Definitions

wood engravings

Wood engraving

Wood engraving is a relief printing technique, where the end grain of wood is used as a medium for engraving, thus differing from the older technique of woodcut, where the softer side grain is used.

Origin and technique

The technique of wood engraving developed at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, with the works of Thomas Bewick. Bewick generally made his engraving in harder woods than normally used, and would engrave the end of a block instead of the side. Finding a knife not suitable for working against the grain in harder woods, Bewick used the engraving tool the burin, which has a V-shaped cutting tip. Engraving on wood in this manner produced highly detailed images, usually quite unlike those produced by engraving on copper plates. Furthermore, unlike copper-plate engravings that quickly deteriorated, thousands of copies could be printed from engraved wood blocks. Since wood engraving is a relief process while metal engraving is an intaglio technique, wood engravings could be used on conventional print presses, which were themselves making rapid mechanical improvements during the first quarter of the 19th century. As a result of Bewick's innovation and improvements in the printing press, illustrations of art, nature, technical processes, famous people, foreign lands and many other subjects became more widely available.

Commercial use in the 19th century

Bewick's innovations were developed and expanded by a large group of professional wood engravers. Magazines with large circulations (The Illustrated London News, and Harper's Weekly) were illustrated with large wood engravings that were the product of a collaboration between draftsmen and wood engravers. Gustave Doré's famous works were likewise a collaborative product of Doré and a group of talented wood engravers. In 19th century France wood engravings became besides lithography the medium of choice for caricaturist such as Honoré Daumier, who published his wood engravings in daily satirical papers such as the Charivari.

Wood engraving as a reproductive (rather than artistic) technique has been displaced by advances in printing technology. Wood engraving is now used to create bookplates, fine art limited edition prints, and a few book illustrations and commercial artwork.

Notable wood engravers

In rough chronological order

See also

Donato Rico, (Don Rico)

Organizations

Further reading

  • Simon Brett, An engravers globe ISBN 1-901648-12-5
  • Simon Brett, Wood engraving: how to do it. ISBN 1-901648-23-0; 1-901648-24-9 (hbk.)

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