Carving Cthulhu

Tools of the trade

It’s time to start carving!

This is a fairly typical set-up for me. The woodblock is on a bench hook which prevents it from sliding away as I carve. It’s a very simple device but very important to safety because if you’re holding the block with one hand, you’re risking cutting that hand. Also present: the handful of carving tools I’m most likely to need given the size and design plus a honing block for keeping the blades sharp as I work. A super soft pencil for corrections and additions as I go. Coffee, because it is time for coffee. Last but not least, I typically reference older prints with elements I want to incorporate in my carving. In this case, this new Cthulhu is meant to relate to the original Cthulhu woodcut, but that edition is sold out so I’m using my tote bag as the reference art.

Most woodcut artists have a pattern to how they work. Some cut every outline first, or use large tools to remove the large white spaces. I’m a bit more organic about how I work, so I either start with something straightforward, or if there’s a technically difficult and essential element such as lettering, start with the hardest portion.

In this case, there’s no lettering, so I’m starting with the patterning in the wings to get a feel for the wood.

Guess who realized one of the wing eyes was placed too high?

As I worked my way through the wings I found a couple errors. I missed a line during the transfer stage, and I had positioned the wing eye too high on the more closed wing. This is why I keep a pencil handy — unlike Cthulhu, I am only human.

I also change my mind and refine designs as I carve, so in addition to moving that eye down, I slightly shrunk the claw lump above it and penciled it in dark to remind myself to not follow my original red lines.

Look at those darling little curls!

After cutting those initial wing markings, I began outlining with my favorite carving tool, seen to the right of the block, a 1mm Komasuki knife, also known as a u-gouge. The markings inside the wings were made with a 1.5mm u-gouge. Same shape of tool (the blade is shaped like a U, hence the name ), just a little wider. (For those who are wondering, all of my tools and wood come from McClain’s Printmaking Supplies. They’re wonderful people to work with and are a great resource for printmaking information.)

Next up will be more outlining and moving into other parts of Cthulhu’s eldritch physique. In the meanwhile, if you haven’t already, you can click on those photos to enlarge them and get a better look if you like. Also, did you hear the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival will be the west coast premiere of the Cabal Cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed? “A new edition of this infamously studio-slaughtered film, The Cabal Cut restores almost an hour of previously thought lost footage and returns the film to Clive Barker’s original vision. Not available on DVD, it has shown in a only handful of select US cities, and we are proud to bring you the film, presented and with Q&A by restoration director Russell Cherrington.”

The above is one of the many reasons I’m enthusiastically supporting the HPLFF Kickstarter with this woodcut print editions, I love getting to see rarities whether they’re short independent films, or restored cult classics.