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The Inverted Line

james hörner

george A. Walker expresses his inspiration to start wood engraving well by saying:

book cover I fell into wood engraving...much in the way one might fall into a pile of autumn leaves - not entirely by chance, but because the urge to jump in overcame me.

The book is titled "The Inverted Line" because that's the way George thinks of engravings.

There are two reasons for this: first, that the wood engraver works with white lines in negative space, and second, that the image must be drawn backwards on the block before it's ready to engrave.

George considers himself not a traditionalist, describing how he might scan a wood engraving into a Macintosh, alter its form, and use the printed output to use as the design for another engraving. As he notes, the technology used is not important, but rather the "character and spirit of the material that translates the image and gives it life."

Each of the pieces comes with a description or note on the creative process on the opposing page. Whether inspired by a John Cage lecture on sound, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, or by musings on "the culture that surrounds the consumption of coffee and tea," Walker's engravings are simple yet extremely evocative.

At first glance some engravings appear to be almost crude in form, but a longer stare reveals subtle from The Inverted Line lines and detail. I think we are so removed from seeing engravings in books that there is a tendency to glaze over them. With The Inverted Line we are forced to slow down in order to appreciate them.

I have to admit that some of the engravings in here are much better than others, and only a few are outstanding. For example, the work to the left, which appears to be a self-portrait, is one of the engravings that stood out. However, this depends on what you enjoy in engravings. Like many art works, the viewer's perceptions are formed in part by the mood they're in - I think you would find different pleasures at different times from this book.

There is a nifty afterword in which Walker discusses the history of wood block engraving, there is even a description of tools and techniques, and a bibliography of good books to follow your interest in this topic. All in all this is a nicely packaged book which will surely get you more interested in wood block engravings (or at least make you more appreciative).

[note: the illustration above is an untitled wood engraving from The Inverted Line]

published by porcupine's quill
ISBN 0-88984-214-0

james hörner edits canadian content.

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