A comfortable silence filled the room as students concentrated on their wood carving, well nearly silent if not for the rhythmic sound of tapping as mallets were wielded to steer the carving gauges into blocks of wood. Concentrated faces and active hands could be seen delicately cutting along lines as they followed the design of their drawings on the wood. The workshop on Wednesday 27th with printmaker Jane Mowat was a very productive day!
Students at the Taunton Centre are beginning the busy exam session so the change from revision to something more hands-on and practical saw a good attendance of students at Jane’s workshop. Today’s session would give students the opportunity to make their own woodcut from which to make prints. Looking at the blocks of wood provided (elm, ash, oak) and images of woodcuts that inspired Jane’s own printmaking practice, such as Shiko Munakata, were starting points for showing the possibilities of what could be achieved.
It was not long before sketchbooks were out and students were drawing or tracing imagery from their books onto their blocks of wood. Students drew designs of leaves, a Renault car logo, a brain cell, a forest scene and flowers; a confidence demonstrated from each in selecting their own chosen image based on the creative work they had already made. It was good to see a progression of ideas developed from work that they had started in their sketchbooks.
Keen to progress quickly some students spent less time drawing, eager to try the tools on the table. Attempting anything new is often met with some hesitation and questioning, “how do I hold the mallet?” “How hard do I hit to cut the wood?” There was a willingness from all students to try cutting into the wood to carve their design and with practice and the guidance of Jane those questions were soon answered. The amount of control needed and discipline to not to be heavy-handed or aggressive in using the tools were useful skills to learn as I witnessed students learn to angle the tools effectively so as to create shallow or thinner cuts when necessary.
When it came to inking-up the wood blocks, again most students were keen to follow the entire process through and see their work evolve to the next stage. Jane asked students to select their colour of ink and helped them in rolling it out ready to apply to their wood blocks. Students looked pleased to see their prints revealed as they lifted them off the block and what was particularly satisfying about this process was that it produced two art works, the resulting print on paper as well as the actual carving of the block itself! There were also some good examples where students had responded to the grain of the wood using imagery such as leaves or forests.
In the afternoon one student grew in confidence and seemed to surprise them self at how quickly they picked-up the skill of working with the wood cutting tools so produced a second carving on the back of their first block. Jane explained how the potential for variation in using different coloured inks, papers and revisiting the block for a second cutting to refine it further were all possibilities for developing the work. The blocks were left for students to take more prints from at a future date. For students that had drawn more ambitious imagery they demonstrated perseverance in the physical endurance it took to carve their block, remarking that it ‘was hard’ and that it made your ‘fingers feel weird’. They stayed working past the end of the session to see the result of their hard work. The timing of Jane’s workshop was good for the Taunton Centre as it seemed to provide a different set of practical skills in what is a stressful exam-based time of year and it was very encouraging to see students choosing to come back to finish their blocks despite their attention being divided by exams happening throughout the day.
“It was really inspiring to teach in a totally different context than my normal one across the campus – or, for that matter the printmaking workshops I do for adults in my studio.”-Jane Mowat