey and browns and encouraged me to use their colour palette. However, "their" colours did not convey my experience of stepping out onto the wobbly jetty at sunset. The print only came alive when I switched to a bolder colour palette. Interestingly, in the proof sale at the end of the course, I sold three of my boldest prints. The experience reminded me that it is impossible to please everybody, but we are more likely to have an impact if we are true to ourselves and to our style.
- Make space before adding something new: There are various ways of adding different colours to a woodblock. You can ink up a single woodblock with different colours, but it can be difficult to get the colours in the right place. A second method involves creating several woodblocks, ink them up separately and then print them on top of each other. This method only works when all the blocks are lined up accurately, and woodblocks need to be cleared of wood sufficiently to make space for any new information – otherwise the resulting print will look messy and cluttered and the message gets lost. In hindsight, the cleanest print might have been achieved if I had chosen the reduction printing method, where a multi-colour print is created from one woodblock. In-between each colour printing more and more of the woodblock's surface is cut away. It means that there is no going back to previous stages and once the cuts are made, corrections are no longer possible. It strikes me though that the third method most resembles how time works. We can only live each minute once. I am always tempted to add to my to do list without asking myself how the new tasks line up with my objectives and vision and whether there is sufficient space in my diary.
- Take time to reflect: Creating a good print – just like creating a good piece of prose or poetry – takes patience and skill and cannot be rushed.
About the author:Susanne Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. It is aimed at both trekkers and those who are going through a dark time in their lives. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity.