Monday, April 28, 2008

the beauty of line

Ah, the beauty of line...

I recently purchased The Four Seasons of Mary Azarian, a delightful book with images of Mary's woodcuts. Mary is an artist in Vermont, USA and as the title suggests, her art scenes are divided up by the seasons as experienced in her part of the world. My husband and I traveled to Vermont for many years each autumn to witness the fall foliage in the Green Mountains. That is where I first encountered her work.

I love woodblock art, in no small part due to all those lovely black lines! I find the history of this art form facinating as the carved woodblock is one of the earliest forms of printmaking and dates back at least 1,500 years to the Middle East, where wooden blocks were used to make repeated patterns on cloth. Woodblock prints on paper can be traced to 9th century China but the art form didn't reach northern Europe until papermaking techniques arrived in the 15th century.

From this book, I learned that following the publication of the Gutenberg Bible ca.1455, there was an an explosive period of book production. In the 45 years from 1455 to 1500, some 16 million books were printed and many of them contained woodcut illustration. Sixteen million! I also learned that by the end of this time of dramatic growth in book production, there was a growing distinction between the artists who created the designs and the "formschneiders" who executed the drawings in pear, box or applewood with sharp knives and gouges. Artists were kept busy doing the drawings and out of that grew an industry of craftmen who could execute the woodblocks from the drawings.

Albrecht Durer is credited with turning the woodcut into an art form admired all over Europe. There was another revival of woodcuts as an art form when artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch explored the medium.

Mary Azarian is an accomplished award winning book illustrator. I encourage you to visit her website at I think you will find her work truly delightful.

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