This fantastic and endearingly entertaining collection of Wood Engravers’ Network Collectible Trading Cards designed by Tony Drehfal has recently resurfaced on social media, and in the spirit of all good things wood engraving, we think they’re worth sharing some more!
The cards are a great way to shine a spotlight on a couple of our members too. Featured on this set of cards are WEN Members R. P. Hale, Simon Brett, and Jim Horton. Also included is John Center, a Chicago-based artist that works in wood engraving and elaborately detailed woodcuts. The creator of the cards, Tony Drehfal, is not only a WEN member, but serves on the board, and is the dedicated editor of our Block & Burin.
I reached out to each of these WEN artists with a couple of questions so as to share some of their personal wisdom and perspective alongside of their biographical information. Their responses to my inquiries were poetic, thoughtful, inspiring, and (as I’ve found to be a common character trait among wood engravers) very generous. Thanks again Tony, Jim, Simon, and R. P. for taking the time to get back to me!
A bit about each artist:
R. P. Hale is a true craftsman and Renaissance man. To start with, he’s an interdisciplinary artist that works primarily in book arts and printmaking. He’s a master-calligrapher and illustrator, wood engraver, and letterpress printer. Adding to that impressive repertoire, he is a scientist with diverse areas of focus; a musician that not only plays instruments such as harpsichord and hammer dulcimer, but also builds and repairs them; and a teacher. I asked him about the connection between all of these interests and skills:
… I don’t compartmentalize any of my focuses and skills, for each field I am in has skills and attributes in common with the others. All the arts I do are multi-generational.
I come from a Mexican family who has generations in the arts and in printing/publishing, and in many ways I’m just keeping up those traditions… In high school, I double-tracked in college-prep and voc-tech and graduated with journeyman certificates in woodworking, printing, drafting and metalcraft, and landed a four-year scholarship to college to get my degrees in organic chemistry…
I started learning music early on, at the piano, but by high school I had moved to the harpsichord and found that, along with the hammer-dulcimer, to be what I was meant to play. Knowing I could never in this life afford to buy a harpsichord, I did the research and built one, an eight-foot Flemish grand that I still use. So doing that required all my background in drawing, drafting, physics, cabinetry, precision work and metalwork, bringing all those arts together, and since then I have built 48 early-keyboard instruments, including several clavichords and one forte-piano. Music and its parts involve math and physics – performance, tuning, repair, maintenance and building show that clearly.
I learned calligraphy, first from my father, before I took up pen-and-ink, and both translated directly into wood engraving, where I am more “New School” than anything else, combined with various 18th-century styles into my own mannerism, which is unabashedly realistic—and illustrative. Whilst many of my commissions involve architecture and commemorations, my favorite field has become landscape, the use of abstract forms to build a realistic whole. And New Hampshire is well known for its landscapes!
Printmaking continues another family tradition and much of my equipment is inherited. This is entirely another art, directly involving math, physics (of the press, packing and papers), chemistry (ink, conditions, paper, solvents, safe handling), paying attention to the processes and aiming to get the most out of a wood block or a layout of hand-set type. I have thirty years in paper- and fabric marbling, which is equilibrium physics and physical chemistry in full action…
Notice that the visual arts in which I am involved are all book arts, with many common skills between them. For me, all of them require my science background to really understand them, especially in trouble-shooting, and the physical arts of printmaking and instrument building require from me a working knowledge of the underlying math and physics…
Those arts that interested me always had at least some of the required skills that I already had. Drawing, including calligraphic technique and chiaroscuro, goes into wood engraving, only the #2 Spitzsticker (my favorite) replacing the flexible ink pen for the same kind of lines, and I have to draw out my block layouts. My mechanical aptitude translated into instrument design and building, printmaking and troubleshooting. So I can’t separate one field from another, and I don’t want to do so!
You can read more about R. P. Hale, view his work, and follow him on the facebook page for his studio: La Imprenta Azteca. https://www.facebook.com/RP-Hale-La-Imprenta-Azteca-1396288274003897/
Simon Brett lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire where he creates his brilliant illustrations and prints. Mr. Brett is a member of the Society of Wood Engravers, for which he was the Chairman from 1986 – 1992, is trained as a painter, works as an illustrator and writer, and has been making wood engravings since 1961. His experience and knowledge as a wood engraver is generously shared and explained in his book Wood Engraving – How To Do It published by A. & C. Black. An Engraver’s Globe is Mr. Brett’s second book, and serves as an impressively comprehensive study showing the work of over two hundred artists from twenty-eight countries.
Most of my content comes from the book or bookplate commission I’m asked to do. … The content for my personal work comes from reflections in the other sense upon the world we experience or feel around us (Axe of God) and observations of the world we actually see around us. … But I hope there’s no great divide between personal and commissioned work: the commissions just widen the scope of subject matter open to one.
I think the best aspect of working as a wood engraver is a kind of steadiness that envelops one when the work is going well. Much of the time a sequence of supposedly parallel lines is veering off true, a stipple is not yielding the tone one intended, the wood is cutting poorly or the tools are not sharp enough, so such occasions when things are physically going well and bringing along with them the peace or violence or profundity of the subject are… rare.
You can read more about Simon Brett here: http://www.simonbrett-woodengraver.co.uk/
Jim Horton is the founder of the Wood Engravers’ Network. He was trained by David Sander himself in the mid-1980s, and has continued a career in design and printing ever since. Part of that career included teaching printmaking and graphic design for over forty years. He continues to work in his Ann Arbor studio creating letterpress prints, and his own detailed and beautiful wood engravings.
I love to draw, probably more than anything. I especially love pencil… The drawing is crucial to the image, so it sometimes needs careful study before frivolously attacking a block of nicely prepared wood. On the other hand, the engraving process can be an exploration. The wood and tool can allow for spontaneity. There is risk in anything we do, and there is always the potential to take a drawing down a no-return path. Wood engraving can be unforgiving. One cannot erase easily. To summarize, every drawing, every engraving has a unique circumstance, and how we resolve the best way to express what we want to say, has room for flexibility.
As to tools, I seem to use a fine, round scorper a lot. Of course, a spitsticker is used a lot too. I have one fine spitsticker that came from a Sander engraver. It has been ground down a bit, with a very flattened face, but it just feels right in the hand. I may use it to a fault. I tend to get too fine with detail, and this little tool tricks me into thinking these little lines are going to show up…but sometimes, those lines get lost in the crowd. I like all the tools though. Recently, it seems a billsticker has come to my attention, more frequently. I’ve a little oval tool that makes nice rounded stipples…
How many blocks? I think I would say I have several things I’ve never finished…not because I dislike them, it just seems other things push there way to the front…”Oh yeah, I’ll get back to that in the future” It may or may not happen. I’m kind of Buddhist in that sense…things happen as they do, and staying in the moment is a real key to avoiding negative thinking. I can beat myself up for a lot of things, but mostly, I am a flawed person, like all of us. That I have this gift of knowing how to make a print is such a blessing, and if I stay on the positive…that is key. I generally would say though, a person might want to avoid burying themselves in too many blocks going at one time. You might start taking shortcuts and sacrificing quality, and enjoyment of process if you have an overwhelming array of blocks to have to complete?
For me, content usually comes from Mother Nature. I use that term as some people use God… So I guess another way to answer this question is to say…observation of the natural world. I am not a person that finds art in human relationships. Nor do I seem to make social statements. I seem to find understatement to reveal so much more…let there be subtlety…don’t spell everything out to where there is nothing to explore. I like still-life for this reason. Still life can also be natural objects. I find myself drawn to maize a lot. I love the structure of the plant…it is what I grew up with…a small-town person from where agriculture was always underlying everything. My popcorn crop each year, is a huge part of my life and inspiration.
Wood engraving just happens to be the medium that fits me… A love of drawing…a love of detail…a love of contrasts.. a love of light falling on objects…a love of a tool in hand…almost a sculptural activity on a flat surface…and then the time on the press.. the industriousness…the labor.. the sweat…and the reward…something to hold in hand and study…We are so lucky to have that, as opposed to manipulations of digital electronic impulses. I am an old flat-line brain…I need slowness…quiet…aloneness…time to meditate…to observe. The mad rush of this contemporary life leaves me in the dust. I retreat…I retreat into a wood block.
Tony Drehfal created this small set of trading cards for an issue of Block & Burin after he attended his first WEN conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tony explains:
That issue of Block & Burin was before I took on editing, the format was that members would print a page of the issue (print a bunch) and they were collated into an issue. At that time with my job, I was heavy into Photoshop, and came upon a bunch of high resolution scans of vintage baseball cards. I was new to WEN, maybe my first year as a member, and just attending my first workshop. The photos of John Center & Simon Brett were from that Ann Arbor workshop. I was quiet and shy at that gathering, but SO impressed with Simon (and hardly could work up the nerve to have him critique my work). The photos of Jim and R.P. were taken when I learned to engrave, at Augusta… R. P. helped Jim teach, played harpsichord and hammer dulcimer, gave a paper marbling demo, and showed his wonderful calligraphy. He truly is an expert in everything he does.
Tony worked for over thirty-five years as a photographer at a college in Southern Wisconsin. Now he is focused on wood engraving and exploring the great outdoors. In addition to his participation in WEN, he has been accepted into the Society of Wood Engraving. You can follow him on instagram and facebook as tonydrehfal, and view his wood engravings online at https://www.tonydrehfal.com/
In the caption of Tony’s original post to facebook about the cards Tony suggests there might be female wood engraver trading cards in the future. We sure hope so!!!!