Archive | H.P. Lovecraft

Carving Cthulhu continued

Corrected center claw

At this point in the process, it makes sense to continue outlining with that 1mm u gouge. Outlines may be expanded later depending on the effect I want. Thin outline carving tends to simply make elements stand out from the background, while wider outlining can be used to create a halo effect. In the first photo you can see I’ve made a slight modification to the shape of the center wing claw.

All outlines now delineated in 1mm

Here’s a view of the block after all outlining was completed. You’ll note I haven’t done any outlining in the lower portion of the block since it will be solid black and I haven’t yet decided I want a black outline around the portions of the figure over the black. If, after I ink and proof print the block, I want a thin white line to make the figure pop out of the black, I can easily add it in. I can always remove more wood to create white, but I can’t always add it back in. Always err on the side of too little carving, because you can always carve more.

Is anyone else craving seafood now?

Now we get into the fun part! Although I am referencing the original Cthulhu woodcut and do want this rendition to relate to it, my carving style has developed since 2010. I may end up clearing some of these marks out after proofing, but I know I want the arms to be more textured than the original. I’m starting at the claw tips of the lower arm and moving on up. The spots I originally drew aren’t being tightly adhered too, I prefer to let them progress naturally as I work — with a few markings to remind me where I want a few larger black spots left because I don’t want a symmetrical pattern.

I’ll be moving on up that arm now, be sure to check in on the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Kickstarter for updates on other rewards available to backers. The Kickstarter will be over in less than 2 weeks and the special event packages are rapidly being snapped up.

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.

One last glance

One last look before blade touches wood

One last photo before carving begins! I need to spend today pulling prints for the “Starry Wisdom Library” anthology, so Cthulhu is going to have to wait until tomorrow to begin emerging from the wood. Meanwhile, the HPLFF Kickstarter has passed the 50% mark! Several of the unique higher level rewards have already been snatched up, but there are still many aweseome rewards available to backers!

If you can’t stand going a day without more process talk, have you seen the Three Hands Press interview about the Arcanum Bestiarum art? Not mentioned within the interview, Arcanum Bestiarum standard editions begin shipping this week! I am deeply excited to say the least; the gestation period on the book has been much longer than originally anticipated, but based on the previews I’ve seen, it is well worth the wait.

Transferring the sketch

Sandpaper, red carbon paper, pencil, wood, and Cthulhu

Here are my tools of choice for the design transfer stage. The shina plywood blocks are pretty much ready to use, but they tend to have a little fuzz on the surface so I use a bit of fine grit sandpaper to gently remove it. The red sheet at the top is double-sided red carbon paper. I use it in lieu of standard graphite paper because it gives a good clean transfer and is highly resistant to smearing and fading. I personally like not needing to shellac the block in order to retain my drawing.

Last but not least, a 2H pencil. In my experience if you use a soft pencil for transfer you end up pressing into the block harder and denting the wood; those dents may end up being visible in your final print. Your mileage may vary, but this pencil has served me well in this capacity for a few years now.

The flag of Cthulandia

After sanding the block I position the design on it, and tape it into place with removable blue tape. This stage is sometimes tricky because woodblocks aren’t always 100% true to size and proportion due to the kerf of the sawblade. Edges are also prone to denting and splintering which may shave a little off the side. I try to keep enough blocks on hand so I can cherry pick the right block for the project, and in this case I had several 8×6″ blocks to chose from. I picked a block with clean edges which was slightly larger than the sketch. Smaller than the sketch could have spelled trouble on this piece since Cthulhu is positioned very close to the border. The border can only be so thin without risking it chipping off, so flexibility in altering the edge on this image is low.

Peekaboo Cthulhu sees you!

Once the design is in place and the red carbon paper is between the paper and the block, it’s time to start tracing! I usually start at a corner and take a peek after a few lines to make sure I’m using the right amount of pressure. This is particularly important if I’m using an older piece of carbon paper since it does start fading after multiple uses. (It doesn’t fade fast though, I only used up 2 pieces of it while working on the 50+ woodcuts for Arcanum Bestiarum.)

Double check before fully removing the paper

Once I’m done tracing, I remove enough tape to be able to flip the paper up and check my work. I almost inevitably miss something, and it’s easiest to fix while the design is still mostly aligned with the block. You might notice I’ve not traced the border, this is a deliberate omission; I prefer to use a ruler and pencil so I can account for block size deviation. I’ll add those lines on before the next step: carving!

Please note, this woodcut print is being created in support of the Portland, Oregon H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival — the first edition will only be available as part of their Kickstarter.

Mirroring Cthulhu

Just a brief progress update since I spent a good chunk of the day delivering Arcanum Bestiarum prints to Splendorporium for the Myths, Marvels, & Magic show. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area,come see the show! Opening reception will be Friday, March 1st from 7-9pm.


This is the part of the woodcut process where modern technology comes in handy. In order to have the final print edition match the sketch, I have to carve the block backwards. I could trace the design on tracing paper, flip it over, and transfer the tracing to the block. Or, I could print out a mirror image using either a photocopier, or in this case, my scanner/printer. I may be using the oldest form of printmaking to make art, and referencing 15th-18th century artistic conventions, but I’m not a complete luddite.

Here you see the printout I’ll be using to transfer the design alongside the woodblock I’ll be using, and the original pencil sketch for good measure. Tomorrow, image transfer!

The HPLFF Kickstarter is coming along nicely, keep an eye on it for updates on the rewards and contributors.

“Cthulandia” sketch 2

Cthulhu has been forced within the confines of 8 x 6″

Here is the revised sketch for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival special edition with some inking. Though I could have potentially re-sized the first sketch to fit it within the woodblock, the proportions simply weren’t right for the space. This is the re-draw, partially inked to give a better sense of line thickness and texture.

At this point, I consider this sketch done although as you can see there are many elements still unresolved. I typically leave most detail work to the carving portion of the process. The next step will be transferring this sketch to the wood.