Workshop – a memo of my cutting instructions of March 28, 2012.
How to carve a ‘block

Every students came to class with a drawing they wished to change into a carved image. At the beginning of the class they were given a grey block, by using cutting tool they ‘digged’  into it with the final intention to ‘ ink ‘ their blocks, ‘apply ‘a piece of paper over it and finaly ‘press’ it. The carving is done with the intention of creating a second independent image by ‘transferring’ it to the piece of paper, commonly called a ‘ print’, by doing so one obtains ? the mirrored image of one’s block ?

Carving a block  and  “how to handle patterns? “

Here is the question that came out from my email feedbacks: “This is Peter from Steve Kennedy’s class. Can you give me some ideas, how to handle patterns? Thanks, Peter”

Because this hits right into the ‘core’ the “block cutting ” dilemma I decided to try to tackle it openly rather than presenting a” report of the day” of your assignment in progress. Even so a blog page may not be the most appropriated tool as a solving demonstration, it intends to provide a starting debate on this issue.

First I wish to get you out of your class room, second I will invite you to return to it. Keeping in mind in both cases that the # one principle it is not to learn how to “DO” [ draw, carve..etc] but rather to “OBSERVE” with your naked eye. Your eye is your ” A” tool –  so become visually opinionated and critical.

Parsons entrance and patterns

Everyday single day, did you notice, you have been walking under a Parsons sign made of PATTERNS?  Of course you call them conveniently ‘type,’ but ‘type’ 1/2 size of the high of your body is… a truly a “pattern”. It represents an expensive and large metal surface to cut into in order to get one single of this letter. Do not be fooled by the size or a given shape name, just teach yourself how to identify shapes.

Apple store 5 Ave, New York.

Don’t look for fancy formulas or apps served to you by technology merchants — there are the first one to embrace  ” patterns/shapes” – just turn the letter “shape”  into a pear or an apple one. Apple  Stores kings of the “flat digital” screen are turning them into ‘faking the eye’ 3D’s on they apps – beside in up hilled 5 Avenue, New York the same idea of floating “cut/pattern” matches the architects/designers’ ones of the Parsons’ building…and the same brushed steel look as well.

Apple at the meat market in New York.

To continue with the maker of your iphones, with a slit variation in style, the exactly  same the pattern principle is being applied on its Meat Market store in New York. What is the difference? A negative “shape”  [cut through] versa a ” positive” one, on the example above [cut around] …the ‘negative ‘ cut out is the landmark of every laptop model – the logo brand appears as a cut out form [metal or plastic] – when the machine is turned on light can be seen thanks to this cut out. My point is NOT to advertise for a computer brand but rather to demonstrate that you everyday tools/toys are providing you with  “some ideas, how to handle patterns” [ Peter’s]. Again were are taking about objects that you touch endlessly in the course of  your routine day!

Williamsburg bridge, New York

Use your camera as a “carving” tool so you eye can record you visual experience to share with your classmates. Here my ‘illusionary’ photo , focuses on a ‘positive’ pattern,it is based on use of the ‘invert pattern’ principle from the Apple of the meat market  store.

Taking a walk to the park, I just have observed a woman that own to looking twin little looking dogs. Wanting not to be confused on who is who?  Political correctness? Being artsy?  In any case, either she find them this way or got them to the ‘coiffeur,’ but the result is that one is B the other is W. Both dogs playing on a green grass. Magically and free of charge this woman game me the best tips for “some ideas, how to handle patterns” [ Peter’s]

It has to be understood that it is not the “cutting” that makes any “patterns” but one able to identify “patterns” without even getting the trouble to cut anything. If it is not clear to your mind it is not possible be deliver.

Type that uses pattern cut out principle

What other consideration involving patterns?  We have define positive and negative, but they do only exist if we consider what is their “background”. One B color letter printed on a B colored paper? This will not obviously visually work.

Snow carving

While the carving remains into a ‘block’ [ thick material] as long as the light can create a ‘shade’ you will find your way  visualizing speaking! Why because your image is on 3D. It is the moving to 2D = transferring into a different background that raise difficulties.

shadow pattern

Remove yourself from the illusion-light created only by the electricity — observe nature,  create a  pattern in any possible circumstances …. While running, this time free from tools and material charges…before cutting into a block.

"shadow" printing

The “how to handle patterns” ? [ Peter’s] – Could it be just the shade from a female silhouette ? If this block plate would be made out of gold, what would be the use of spoiling 2/3 of its surface my leaving it not occupied? Challenge yourself by using the visual opportunity of plural ‘pattern’ into your available space.

a modest paper cut - Asia

No impressive metal or material is needed, here just a simple piece of paper does effectively the job. This case of paper cutting shows a higher level of achieving ‘patterns’ — in this case, ‘patterns’ are created inside ‘patterns’ [some of them identified as ‘lines’].

Peter at Parsons with his first proof

This is why  it becomes so confusing for  the mind. Philosophically speaking what makes ‘line’ and ‘pattern’ different? Honestly NONE ! But what does truly matter, theoricals  definitions or down to earth results ones? What missing in Peter’s image?  Creative patterns “VARIATIONS”. Not just and only single pattern negative ‘line’ repeated endlessly …soba noodles kind of shape. Please don’t be offended , in my early days I was told by a great painter that my watercolor mountains looked like melting ice cream! Would you like just a plain noodle boule or with some ‘patterns’ of tofu, veggies, spices…?

Peter from Parsons - mirroring images

It is not by all means an obvious process, rather a challenging one: it involves an other kind of ‘rational’. Having started to tackle this technic on my own [without instructor, proper material and tools] in 1976, I can identify with every bit of  difficulties everyone had to try to over come on the March 28 class.

a New York high school student at work

To insure better chance of success it is necessary that the top part of your block be of a DIFFERENT color than the part that will appear after the cut…do not be afraid to practice how to cut, how to handle a cutting tool, keep in mind to get sharp lines not smoochy ones, otherwise the final print will suffer…

moving into cutting

Of course, it is wise to plan her/his ‘patterns’ in drawing before – but once you have assert you position make sure that you will go for what you have plan for, otherwise you may confuse yourself at the moment that you need the most to master the blades…

the 'invert' pattern

It is a classic to end up carving the ‘invert’ of the original planned design, like I  am presenting it here ] with the help of some photo computer app — imagine your client having approved your original sketch and you coming smiling with the ‘invert’ of it!

the result

It truly does not matter this time, we are on earth for a life learning process, there is not such thing as a ‘ mistake,’ while planing maybe necessary for accounting, after all it is not so for the arts. Try not to have a too much elaborated final sketch because when one jumps to a different material, it is like switching into a different language, one must express within the specific language …

back to the starting point

Back to Peter question? “Can you give me some ideas, how to handle patterns?” Just don’t be afraid to look around in class, even if you happen to be the only male student of it. Look how your ‘sister’ next to you is finding solutions, she is teaching you some tips better then myself…even her iphone has patterns! While you struggle with this problem, she is struggling with the cutting part, for you it is a ‘piece of cake,’ so she should also be observant of how you cut ‘lines’ — the class must remain a pool for sharing info.

cutting the figure

NO fear from this cut, finished very quickly, still would have gain on slowing down, so some body parts will be better defined — it is very importance on a case of dealing with complex trikes lines, so you will avoid to run in major difficulties later on while inking the block…while cutting always keep in mind the fallowing next step!

defining your cut

It is perfectly fine to ask questions, still ultimately f0llow your guts and intention above all — as a creator you are the only one that needs to decide for your work. True I am here to help, but certainly do not follow what I say without questioning it, what may work for me maybe a disservice to yourself…beside your younger eyes and hands maybe able to do a better job than me! Still be aware not to insure yourself or your classmate with any of this sharp cutting tools

drawing and cut

I am definitely impressed how this student manage to cut the ‘hands and feet ‘of her figure. Even so she does have a very precise and fine line drawing to start with she has created ‘patterns’ on her block — this a perfect example of  good translation. Even so her cut lines are thicker than the ones of her drawing the result is effective. The class should take good note of her metaphorical spring message.  If we continue acting like having a bag covering our heads, no wander we cannot “see” patterns around us.

the harmony

Just do not observe your classmate work but what there are wearing as well, I do not mean on a fashion sense but rather for shapes they are attracted by or are relating to. Above shows an amazing relation between the design of the rings from her working hand and her lines cuts into the block.

proofed block

In fact she works on a  jewelry makers the style [or engravers of silver plates.] Her work would be perfectly suited for etching or dry point — notice as well how she uses with confidence the entire surface of her block.

pattern planing

Here there is no so much relation between what is wear and the planned drawing. Her drawing feels more like a final print …this is perfect case of over planing, DO NOT imitate the final product before you start cutting, you give up creativity and you will more likely ending frustrating yourself on forcing to adapt to the plan…leave room to allow discovery. In other words do not double your working time!

block and print

Still certainly this model of using lines and little pattern follows one of the ancient tradition of block carving: fabric printing. This is a case were working towards inventive/creative patterns will get you satisfactory results.

cut for printing

Constantly bear in mind that in our case, the CUT must be such that it need to be, at the end of the work, ‘printable’ — and even more so if you are not yourself the printer. Regardless if the printer is good or bad, always anticipate the worse scenario — allowing the roller to lay the color on the “NONE carved parts” = what ever you will spare from cutting. Which means that one creates two kids of patterns [and lines] printable ones and none printable ones — one needs to balance this  two extremes in order to hopefully achieve harmony.

back to ancient Mexico

In conclusion, from the details of two ancient Mexican potteries one can make a clear difference of two working methods. On the left, similar Peter’s results — on the right the image , an “upgraded” from line only, going towards pattern and lines — note that in this case a glaze is apply on top of the clay, the removing of the glaze allow natural clay’s color to be exposed therefore creating a ‘visual/colored’ contrast.

color printing from the author

It is hard to understand what “pattern” is about while using one single color, it become an urgent evidence while printing ‘areas’ colors. Of course it is way more technically involving, but eventually  this could, in some case, be the goal. In any event not mastering step one level of ‘pattern’ creation will deprive one from  joy.

start all over again

This is what it takes to have an artist mind, she came to class with a well plan and define sketch, she soon realized while cuttingher block that her  planned design was not suitable for the cutting technic. So she started a new different idea on the back of her block, allowing herself to keep smiling.

Do not impose the torture of wanting to follow your idea at any cost, rather train your mind to adapt for what circumstances, or material call you for… focus on the “intelligence” of your given tools and material rather than forcing on the contrary direction of their own nature.


To go back to the previous class: VIEW MORE: “Carving Project” one – Parsons The New School for Design, New York.
To learn about engraving and wood cut: VIEW MORE: “Gravure à Vivre” a French lecture on engraving


we will meet  April 4, for  printing  your final blocks  – any questions or comment, follow Peter’s steps, please kindly leave a reply – thank you for your participation.



? this project is my contribution as an invited guest artist to the art program class of Professor Steven Kennedy.

?  drawings, linoleum cuts, photographs and texts copyright Raymond Verdaguer, 2012


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