I left my drawing for a few days while I thought about the idea of creating a woodcut and reading up on the subject. I found that the hints at tips in The Printmaking Handbook by Louise Woods were useful, and I was surprised to read that I might be able to use some cheap plywood to begin with, as I had suspected I would need to head down to Intaglio to invest in some more expensive wood that would be suitable for woodcut. It said in the book that plywood from a wood merchant or DIY store would be relatively easy to cut and ideal for a beginner, as there is no worry about wasting high quality materials and money if you make a mistake. I figured as this was my first woodcut this would be the way to go, and so I headed to Lawsons and managed to find myself a lovely offcut that looked ideal for cutting into smaller rectangles for my first series of woodcut prints.
The plywood I had found at Lawsons was made up of 3 plies and was 5mm thick. It was just over a metre long and 40cm wide, for only £3.60! I was very happy, until some friends of mine said the next day it would not work for woodcut - that it would splinter and split as I attempted to cut through it. I sighed to myself but figured I would have very little to lose if I were to give it a go anyway. I sawed a piece off the offcut that measured around 20cm x 40cm.
I invested in a couple of Pfeil tools from Jackson's Art Supplies (http://www.jacksonsart.com/search.php?input_search=pfeil&stock=0&x=0&y=0 ) and was SO relieved to find that they cut through the wood like a dream. Having done quite a bit of linoprinting in my time I knew not to expect anything as effortless as cutting through some softcut lino, but I was delighted to see that carving through this wood was not much different, and I loved working with wood as a material...it is something I have always wanted to do. I began by cutting out random lines and then making them look like branches, and then when I realised that it would be possible to, I began to use my drawing of the roses as a reference for my first ever woodcut.
I figured I should not invest too much time into making it precise, as this was my first time, I just wanted to have a play around, so I worked by having the sketchbook open on the roses drawing and used a HB pencil to replicate the forms of the composition, cutting as I went the areas I wanted to have white. It take some time to work out how much pressure to apply, what angle to cut at, and how to avoid slipping and cutting more than you would like to, and I imagine you have to re-figure this out each time you set to work with a new piece of wood. I found it surprisingly easy to cut against the grain of the wood (as the book said this would be difficult) and also to make wavy lines with my cutter. The pressure required was relatively high for a long working time, so I did find my hand ached a little at the end of the session.
This is what my woodcut looked like at the end of the first session - it was taking a little longer than I had envisaged, but I was quite excited by how it was looking. I decided to use some hatching to describe areas of mid tone.
Tone is something that was making me think - how was I going to tackle it? Having areas of hatching, then large areas completely cut out (the bits that appear white in the wood) and then areas left uncut meant I basically had 3 tonal values throughout the woodcut - a little less than I might have in a drawing or a painting. However I think I may try varying tone further in my print by brushing the ink on, and mixing different colours with different tonal values, so that the print itself undulates in tone and colour, and my print will end up being half way between a conventional woodcut print and a painting.
The other thought I had was to apply gouache or watercolour washes to the sheet of paper I am going to print on, so that the print is laid on to blocks of colour, which might also work quite nicely with this composition.
I found that by the time I had completed cutting across the whole bit of wood I had run out of space to fit the whole composition of the drawing on to the piece but that did not bother me too much. I really liked the woodcut as an object - it reminded me of old book illustrations or of the carvings you might see in the back of a pew in a church. I'm a little bit worried that the ink I use to print with will stain the wood, but at least I have some photos of it looking all pretty and clean!