How To Make Something Beautiful (part one)


Wood-block print: Rolleiflex f/3.5 with rare reversed D.

Start with something you love. It has to be the kind of thing you can’t leave alone, something with a pleasing heft, well made and beautiful. Like an old Rollei. Find a good pencil, sit down and draw a picture of it. Can’t draw? Doesn’t matter. Make the drawing on a piece of clear, dry white fir with as few knots as possible. Reduce and simplify the truth of this object until you have a clean line drawing – not too complicated but containing the spirit of the thing itself. Having a personal paparazzo document the process is always nice (thanks Sidney).

Locate a good set of wood carving tools and cut out the negative (reverse) image of your drawing – you may have to resort to carbon paper to flip the sketch horizontally. Yes, they still make carbon paper. Any letters will have to be reversed to read. Yes, I know my initial is backwards. You’ll need a roller, some decent ink and a few sheets of paper. I strongly recommend Arches hot press watercolor paper. It’s French and costs as much as hashish, but it’s worth it for the unique feel of 75# paper stock. Black ink looks wonderful on French watercolor paper.

Gently ink the block, position the paper and with a brayer, transfer the ink (I use the back of a wooden cooking spoon for this). White pine is soft and easy to cut but it’s delicate and braying hard will ruin the clean edges. The block is only going to last a few prints before deteriorating completely, so give it some thought, use good paper and be gentle.


I’ll be selling an 8.5 X 9″ version of this print for $100 – a signed artist’s proof on 308gsm 100% rag paper. Let me know if you’d like one. This series of Japanese block prints will eventually include three or four of my favorite old cameras and will be a suite of hand-made prints.

About John Durant

Professional photographer in California
This entry was posted in 6:19 Format, American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, Canon F-1, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford FP4, Japanese block printing, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Photography, Rolleiflex, Vintage cameras, Wood block printing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How To Make Something Beautiful (part one)

  1. JEFF says:

    Hi John

    Ever use basswood for your woodcuts? Virtually no grain so it’s much easier to work with than any other wood, plus it works very well for fine details, and lasts much longer than fir or pine so you can get more prints/block. Not expensive either (example) :

  2. die Reinemachefrau says:

    Hallelujah! Woodblock prints have always been my favorite art medium, and judging from your work in the early 1970’s, you have a tremendous talent for it. I’m thrilled to see that you’re getting back into what you should have been doing all your life. Sign me up for the whole series. Do you want the first $100 via PayPal or check?

    Here are a couple of links to my favorite California artist of all time, Paul Landacre:

  3. JD
    Well done. I don’t think photographers branch out from their own craft often enough.
    This is really beautiful! I’m inspired! Can’t wait to see what the other 3 cameras are…..

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