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Wood Engraving: The Art of Wood Engraving & Relief Engraving

Learning to engrave a block, says Barry Moser, is like learning to play the piano: it is all practice, practice, practice, all teaching the muscles how to perform the basics. At first, your every gesture will be halting, labored, and self-conscious; then at last will come the moment when, like Ashkenazy at the keyboard, you can forget about the "process" and "technique," and focus all your mental energy on making art. "There are no shortcuts," warns Moser. "Mastery comes only with time, work, and repetition. A great number of bad wood engravings must be made before one can expect to make a good one. Once your muscles know how to do their work, once they know how to cut thin white lines into boxwood, your mind will be free to invent."

There is a lifetime of knowledge in this book that attempts to instruct the reader in how to think in a medium's properties of line, shape, and ink; how to transfer a drawing onto a block, select a paper, and prepare the block for printing. There is advice, too on tools: not only on gravers (burins, scorpers, stipplers, and spitzstickers) but also on lights (you'll need a good strong one) and engraving bags (the leather pillows that cradle the blocks as you carve). Here is how to ink and how to print. Here, too, is how to fail, how to move on and how to acquire the work habits that lead to real achievement.

Wood engraving is an art lesson and a life lesson. And because it's a book by Barry Moser, it is also a gallery of beautiful and instructive prints.