Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Wednesday 23rd March 2011 - Engraving by Hand - An Introduction

Hand Engraving; A quick introduction.

Recently at university I’ve pretty much become obsessed with etching, engraving and printing; using as wide a variety of materials as possible. This has both expanded my portfolio and got me out of the studio and away from people. Luckily, my father was, for a good 15 – 20 years, an engraver of silver, copper and later, steel, fortunately I managed to borrow a few of his burins to have a go with. A few things have come up from this: Nobody, including technicians, knows what to do with them, as it’s now quite an esoteric art form, which was abolished with the introduction of mass printing and the digital age, so, I’ll attempt to share what I know. (Even google fails to yield any contemporary sources for this information, instead citing Durer, Dore and Rembrandt’s plates as sources of information).

Above are all the tools I use, I’ll look at each in terms of what they do, how best to achieve the desired results and any hindrances resulting from using them.

This is my own personal creation: A metal clay and plaster sculpting tool which I’ve sharpened on an oilstone to a fine point, and padded for comfort. Held like a pen, this tool’s great for scribing (a process where imperceptible etching marks are laid down to stop tools slipping) thin lines on to further enforce with a foursquare or for fine detail. This tool is technically an etching tool; however, I tend to use both sets of tools in tandem to yield the best results. 

The problems with using this specific tool is that there is no variation in line width, so one must rely solely on the burnishing and intaglio processes to add an organic feel to a piece. 

A foursquare: these burin’s are the staple tool of any engraver; used for lining, sweeping and adding detail. The different thicknesses of the shaft lead to different widths of cut lines; however the depth remains constant, meaning that nice variety and sense of depth can be substantiated relatively easily. These particular burin’s are of notable difficulty for newcomers to use, as the idea is that one’s palm is responsible for the power needed to engrave, and not the thumb or fingers. This leads to a line either being cut too deep due to the engraver pushing down with their fingers, or to the tool slipping, scratching the plate’s surface and more often than not cutting the engravers off hand open (a painful experience!) 


This is generally the best way to hold a foursquare; at a roughly 30 – 45 degree angle, with the cutting face parallel to the thumb. The index and middle fingers guide the burin from the other side of the shaft, with the handle cradled in the palm. And I can’t stress this enough: The fingers only GUIDE the blade; the PALM provides all the force needed. Applied correctly, one should cut a nice line, with a curly piece of swarf produced (which is promptly flicked off with the tool at the end of the cut). I’ll cover how to produce an engraving at some point in the future, so won’t go into correct engraving procedures, solely how to use the tools.

These are riddlers. They were often denounced as not a real burin by the engraving schools, and weren’t allowed to be used. However, when meeting a deadline, one isn’t concerned with the right or wrong procedures, solely about producing quality work within a given timeframe. So, these are held in the same way to a foursquare (and all other engraving burins), however, the key difference with this tool is how to use it. As well as guiding with your fingers and powering with the palm, to correctly produce the pattern riddlers are made for, one needs to rock their wrist also, allowing the burin to ‘walk’ along the plate. This creates a wonderful zig-zag pattern, which can be altered by the speed at which you rock your wrist, the amount of power you force onto the tool, and the angle.

For the best results, you need to use the tool quite quickly, the small testers below were done in about 4 or 5 seconds, hopefully giving a decent idea as to what speeds should be adequate. A fun thing about these tools is that they can be made from Hacksaw blades (the blue burin is such an example).  

Lastly, these are shaders, or tint burins to give them their official title. Very similar in appearance to riddlers, their blades have grooves of a predetermined width cut into them, meaning it’s a quick and effective way to add tone to a plate. 

More so than any other tool, the angle of this burin is key. The handles of these tools are often either angled or (as my father done) cut in half, to allow as low a cutting angle as possible. 5 – 15 degrees is what to aim for really, with, once again, ones fingers guiding and the palm powering the burin. 
Something which needs to be addressed for all the tools is this; they need to be sharp. I know it sounds stupid, but, unless you’re cutting Perspex which is isn’t too resistant, the burins should be sharpened on an oilstone after every usage. Also, you never ever need to place a finger, thumb, or any other part of your hand on top of the cutting shaft (the part of the shaft opposite the cutting tip). If you find any fingers on there, you won’t cut anything, as this appendage will only push the tool deeper into the plate, leading to an uneven cut, and, worse, a tool which will slip and ruin your work. 

Some engraver's whose work is well worth a look:
Gustave Dore
Albrecht Durer
William Hogarth

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Thursday 17th March 2011 - Pick Me Up #2

Pick me up 2!

“The best, most innovative and avant-garde graphic artists, collectives and galleries from the UK and across the world are exhibiting and offering an exuberant mix of artworks for sale.” 

Pretty much sums up my day today. We decided to travel down to London and have a look round Somerset House; the base for Pick Me Up and a building with a lot of history, which I didn’t even discover until I got home! 

There were some immense illustrators exhibited, McBess, Seiko Kato, Stefanie Posavec and Tom Gauld were notable, with my favourite probably being McBess; his work emphasising harsh contrasts and a powerful organic line dissecting a chaotic composition. As well as these established illustrators, there were a number of small studios showcasing their wares, and Nobrow publishers were peddling their wares. Many books, limited edition prints, postcards and ‘zines were for sale, of which I bagged myself a copy of Nobrow #1, a McBess print and a number of postcards.

McBess Detail
McBess Detail
Tom Gauld
Tom Gauld

Pick Me Up 2 is on until the 27th of March, and if local, it’s well worth going to, even if it’s just to buy your own body weight in illustration books! 

London's Print Club
Seiko Kato

A collection of photo’s snapped on my camera:


Wednesday 16th March 2011 - What's in my bag?

Another idea ripped from James Gurney, I intend to also do one on my engraving and etching gear, as nobody seems to even know what they are, let alone how to use them, (But hey, walking before running, and there will be plenty of time for running.) so that’s a field ripe for tutorials, FAQs, Q&A, etc etc.

So anyway, the gear below is what I take virtually everywhere, in one form or another. It’s the most compact setup, providing maximum variety in minimum space (Woo!). The holder I bought off of eBay; it’s awesome for organizing my stuff into sections and making sure no pens go skittering across gallery floors or train station platforms.

1)      Needles, craft knife and rubber eraser. Needles are for binding sketchbooks, and the eraser is useful for precise corrections
2)      Various pencils. The wooden ones are hard; 3 and 2H’s, whilst the mechanical pencils are all HB (as soft as I use regularly). These are Rotring ‘tiki’ pencils and a Staedtler clutch pencil.
3)      Fineliners. Ranging from 0.05mm to 0.55mm, these pens of various brands were my staple inking item for about 5 years.
4)      Super fine Sharpie. This is the only real option for transferring images to Perspex for etching.
5)      Water soluble pens. These, when combined with a water brush (#8), bleed into a fascinating variety of colours, the first 2 from the left bleeding a cool purple, whilst the right 2 bleed a warm green; great for a variety of marks or laying down a mid tone.
6)      Brush pens. One is a cheap Chinese calligraphy pen; the other is a Pentel brush, which, in short, is incredible. The versatility of a brush, without the need for dipping, excellent whilst plein air sketching.
7)      Various tools. These are just a mix of pens which I use: a fountain pen, biro, silver paint pen, white gel pen and another pen eraser.
8)      Brush pen. Also slotted in here is a simple, cheap sharpener (the best I’ve found), and a larger rubber eraser, for when things just aren’t going as planned.
9)      Windsor and Newton artist’s watercolours. Nice set of 12 half pans, with a small size 2 brush included.
10)   Faber Castell PITT artist pens. Haven’t had these for very long, but the brush pen included is nice for quite organic thick lines, while the other 3 pens are very nice for clean lines, but i haven’t used them much, so can’t judge properly.
11)   Old pill bottle. Air tight, nice small size, perfect for holding and storing water when out and about, plus it doesn’t impose too much in terms of size when carrying it around.
12)   Uni ‘posca’ pens. These things are great! They write on absolutely anything, and the white one can add highlights to finish off a picture nicely. The biggest posca also has a nice chisel tip, which provides organic brush strokes to accentuate motion/direction in a sketch.
13)   When in the studio, I only use Copics, but when out and about, ProMarkers suffice. The wide chisel tip gives me a tool to quickly describe architecture when the mood takes me.

And this is what I’m currently sketching in. It’s homemade, and I heartily suggest making one if you haven’t: The choice of papers to include, as well as the size, binding and format make it quite a personal affair, and means you have nothing but good paper to draw onto!

And that's all for today.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tuesday 8th March 2011 - Three Years of Daily Doodles!

Shamelessly robbed from James Gurney's blog.

Larry Roibal ( ) has, for three years, been posting daily doodles from his newspaper on his blog, and has provided a video showcasing them all.

As well as a fierce display of sketching capabilities, it also commends his dedication and commitment, I myself have attempted similar things. Rarely has it gone on further than a week, never more than a month. Deadlines and what not...

So yeah, the video:

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Sunday 6th March 2011 – Artist in Focus – Alex Pardee

Yet again, it has taken me far too long to get round to updating this thing. Honest, I will do it more often... At some point...

Tonight I’ll look at Alex Pardee, an American illustrator whose notoriety is increasing by leaps and bounds, and whom I’ve just bought a limited (to 100) print from, so it seems prudent to analyse his design principles and working processes now. 

'Cynaphobia' - a 17x22 print, available for a limited time at ZeroFriends
Pardee himself has admitted to being influenced by his own susceptibility to depressive and anxious tendencies, which is almost self evident through his choice of subject; horrifying monsters, and further enforced through his most recent exhibition; Vertigo – A Decade of Hunting Nightmares. 

Pardee's most recent exhibition, deemed a huge success.
The resulting work also enforces his artistic inspirations; that of graffiti, and comic books. The vibrant, saturated colour passes and the way in which he applies them are reminiscent of throw-ups and full colour graffiti pieces, a controversial art form which was really coming to the forefront of the street scene throughout the 70s and 80s, when Pardee was growing up. Coupled with this is a thick, black ink outline, much like in the comics which are cited as integral to Pardee’s art.

A lot of Pardee’s works are completed leaving much of the canvas white, allowing for his vivid colours to contrast harshly with the surrounding clayboard, adding even more emphasis to his creatures. One thing which drew me to Pardee’s work, which I’m sure is applicable to many others is the rhythm instantiated through his ink washes. Applied loosely, often with a rag or cloth onto a resistant surface, this leads to the ink dripping, and running down the canvas. Dried with a hairdryer when needed; this leads to his illustrations containing quite chaotic base layer, which is then worked over with layers of ink or watercolour. This is further refined with brushwork, lining the piece with black ink. The whole process fits the subject matter, and the artist, entirely. The entropic base is evident through the whole work, and keeps the work feeling lively and fluid; one of the reasons why his work is so bloody good! 

A piece which demonstrates Pardee's chaotic colouring style.

And a more refined piece of concept art, made for Sucker Punch.
 Personally, I really enjoy Pardee’s work, and his inspirations have lead to a revitalizing style, which, he has applied with great skill to designing t-shirts, album covers and skateboards, as well as publishing an art book, a few magazines and creating fine art pieces for exhibition. This level of artistic skill, as well as his sense of marketing ingenuity is hard not to appreciate!

Links: - Alex Pardee’s  website, with links to his art, blog and online store. - An in depth look at Pardee’s working process: An excellent source of information.

Finally: My favourite piece of his from his recent exhibition.