How to Make a Wood Engraving
1. The subject is drawn, and redrawn, on tracing paper, using no. 2 and no. 3 pencils, until the desired composition is reached. The tracing must be precise so as to provide an accurate guide for the engraving took. Once a line is cut, it cannot be changed. (See Appendix A, Drawings)
2. The highly polished surface of the block, in this case Venezuelan boxwood, is rolled up with a dense black oil-base letterpress printing ink. It is rolled several times, over and over, to completely cover the surface with a thin smooth layer. The block is then allowed several days to dry.
3. The block is now rubbed with a small amount of tallow, using the stub of an old candle. It is kneaded with the fingers, which warms and spreads the tallow to provide a smooth thin coating.
4. The face of the tracing is carefully placed down on the surface of the block which has been sensitized by the wax coating. The edges are folded, wrapped around and secured with tape to the back of the block.
5. The back of the tracing is firmly rubbed back and forth with a burnishing tool, or the heel of a spoon, so that the graphite drawing is transferred to the waxed surface of the block.
6. The tracing is removed to reveal a good transfer of the image which appears as dark gray on the black surface.
7. Sharp tools are a necessity. These cut the dense hard surface of the block with ease. A tool is first ground down on an Indian bench stone. The point is then honed down on the square white hard Arkansas stone to impart a scalpel-sharp triangle-shaped cutting edge having a jewel-like brilliance. The rig is a specially made device to hold the tool at the proper angle while sharpening.
8. The shaft of the tool is held between the thumb and forefinger, with the wooden handle placed firmly in the palm of the hand. It is then pushed, plow-like, through the surface of the block deep enough to see a shaving.
9. The tracing is suspended at the edge of the lampshade where it may be referred to as the engraving progresses. The image is fragile and easily rubbed off. A piece of thin card is placed on the block to protect it, as well as to protect those lines already engraved from the heel of the engraving tool.
10. The engraving proceeds, using a medium size spitsticker (elliptical tint tool) which has curved sides and makes single lines. The lines are reworked to even them up, and to smooth them out. With just several tools, the most detailed composition can be accomplished. These would be three medium sized spitstickers and two scorpers (gravers-one round and one square) for clearing large areas. (See Appendix B, Tools for engraving)
11. Well-sharpened tools cut crisply, and with ease. The composition develops. The golden-tan color of the wood is exposed at every cut. It emerges with a pleasing glow.
12. Two pin holes, one at each end of the block, will be used as guides when matching the color block to the key block in the printing process.
13. A proof, in gray ink, taken from the key block (extreme left) is impressed on the blank second color block. This provides an accurate image to follow when engraving. The press, a Poco proof press, made in Chicago in the early '20s, was used as a proofing press by typesetters and printers.
15. The second color block is finished, and a color proof is taken of it.
16. The key block is inked up in black.
19. Thelma and John De Pol with the Albion hand press originally acquired and used by Bertha M. and Frederic W. Goudy at their Village Press from 1915 to 1947. Mrs. Goudy became America's greatest woman printer and Mr. Goudy its greatest type-designer, creating over one hundred and twenty type faces.
20. In his studio in Park Ridge, New Jersey, John De Pol works on the wood engraving, "Intersection," which was completed in December, 1977 He sits at a desk which he made from a packing case in the early 1950's. It contained an order of coated paper for a brochure to be printed by L.F. White Company on West 21st street in New York, where he was employed, and where he learned the trades of printing and designing. He has accomplished all of his wood engravings, numbering over 1,200, at this desk. (See Appendix E, Backs of blocks)