wood engraving

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Term applied to the technique of making a print from a block of hardwood (usually boxwood) sawn across the grain and to the print so made. The technique derives from the woodcut, but because of the harder and smoother surface and the use of the burin and other tools associated with the copperplate engraver, the effect is generally finer and more detailed (although there is a middle ground where the two techniques produce very similar results). As boxwood has only a small diameter, large designs involved joining several blocks together. Wood engraving developed in the 18th century and its first great exponent was Thomas Bewick (his contemporary William Blake also made some superb wood engravings, but these were little known at the time). Bewick initiated the technique's heyday, which coincided with a great expansion in journalism and book publishing from about 1830. From then until about 1890, when it was superseded by photomechanical processes, it was the most popular medium for illustration. The Dalziel brothers in England and Gustave Doré in France were among the most prolific exponents during this period. By this time the design was often photographically transferred to the block from the artist's drawing. In the 20th century, although it was no longer commercially viable for everyday printing, wood engraving continued to be used for original prints and the illustration of expensive books. It was a favourite technique of Eric Ravilious, for example.

Subjects: Art.

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