Writing is my craft, but block cutting is becoming a creative outlet. It is the art that set this ship sailing – a quiet, solitary process. A little physical, a little analytical, and a lot of faith. Last Fall I took a Block Cutting and Spoon Printing class at Genesee Center for the Arts and Education, taught by a Roycroft Master, and loved it!
The premise is simple enough that I could, and did, do it again on my own, and the Letterpress class I took over the summer drove home the point about having a healthy mixture of process and improvisation. It’s my process, though, that still needs some help.
This time last year I knew only that I had to break out of the mold I had made for myself (“work”) and follow my heart into a creative life. My first stop was a membership at Genesee Center for the Arts and Education and that magical day-long Linoleum Block Cutting class where I adapted an Adirondack mountain photo to a sketch that was then the subject of my first block cut and spoon print.
Block cutting and printing is a translation. I stared at that photo for weeks leading up to the class, scratching pencil sketches over and over, trying to capture the essence of that mountain scene. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a photograph-like print, so I concentrated on the elements that would inspire the same feeling.
It is rather like storytelling.
This newest class is more hands-on Linoleum Block Cutting, courtesy of Victoria B., a local artist who does beautiful works in paper with block cutting and letterpress. Victoria is all energy with an eagle-eye, swooping in with just the right example for whatever I’m struggling with and simultaneously calling out to another student across the room whose technique may draw blood. She exudes the real nuts-and-bolts of block cutting mechanics – how to properly use the tools, inks and how not to hurt yourself (really. The tools are sharp!)
There is a practical side to every art and craft. You can go all Hendrix, stringing your guitar “wrong” and still make blistering music, but there is value to learning which gouges (block cutting knives) are best for which kinds of lines and how to heat up the block for smoother carving. I’m here for this kind of information; when someone has gone before you, it’s worth your time to find out where they found both dead-ends and shortcuts.
Our first project is a “sampler” with funky borders, curvy lines, and lettering, so that we can get a feel for how the gouges perform in each scenario. Rather like this blog, it is taking me all over the map.
My learning process is very visual and hands-on. Ideally, I need to see how deeply I should cut, and how the gouge feels when I do it. Properly using your tools makes for a much smoother, enjoyable creative process. The tools are the gouges and inks as much as my hands and mind.
Transitioning to a life of freelance writing is rather like my block cutting experience – I’ve got the passion, but the mechanics have to be learned. I have great people mentoring me along the way, patiently showing me how to use my tools, and pointing me in the right direction.
Next Week: Printing my sampler.