In an age when fewer youngsters learn how to be dextrous, with ceramics, woodworking and mechanics being taken out of the curriculum, we have had to learn to carve by teaching each other. I have loved this part of making prints with my team, and they in turn enjoy the change of pace. After days of printing with heavy rollers, and wheeling plates through the press, tearing down sheets of paper from vast carpet rolls of Saunders Waterford, the carving phase of making images in print is a restorative time for us all. We have found that using mallets with our beautifully designed Japanese tools works best, even when we have to straddle corners of a plate of wood round the edges of a table trying to avoid getting in the way of each other.
As printmakers will know, you have four tool types, V tools, U gouges, chisels and knives. they all require different skills, and all operate idiosyncratically when we use various woods. But whether we are carving from splintery oak, hard nosed beech, soft poplar, pithy birch, old wooly chestnut, even tight grained walnut, all the tools need to be incredibly sharp! We get through the plasters, but less so these days: rarely do you hear warnings about self-stabbing by avoiding carving towards one’s hands and the perils of splinters through brushing a plate down with bare palms.
Sometimes carving just one layer, like this woodcut of Leonora rescuing Florestan in a prison amongst a forest, takes four days with six of us on the job! Stories are shared and dipped in and out of, and we tend to listen to books rather than music. The work, being slow and exacting is contemplative, a fabulous antidote to a busy world in crisis. While a cliché, this stage in the process of making a picture is very zen and strangely seems quite good for us emotionally.
How do we get the learning and practice of these sorts of stills that incorporate hand/eye co-ordination back into our schools? From our experience in the studio, we know craft based work relieves anxiety, and would, if replicated at an earlier age, allow some children to flourish who might fall through the net in other more academic areas that do not cater for their practical skillsets.