This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Sixteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is to come.
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In our era of digital printing on demand, we’ve almost forgotten that skilled woodworkers were an integral part of the spread of printed images and text for thousands of years. From the highly refined artistry of Asian traditions to beautiful carvings for printing books and works by European artists, woodblock printing has a storied history. Every illustrated initial cap or image had an artisan behind it, working his craft at a bench with a small set of carving chisels.
In Issue Sixteen, author and woodblock printmaker Stefan Wolf shares this trade. He discusses the process of selecting wood for the carving – carvers often today utilize shina plywood, manufactured in Japan specifically for block carving, but Wolf sought a suitable local wood for his latest work – and the unique challenges that can arise from unpredictable grain. Often, experience is the only way to know how to best adapt to cantankerous materials. But they can add texture and beauty to an image.
“We come to form, we in-form our lives, by accepting the obvious limits imposed by our talents and circumstances, by nature and mortality, and thus by getting the scale right. Form permits us to live and work gracefully within our limits.” With this quote from Wendell Berry, Wolf thoughtfully discusses the ideas of composition and scale for a carving. Then, pulling out the inks, brayer, and paper, the first print is made. Only then, when the printed page is revealed, does the carver know the quality of his work.