THE ART OF WOODCUTTING

 

Durer Rhino on white background
ALBRECHT DURER   (German, 1471-1528)
The Rhinoceros (1515)
woodcut cut in the "black line" technique   8.4" x 11.7"

Durer chiaroscuro woodcut in black line, with blue-green tone block
ALBRECHT DURER
The Rhinoceros (1515)
"chiaroscuro" woodcut in black line, with blue-green tone block

Durer Rhino on black background
Durer's Rhino as it might appear in a "white-line" cutting technique

 

 

   Woodcuts and Wood Engravings

"The Woodcut - the oldest example of this, the earliest form of engraving - which has been used by the Chinese for over a thousand years - is from the middle of the ninth century, A.D. But the woodcut as we know it first appeared in the middle of the fifteenth century. It very quickly became more popular than any pictorial medium then in use among the common people, which is a marked contrast to the present day limited and signed proofs for the dealer, collector, and speculator in fine prints.

 

The list of artists who have made woodcuts, from Durer to our own day, is a very long one. A preoccupation in the eighteenth century with the metal plate was followed by a revival in the following century and a subsequent decadence into magazine illustration. With the invention of photography and photo-engraving for reproduction on a mass scale, the woodcut almost ceased to exist. During this low ebb, small groups of artists on the continent and in America kept the craft alive until, at the trun of the present century, a new interest burst forth. Today, a great tradition in the art of the woodcut is being established.

 


FRANS MASEREEL   (Belgium, 1889-1972)
Les Poetes Contre La Guerre - Poets Against the War,1920
Anthologie De La Poesie Francaise 1914-1919 woodcut, for frontispice

 


HELEN WEST HELLER (American, 1872-1955)
Protective, 1951, woodcut


LEONARD BASKIN (American, 1922-2000)
Porcupine, 1951, woodcut
The Gehenna Press

 

Technically, the woodcut requires not only a knowledge of drawing but skill in a distinct kind of craftsmanship. Much more than "hacking" at the wood is necessary. Clarity in design and expression in both line and area are most important. The woodcut is done on soft wood, the long-grain plank of apple, pear, beech, cherry - and also linoleum. All woods used are type high, planed flat and sandpapered very smooth. The design is either drawn directly or traced upon the block, and the method, roughly is is to cut away all white or light areas, leaving the black lines and areas raised, as that, when inked, they will print on paper under pressure. A knife or carver is used for incising the line and chisels or similar tools are used to clean out superfluous wood.

 

 


AGNES MILLER PARKER
Rook in Flight, 1937, wood-engraving


AGNES MILLER PARKER
from Elegy Written in A Country Church Yard, by Thomas Gray
illustrated with wood-engravings, 1937
introduction by Hugh Walpole: The Heritage Press

 

In wood engraving a hard, closely-grained wood - such as box or maple - is used. The block is cut across the grain of the tree, and an entirely different set of tools must be employed - burins or gravers and tint tools of different sizes and shapes whose capacities for varying degrees of fine lines and large spaces allow more profuse tonal and color variations that is possible in the woodcut.

 

Printing, as in all graphic arts, requires a great deal of skill. Perhaps the best method is with the Washington-Franklin proofing press, or the flat-bed press. But good proofs have been made with the burnisher, the back of a spoon, a Japanese baren, a roller, the old-fashioned letter press - and even the foot."

Henry Glintenkamp
from: America Today: A Book of 100 Prints
published for the American Artists' Congress
by Equinox Cooperative Press, NYC, 1936

 

 


CLARE LEIGHTON   (English/American, 1898-1989 )
2 wood engravings of Heathchid
from
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
Random House, 1931

 

LINKS:
Terra Foundation for American Art
Whistles In The Wind
Wuthering Heights illustrations by Clare Leighton
   FOUR SIGNED LIMITED EDITION PRINTS BY LEIGHTON:
   • The Death of Earnshaw [ 30 copies]
   • On the Moors [20 copies]
   • Cathy in Delerium [20 copies]
   • Heathcliff's Grief [20 copies]

 

 

"Known more formally as xylography*, woodcut is a relief printing process in which the illustration to be printed is carved into a block of wood along the grain - unlike wood engraving, which is cut into the end-grain. The block is then inked and printed by stamping, rolling or pressing against a medium (paper for books, although the technique was first used in China as early as the 3rd century Common Era to print textiles)."

* The art of carving the woodcut is technically known as xylography, though the term is rarely used in English.

Private Library

 

WOODCUTS & WOOD ENGRAVINGS:

Woodcuts and The Private Library  |  page II  |  page III
Wood Engravings and The Private Library  |  page II  |  page III
Andy English: Wood Engraver
   • What is Wood Engraving?
   • A Brief History of Wood Engraving
Roe and Moore 20th Century Books and Prings
   • Blair Hughes-Stanton (British 1902-1981)
   • Printing Techniques Explained
History of Wood-Engraving in America 1882

 

 

   Linocuts

Linocut is a printmaking technique, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for the relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. The linoleum sheet is inked with a roller (called a brayer), and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a press. . . . the linocut printing technique was used first by the artists of Die Brucke in Germany between 1905‚ AD where it had been similarly used for wallpaper printing. They initially described their prints as woodcuts however, which sounded more respectable. . .

 



Elizabeth Catlett
top: Sharecropper, 1952-70, black & white woodcut
bottom: Sharecropper, 1952-70, color woodcut

 

Color linocuts can be made by using a different block for each color as in a woodcut, but, as Pablo Picasso demonstrated quite effectively, such prints can also be achieved using a single piece of linoleum in what is called the 'reductive' print method. Essentially, after each successive color is imprinted onto the paper, the artist then cleans the lino plate and cuts away what will not be imprinted for the subsequently applied color.

Wikipedia

 

 

   Chiaroscuro Woodcuts

 


on left: Scene of Witchcraft, 1510, Hans Baldung
Chiaroscuro woodcut in two blocks (gray and black)
on right:
Diogenes, mid-1520s, Ugo da Carpi (after Parmigianino)
Chiaroscuro woodcut from four blocks
Source:
The Printed Image in the West
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, MET, NYC

 

"Chiaroscuro woodcuts are old master prints in woodcut using two or more blocks printed in different colors. . . They were first invented by Hans Burgkmair in Germany in 1508, and first made in Italy by Ugo da Carpi before 1516. Other printmakers to use the technique include Cranach, Hans Baldung Grien and Parmigianino. In Germany the technique was only in use for a few years around 1520, but Italians continued to use it throughout the sixteenth century, and later artists like Goltzius sometimes made use of it. . . In some German two-block prints, the keyblock (or "line block") was printed in black and the tone block or blocks had flat areas of colour. In Italy, chiaroscuro woodcuts were produced without keyblocks to achieve a very different effect. They resembled the style of wash drawings also known as chiaroscuro."

Wikipedia


Illustration from How I Make Woodxuts, by Hans Alexander Mueller



chiaroscuro portrait woodcutJan Lievens (1607-1674)
Bust of an old man, full face
chiaroscuro woodcut, 1630-40

". . . this two block print was apparently carved by François Dieussart. One block is the black lines - the "normal" relief block print part. The other is the tone block, out of which were carved the highlights. When it was printed with a midtone color, with the black block printed on top, it produced a chiaroscuro image, with its emphasis on lighting." Anne E.G. Nydam

 


Rockwell Kent, Night Flight, chiaroscuro wood engraving

 

 

 

   Colored Woodcuts

"Colored woodcuts first appeared in ancient China. The oldest known are three Buddhist images dating to the 10th century. European woodcut prints with colored blocks were invented in Germany in 1508 and are known as chiaroscuro woodcuts. However, color did not become the norm, as it did in Japan, in the ukiyo-e and other forms.

In Europe and Japan, color woodcuts were normally only used for prints rather than book illustrations. In China, where the individual print did not develop until the nineteenth century, the reverse is true, and early color woodcuts mostly occur in luxury books about art, especially the more prestigious medium of painting. The first known example is a book on ink-cakes printed in 1606, and color technique reached its height in books on painting published in the seventeenth century. Notable examples are the Treatise on the Paintings and Writings of the Ten Bamboo Studio of 1633, and the Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual published in 1679 and 1701.

In the 19th century a number of different methods of color printing using woodcut (technically Chromoxylography) were developed in Europe. . . Edmund Evans used relief and wood throughout, with up to eleven different colors, and latterly specialized in illustrations for children's books, using fewer blocks but overprinting non-solid areas of color to achieve blended colors. . .

In the 20th century, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner developed a process of producing colored woodcut prints using a single block applying different colors to the block with a brush "a la poupee" and then printing - see his Portrait of Otto Muller woodcut of 1915 from the collection of the British Museum. This technique was also popular with the white-line woodcutters of Provincetown in the early 20th Century." - Wikipedia. See Agnes Weinrich's white-line woodcut, Cows Grazing in Dunes Near Provincetown on the right. (enlarge)

 

 


Three Colored Wood blocks and Black Key Block
Illustration from How I Make Woodxuts, by Hans Alexander Mueller

 

 


Hermann Max Pechstein (German, 1881-1955)
Dialogue, 1920, color woodcut

 

 

COLOR REDUCTION WOODCUTS:

 


Don Gorvett
Sharpshooters at Twilight: Vincents Cove (Gloucester, MA), 2005
Reduction color woodcut, Edition of 17, 29.5" x 49"
Black Bear Fine Art

 

 


S. V. MEDARIS   (American, contemporary)
Turkey, color reduction woodcut
source: Frogman’s Print Workshop
Vermillion, South Dakota

 

A color reduction woodcut is a relief print, that is carved, inked and printed multiple times. By rolling the ink on to the raised area of the wood, the carved away area remains the color of the paper or earlier ink color(s). The process of “carving, inking and printing” can be repeated again and again as long as an accurate registration process is used to preserve the grain . . MORE

 

 

'PROVINCETOWN' WHITE-LINE WOODCUTS:

 


Blanche Lazzell   (1878-1956)
Florida Flowers, 1940, white-line woodcut
2013 © Steven Thomas Provincetown Prints

 

 


MARY MULLINEUX   (American, 1875-1965)
A Crowded Beach, white-line woodcut (black & white)
2013 © The Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, CA

 


MARY MULLINEUX   (American, 1875-1965)
A Crowded Beach, white-line woodcut (colored)
2013 © The Annex Galleries, Santa Rosa, CA

 

 

LINKS:

The Technique of the Color Woodcut
Color Printing, 1929
Edvard Munch at Art Tattler
Making a reduction woodblock print in 5 days

 

 

   Printed Books

 


Dharani Sutra, China, 650-670 CE
(printed on hemp paper)

 

Printed books were first illustrated using woodcuts - An early example of woodblock printing on paper was discovered in 1974 in an excavation in Xi'an, Shaanxi, China, whereby individual sheets of paper were pressed into wooden blocks with the text and illustrations carved into them. It is a dharani sutra printed on hemp paper and dated to 650 to 670 CE, during Tang Dynasty (618-907). Wikipedi) A later book combing both text and image woodcuts, The Diamond Sutra was printed in China in the 9th century CE.

Wikipedia

 

 


-Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), 1493
Author: Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514)
Illustrators: Michael Wolgemut (German, 1434/37–1519)
and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (German, ca. 1460–1494)
Source: The Printed Image in the West
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, MET, NYC

 

"The first crude woodcuts appeared in Europe by 1400. Given the difficulties of scraping out the wood between the lines to be printed, and the danger that lines that were too thin would break under pressure, early woodcuts consisted mainly of thick outlines with minimal shading." - (Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History).   From the mid-15th century some books in western Europe, known as block books also called xyloographica, had both their text and their images printed as woodcuts as a less expensive alternative to setting the text from movable type.

 

 


artist: Kitagawa Utamaro, (Japanese, (?)-1806)
-Myriad Birds: A Kyoka Competition ca. 1790
Kibyoshi - printed book of woodcut images and poems
Cover of book below, right
Source: British Museum

 

"KIBYOSHI, a genre of Japanese picture book, printed during the middle of the Edo period (from 1775 to the early 19th century) are physically identifiable by their yellow-backed covers. Kibosh were typically printed in 10 page volumes, many spanning two to three volumes in length, with the average number of total pages being 30. Considered to be the first purely adult comic book in Japanese literature, a large picture spans each page, with descriptive prose and dialogue filling the blank spaces in the image. Due to the numerous characters and letters in the Japanese language, moveable type took longer to catch on in Japan; it was easier to carve the text directly onto the same wood block as the illustration. This allowed for a close and harmonious interaction between image and text, with either a balance of both elements, or text dominating the image."

Wikipedia

 

 


artist: ANSELM KIEFER, (Gernam, b. 1945)
cover of
Teutoburger Wald (Teutobury Forest) 1977
Unique artist's book, illustrated with woodcuts
and one black and white photograph


ANSELM KIEFER, (Gernam, b. 1945)
woodcut from Teutoburger Wald   (Teutobury Forest) 1977

Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

LINKS:

A Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Print Books
   • Le chasteau de labour Pierre Gringore, France, 1510
The Printed Image in the West: Woodcut
   • Liber chronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), 1493
   • Scene of Witchcraft, 1510, Hans Baldung, chiaroscuro woodcut from 2 blocks
   • Samson and Lion, Albrecht Durer, ca. 1497-98, woodcut
   • Diogenes, Ugo da Carpi, Italy, mid-1529s, chiaroscuro woodcut from 4 blocks
Myriad Birds: A Kyoka Competition British Museum
Myriad Birds Art Institute of Chicago
Xu San'geng 1826-1890, China

 

 

 

 

   Novels in Woodcut

 

 

"Not the least original of [Frans] Masereel's works as a wood-engraver is to be found in his stories without words . . .

Many artists have published sets of woodcuts in the form of print albums. After the First World War a dozen appeared under the Lumiere imprint. No one published published them in the form of books except Jans (Hans) Orlowski, the author of the monumental Das jungste Gericht. This masterpiece combines text and pictures cut in the same block.

Masereel needed no text. Sometimes the series of pictures are variations on a theme: more often the story develops like a novel. Throughout his life [1889-1972] these stories provided scope for his gifts of observation, his imagination, his satirical sense, and his sadness. They contain both symbolic expression and fantasy. The first to appear are harshly accusing; later they evolved towards humanism, and sometimes hope out weights the bitterness.

. . . Maserel wrote in 1920 to Henry van de Velde: 'You ask me to talk about myself. It embarrasses me, but I shall be brief. Before the war I went in for a very solid (very Flemish) realism . . . this work was violent, massive and sad. I have always been sad at heart, but I can also be very gay! I was looking for something sells, but I wasn't quite sure what I would find. It was the spirit of all this that I needed. I think I have more or less found ti and I am certain that the war [WWI] had something to do with it.'"

FRANZ MASEREEL by Roger Avermaetel

     
Published by Mergatorfonds, Antwerp, 1976
New York, Rizzoli, First American Edition. 1977
318 pages with 518 illustrations, 8 in color
© 2013 collection of Scattergood-Moore

 

 

books in woodcuts

image above created by Scattergood-Moore © 2013

 

The Belgium artist, Frans Masereel, created his first major novel-in-woodcut, "Die Passion eines Menschen: ("The Passion of a Man") in 1918, followed by "Mon Livre d'Heures" ("My Book of Hours") in 1919 later retitled to "Passionate Journey") in 1; Helen West Heller published a block book of woodcuts and woodcut poems, "Migratory Urge," in 1928; Lynd Ward, cut his first novel-in-woodcut, "God's Man" in 1929; and Helena Bochoráková-Dittrichová (1894-1980) a Czechoslovakian artist who graduated from art school in Prague in 1933, then studied in Paris, most likely with Frans Masereel, published her woodcut novel, "Childhood: A cycle of Woodcuts" in 1931.

 

". . . [W]orking with a woodblock takes on the aspects of a struggle between antagonists. The wood is reluctant, the artist determined, and it is reasonable to suggest that the battle of wills brings about a result quite different from those media in which the hand of the artist moves brush or pencil or crayon freely over the working surface. With wood, every movement of the tool involves overcoming resistance and demands the use of a certain amount of sheer physical force. . . [E]very movement of the tool involves overcoming resistance and demands the use of a certain amount of sheer physical force. Every block and every subject is a new challenge. The result is an emotional attachment between man and material that, enduring over the years, somehow takes on the character of an addiction, or a love affair, or something similarly irrational. At any rate, there is no known cure."

Lynd Ward, "The Way of Wood Engraving"

 

lend ward film
O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward

narration: Michael Maglaras & Robin Ward Savage
DVD directed by Michael Maglaras
90 minutes | 217 Films

LYND WARD:
Lynd Ward at tumblr.com
Six Novels in Woodcuts
America's First Wordless Novelist
Trailer - "Oh Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward"
Storyteller without Words: The Graphic Novels of Lynd Ward

 

 

  NOVELS IN WOODCUT  

 

 


 

 

    Revival of the Woodcut

Of all the forms of expression in printmaking, the woodcut is the most ancient. In Europe it reached a pinnacle with the invention of printing from movable type and by the late 15th century with print-makers like Durer and Holbein. After the mid-16th century, woodcuts began to decline in importance as a vehicle for aesthetic expression.

 

It was not until the revival of the woodcut as a sensitive, personal art form in the late 19th century, that it regained its place as a major expressive form. The prints of Gauguin, strongly influenced by the Japanese prints being exhibited in Paris, the prints of the German Expressionists who were returning to the simplicity of the early German Medieval woodcuts, and the prints of the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch greatly helped to renew interest in the woodcut as a serious contemporary art form. With this revival of the woodcut as a fine print medium came a new spontaneity and creative use of the material. - that also depicted the social/political turbulent periods in Europe and the USA

 

 

Contemporary Woodcuts, 1932

Besides Helen West Heller, the woodcut revival in United States during the first half of the 20th century, included many other distinguished contemporary American woodcutters (see below) : Grace Albee (1890-1985), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Howard Cook (1901-1980), Richard V. Correll (1904-1990), Frances H. Gearhart (1869-1958), Fred Geary (1868-1955), Hendrik Glintenkamp (1887-1946), Dorothy Hay (Jensen) (1910-1999), Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), Karl Knaths (1891-1971), J. J. Lankes (1884-1960), Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956), Clare Leighton (1898-1989), Tod Lindenmuth (1885-1976), Ethel Mars (1876-1934), Leo Meissner (1895-1977), Hans Alexander Mueller (1888-1963), Thomas W. Nason (1889-1971), Elizabeth Norton (1887-1985), Betty Waldo Parrish (1910-1986), Margaret Jordan Patterson (1867-1950), Richardson Rome (1902-), Ruth Thomson Saunders (1901-1952), Charles William Smith (1893-1987), Lynd Ward (1905-1985), Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968) and William Zorach (1887–1966) and others.

Contemporary Woodcuts, 1932
41 woodcut selected by Alfred Fowler

 

 

 


KATHE KOLLWITZ   (German, 1867-1945)
top: Die Eltern (The Parents) 1921-23 woodcut
bottom: Selbstbildnis (Self-Portrait), 1923 woodcut

 

In Europe, during the end of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th Century, the German print-maker and sculptor, Kathe Kollwitz (1867–1945) created many extraordinary personal and social-conscious prints. Other important European print-makers of note include: Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Rodolphe Bresdin, Edgar Degas, John F. Greenwood, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, Frans Masereel, Edvard Munch, Otto Nueckel, Max Pechstein, Odilon Redon, Birger Sandzen, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Felix Vallotton - among many others

Brief History of Woodcut

 

 

 


 

 

 

Helen West Heller
(1872-1955)

 

"The term woodcut and wood engraving are empirically used merely to define the distinction in style between the bold and the laboriously executed work; logically either one is a woodcut, either one is an engraving. Out of this restored freedom of style has grown a conception of the woodcut as a fulfillment in itself, a work of art beholden to no other plastic medium for subject-matter or techniques, imitating no other art, servant to no other art, a medium complete and independent creation."

from "The Art of Woodcutting" by Helen West Heller

 

types of woodcutting

 


left image: Interference, c.1923-27, woodcut  
Signed and titled in pencil. Initialed in the block, lower right.
Annotated in the artist's hand: cat #3 and Key. Blk. #3 in pencil, bottom left sheet edge.
Image size 12 x 7 1/2 inches ; sheet size 14 3 /4 x 10 3/8 inches
Black impression, on cream Japan paper, with full margins (1.25" to 1.50")
Keith Sheridan Fine Art

right image: Interference (Two Women), c.1923-27, color woodcut
6 colors on cream Japan paper
Image size 7 1/2" x 12"
Arader Galleries

 

Interference colorbar
The colors used in Interference including cream of paper (left) and black of key block (right).

 

Yesterdays with You, illustrated book, 1915 written by Wilbur D.Nesbit; uncredited illustrations by Helen West Heller. Published by P.F.Volland Company, Chicago

Helen West Heller's color woodcut, Interference, c. 1927, is very much related - in terms of color and line quality - to her illustrations (above) for Yesterdays with You, written by Wilbur D. Nesbit, (uncredited illustrations by Helen West Heller) published by P. F. Volland Company, Chicago, in 1915

 

 

Helen West Heller, The All Seeing Eye<, watercolor
The All Seeing Eye   (1929)
watercolor on off-white paper
19 1/4" x 23 1/8" (sheet)
collection of Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Gift of Onya La Tour
(this watercolor was executed after the woood-engraving)

Helen West Heller, Nocturne aka St Francis on Mount Verna, with The All Seeing Eye reversed on it
The woodcut Nocturne with the watercolor The All Seeing Eye (reversed) over it

Helen West Heller, Nocturne aka St Francis on Mount Verna, wood engraving
Nocturne   (1928/49)
aka
St Francis On Mount Verna
wood engraving   10.5" x 9"
First Purchase Prize at the Library of Congress
collection of Scattergood-Moore © 2012

 

Many wood-engravers begin by drawing their design in complete detail on the block before cutting. Miss Heller prefers to sketch in the rough composition and then improvise on the wood as she goes along - or, as she puts it, "I begin thinking in terms of the wood; only in this way can original creation take place." As one can see by the moving forms in Nocturne, the artist is deeply concerned with the power of suggestion in art - a power potent enough to "call spirits from the vastly deep." Conceived in abstract terms it is still lucid enough to make the meaning plain. It is indeed a compelling print, full of the awesome shapes and terrors that prowl in the depths of the subconscious; it is that fearful time of night when the powers of darkness take possession of a mind asleep. "I am a forerunner in the development of composition into a phase of psychology," observed Miss Heller, "by discovering ways of conveying emotions through abstractions. My product is completely creative; entirely divorced from the motive of conveying authors' images.

Source: American Prize Prints of the 20th Century
by Albert Reese, American Artists Group, N.Y., 1949

 

 

Rustic Sounds 1949
linoleum cut, image size: 10 1/2" [h] x 8 7/8" [w]
2013, © collection of Scattergood-Moore
Print also in Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC

 

 

"The Art of Woodcutting" by Helen West Heller

The art of woodcutting or wood engraving is at once a very ancient and a very young art. Fine line engraving on various materials, including woods, was popular from the beginning of the 17th century down through the 19th. When at the close of the last century, print makers turned with revulsion from the super refinements of the Victorian era, they turned for inspiration to the very beginnings of European woodcutting for printing purposes. This crude work of the 1400s became an influence on all the mediums of the print, but especially on the revival of the woodcut.

The illustration for the earliest European printed books were coarse-line engraving on brash wood used "plank-wise," that is, with the grain lengthwise, like an ordinary board. Today, we usually use "end-grain" blocks, pieces of wood cut across the grain at right angles. Because these pieces are necessarily small, the block furnished the engraver is made up of pieces glued together under pressure and with all the surfaces carefully leveled and polished.

The rapidity of execution of coarse-line engraving permits a spontaneity of Mood comparable to the freshness of a sketch.

The woodcut is printed from the high (usually uncut) surfaces. Etching and engravings are printed from the cut grooves after the plate has been wiped. Lithography, etching and drypoint are necessarily black line prints.

Wood cutting may be either a black line or white line art or an art of the two in combination. Where the space between the lines is wider than the width of the intaglio line, the print will show white lines on a black surface. Where the intervening surfaces are pared away to a width narrower than the incised line, the appearance of the print will be of black lines on a white surface as in a drawing. Producing the latter effect patently involves more labor on the part of the woodcutter. The former technique is the easiest, the more natural way, to deal with this material.

The early German and Italian engravers lacked respect for their medium. They looked upon their products as cheap imitations of grand frescoes, paintings, illuminations, drawings. They usually copied their subjects from one of the "recognized arts." They entirely failed [to] sense the charm of the black masses so easy in this medium, so the better paid men went to infinite labor to imitate in wood blocks the cross-hatching of black lines natural in engravings. They concentrated on the pictorial parts and left the borders to less skilled technicians who promptly took the easiest way and produced fine spontaneous white-line work. Their work, more truly that their "better's," has become the inspiration out of which has grown the woodcutting of our time.

Helen West Heller

 

 

Themes and Compositions

 

razorbacks cabin

 

 

Doer, Knower, Sayer

 

 

Intersection of Three Streets, 1929
wood-engraving, image size: 5 1/4: [w] x 4 7/8" [h]
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore

Helen West Heller Intersection of three streets oil painting

Intersection of Three Streets, 1929
photograph of oil painting
2012, © private collection

 

As with her images Prairie Child aka Star-Child aka Witchfire, Helen West Heller used themes and compositions in more than one medium. She used similar compositions in a number of paintings and woodcuts; sometime the painting was executed first and at other times the painting was executed after the woodcut. In the examples above, Razorbacks (1932 and Cabin (1933) the painting was done directly from the woodcut - the same for Doer, Knower, Sayer (1932 and 34). In the painting and wood-engraving, Intersection of Three Streets (1929) the wood-engraving was executed after the painting.

 

Sugaring Off

 

Other examples include: the oil painting Baseball (1929) after the woodcut Baseball (1928); The watercolor The All Seeing Eye (1929) after the wood engraving Nocturne (1928); the woodcut Pulling Beets (1931) and the painting Pulling Turnips (c.1932); the woodcut Jacob and Angel (1932) and painting Jacob's Angel (c.1933); the woodcut Proteus as Shepard (1932) and painting Jacob and His Sheep (nd); the woodcut and painting sharpening scythe (c. 1933); the tempera Southwest (1941) and woodcut Southwest (1942); and the woodcut Sugaring Off (1941) and painting Sugaring Off (1943) - see images above.

 

apples

 

Growing up in a mid-western farming community, it is not surprising that many of Helen West Heller's art works and poems depict rural farm life and nature motifs. Apple picking was an especially popular theme for the artist - not surprising since as a child and young woman Helena Barnhart most likely worked in her parent's apple orchard in Canton, Illinois. She depicted apple picking in the painting and prints above, and also on the missing panel titled "picking apples" for her mural Children at Work and Play in the Neponsit Beach Hospital on Long Island.

 

 


 

 

 

printer

  THE ART OF PRINTMAKING  

 

  THE ART OF WOODCUTTING  

  SELECTED WOODCUTTERS  

  SELECTED ILLUSTRATED PUBLICATIONS  


 

 

 

The extraordinary life and art of Helen West Heller

 

tondo

 

TABLE OF CONTENT

 

INTRODUCTION

THE EARLY YEARS
(1872-1921)

THE CHICAGO YEARS
(1921-1932)

NEW YORK CITY  I
(1932-1941)

NEW YORK CITY  II
(1942-1955)

EPILOGUE & LINKS

 

 

HISTORY of WOODCUTTINGROBERT HARDY ANDREWROGER PAUL HELLERMIGRATORY URGE 1928NEW MASSES
AMERICAN ARITSTS' CONGRESS, 1936AMERICAN CONGRESS ARTISTSWOODCUTS U.S.A., 1947A HORRIBLE CRIME
ROSEHILL CEMETERYHWH TIMELINE •   SELECTED PRINT DEALERS •   WORDPRESS.COMCANTON, ILTEN TRIPS. . .
HELEN WEST HELLER RETROSPECTIVE 2003

 

 



 

 

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updated: 10-17-2013

 

 

spinning earth


The President’s Speech: Illustrated by Nineteen Artists
NY: Independent Voters Committee of the Arts and Sciences for Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944