Hilary Daltry: Woodcut

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Posted 31st December 2018


Hilary Daltry

Woodcut is the oldest method of printing and involves cutting a design into the surface of a board or block of wood. The areas that remain after cutting hold the ink which is usually applied with a roller. The paper is laid onto the inked surface and the ink is transferred by pressing the paper down either in a press or by hand.

One attractive feature of woodblock printing is the appearance of the wood-grain in the image.

Read below to learn how contemporary artist Hilary Daltry approaches this historic medium.

'My favourite subjects are inspired by my travels in the Mediterranean. I always start by drawing from life, with studies in my sketchbook, followed by a watercolour. Then I draw the composition on a plywood block and cut several more pieces of the same size (a block for each colour): drawing is key.

'Once I have the composition I use a black permanent marker pen to draw on the wood so the outline remains when I clean ink off the block and then I use white chalk on the block to indicate where to cut first. I always tell my students it's not what you cut away but what you leave behind that is important! This is relief printing where you cut away the non-printing areas leaving the raised areas to be printed.

'I use various cutting tools: the gouges for broader areas and the v-shaped tools for lines. Scalpels or Stanley knifes are also useful. The wood I use is relatively soft and inexpensive plywood from a timber supplier. Found pieces can be used e.g. re-using an old pine shelf (it may have a nice grain).

'Once the cutting is finished on the first block I am ready to take a trial proof on newsprint. I roll relief-printing ink over the block and then lay the paper onto the block. The paper should be strong yet thin enough for printing by hand and Japanese paper is ideal for this. I print by hand, burnishing the back of the paper with a wooden spoon and a Baren (a bamboo leaf covered pad used in Japan).

'I register the blocks by putting each block down in turn over the first print. Each block is one colour. I have to analyse the colour separation in my mind because the separate colours will mix on the paper. I always experiment - it is always surprising and interesting. Woodcut is a very direct medium. When it is cut the wood itself becomes expressive. The outcome is dictated by the way the tools are used.'

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