Friday, June 21, 2013


I've always preferred to engrave on wood. I've tried Resingrave, Corian and other synthetics for various reasons, including curiosity and cost (creating a large wood engraving on end-grain wood can be quite expensive).  Each time I've used synthetics I've been dissatisfied with them. The chipping of the Resingrave, when using hand tools was my main objection to it. When I heard that the formula for Resingrave had been changed to eliminate the chipping problem I tried it again.  I use a power engraver (Foredom Micromotor) for the majority of the engraving I do.  Resingrave is basically a plastic and when the engraver bit is cutting through the plastic it creates a powder that clings to everything and is impossible to clean up. Have you ever tried to dispose of those foam "packing peanuts"? It's like that. Despite the change in formula, the static electricity remained a problem. So, I have a few synthetic blocks that sit on the shelf year after year.

I'm currently working on a series of small portraits. I'm calling the series "The Quotables" and these include, so far, Mark Twain, George Carlin and W.C.Fields. They're "The Quotables" because I'm also using the images on my line of letterpress printed cards, where I'm including some of the things these people have said that have been quoted and passed down to us. A week or so ago I decided to start a portrait of Groucho Marx and when I went to my storage of small blocks I noticed a couple of lonesome synthetics sitting there. I decided to try a Corian block that someone had given me to try out. Corian is a material manufactured primarily for counter tops, I believe. This 2 X 3 inch block of Corian was mounted to a piece of plywood to bring it to near type high. When I started running trial proofs of Groucho there were some low areas that weren't inking evenly and I added pieces of paper to the back of the block as make-ready to bring it level. This is common, even on end-grain blocks. I proof and print on a Vandercook SP-15 proofing press and I added a piece of paper to add pressure before doing some more engraving. I reached a point where I made the final decision that enough work had been done on the block and it was time to print an edition. One small little area at the bottom of the block needed a narrow slip of paper added to the back of the block and it was "good to go"!

I placed another sheet of print paper in the press and rolled the carriage over the block and ... "POP!"  I was stunned. This was one of those "S**T!" moments. I knew that sound and I knew the block had cracked! (I had heard that sound years ago when I was a guest artist at Wake Forest University and a graduate student and I were printing a block of mine on an intaglio press. The rollers on the press had been set too low.) My press is made for printing from this thickness. The block only had three or four thin pieces of paper added to the back and it was not too high for the setting of .918 of an inch. That crack shouldn't have occurred. But it did.

You can see the crack in the photo here, running horizontally through Groucho's moustache.

I'm not going to mess around, trying to figure out how to fill a crack in Corian. So, as they say: "Back to the drawing board". Only this time, on wood.


Jason Brink said...

A "S**T!" moment is right! Groan... after all that work too. How many prints/proofs were you able to get out of it before it cracked?

Jim Westergard said...

About six proofs. I was about print the first of the edition of 20.

Randy Preece said...

Jimmy, I commend you for using the "S" word rather than the more appropriate "F".