Photo by WEN member Michael Ferguson
Recently I wrote A New SWE Member Introduces Himself feature for an edition of the Society of Wood Engravers' quarterly publication Multiples. I will share it here on my about page as I get this website up and running. (I hope to have my website operational mid-summer.)
I became aware of the Society of Wood Engravers in 2002, in Elkins, West Virginia, where I learned wood engraving in a weeklong class taught by Jim Horton. Jim had some issues of Multiples with his teaching materials, as well as a new book, An Engraver’s Globe by Simon Brett. Jim also had issues of Block & Burin, newsletter of the Wood Engravers’ Network (WEN). WEN has since served as the primary resource of my wood engraving education during the 16 years since Jim introduced me to sand bags and spitstickers.
An important annual activity for WEN is its week long summer workshop, hosted by a volunteer WEN member, in cities across the US. These annual gatherings are a focused communal immersion of its participants in wood engraving. We work side by side, sharing ideas, tips and tricks of our trade. I have learned so much just by observing others engrave and print, as they freely share their expertise and experiences. Often visits are scheduled to libraries, museums and letterpress artisans, where we all view masterpieces of rare books and wood engraving. At the end of each day we often continue our work at a local pub. Being a member of WEN and participating in eight of these workshops has had a profound influence on me as I continue my apprenticeship as a wood engraver.
The SWE has often been present at WEN workshops. Simon Brett was a guest at the first WEN workshop I attended, at Jim Horton’s Ann Arbor, Michigan home in 2003. Other SWE artists have also been invited to WEN workshops; Hilary Paynter in West Virginia, Andy English in Chicago, and Miriam Macgregor in Boston. In 2011, I hosted a workshop at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, located in Two Rivers, Wisconsin and invited Chris Daunt to be my guest artist. Chris not only brought his expertise, but a treasured supply of end-grain lemonwood and boxwood blocks. After the Wisconsin workshop, Chris and I continued to correspond and work together, as we both were the editors to our respective newsletters, Multiples (SWE) and Block & Burin (WEN). My work with the Wood Engravers’ Network is now firmly linked with the SWE through our sharing of articles & resources.
In May of 2014 I had the good fortune to participate in the 10-day WEN UK workshop. Joining our wonderful reunion with Simon, Hilary, Andy, Miriam and Chris, we also were welcomed most graciously by many more SWE members. Highlights of this tour are too numerous to list here. It was a fantastic and unforgettable experience.
In 2015 I retired from my job of 35 years as a photographer at a college in southern Wisconsin. It was a career change for me as I could focus on becoming a full-time wood engraver and printmaker. I challenged myself to engrave an image with as much detail as I could muster (maybe a bit too much) and the resulting print was Trees, Roots, Rocks. My next engraving, Birch Decay, was completed soon after. I was honored to have both prints selected for inclusion in the SWE 79th Annual Exhibition.
The work of past & present engravers inspire me as I surround myself with books and prints of and about favorites; Thomas Bewick, Gwen Raverat, Gertrude Hermes, Eric Ravilious, George Mackley, Monica Poole, George Tute, Abigail Rorer, Gerard Brender à Brandis, Gaylord Schanilec and Sue Scullard. (Previously mentioned SWE engravers are on this list too.) Rosemary Kilbourn’s luminous prints especially resonate with me. I treasure my correspondences with her.
Landscape and the minute details of the natural world serve as the primary inspiration of my wood engravings. Photography, drawing and engraving interweave in my creative process. I take photos often during hikes on woodland trails or from a canoe or kayak near my home on Lumen Lake located in northern Wisconsin. Over time, recurring visual themes accumulate; birch trees, decaying stumps, knots and bark textures, and reflections in woodland ephemeral pools. I then draw and expand a theme in my sketchbook, using photos as reference. There is a point when photo references are put away and the process of drawing and wood engraving take on their own natural cadence towards a resulting print.
Recently I have started to draw a found object directly onto the block and then engrave its image. “Sweetgrass” was created this way and I enjoyed the directness and immediacy of the process. I have a few Daunt-made boxwood rounds in waiting, for future wood engravings created using this direct method.
Thank you for the honor of electing me as a new member to the Society. Special thanks go to Hilary Paynter and Chris Daunt who both encouraged me to apply to become a member. For many years I have been fortunate to have received encouragement and support from SWE members, who tirelessly promote wood engraving as an art form. I look forward to contributing to SWE's success, as well as continuing my work with WEN.