This month we’re excited to shine our customer spotlight on wood engraver and printmaker Tony Drehfal. Tony describes himself as being an “apprentice to the craft since 2002.” Our response: If this is the work of an apprentice, we can hardly fathom what the work of a master would look like! Tony has been using CraftOptics for over two years and loves how they provide amazing magnification and improve his posture while he works. Meet Tony!
I love the intricate detail that can be created with the wood engraving process. I have always loved drawing, and an engraved line, cut with a tool called a burin, will print white. In a sense I am drawing with light, as with white chalk on a blackboard, only on a much finer level.
Engraving a large block is slow work, taking many hours, sometimes over months, to complete an image. One needs to concentrate with a total focus as the tip of the tool is cutting away a sliver of wood. The act of engraving is a very meditative process. Printing the engraving is rewarding: Ink is rolled onto the engraved surface of the block, paper laid upon it, and then pressure is applied, usually with a press, making a print. And you can make multiples!
I started with a weeklong introductory course in 2002. Wood engraving is a relief printmaking process, similar to making a woodcut or linoleum print. A wood engraving is made on the end-grain of a wood block that is the same height as the wood or metal type that letterpress artisans work with. In the “old” days when newspapers and books were printed using letterpress, the engraved block was locked in a form along with the type, and the text and image both were inked and printed at the same time.
Four years ago, I engraved an image of a braid of sweetgrass that my wife Jeanne was weaving. We were reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s wonderful book “Braiding Sweetgrass” at the time, so I mailed Robin the completed print. Robin loved it and asked if she could post images of it on her blog. Two years after that, I received an email from a Japanese publisher who was printing a translation of the book, asking me if the image could be used on the cover. They had seen my engraving on Robin’s blog. Then again, last year, I had the honor to have the wood engraving appear on a special hardcover anniversary edition of the book, which is published by Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis. Multiples, for sure.
I have been using CraftOptics for over two years. Two occupational hazards of wood engravers are neck and back issues as we are often hunched over our blocks, using various magnifying devices. I now can get the magnification I need and can be sitting much straighter. CraftOptics travel well too, great magnification in a compact package.
I like that my CraftOptics also use my glasses’ prescription. When I am working with them, I often stop engraving, sit up, and focus on a distant object, exercising my eyes. It is a good practice, taught to me by a well-known British wood engraver, Simon Brett. It is also nice to be able to look up, and talk to fellow wood engravers, when we work side-by-side at workshops, no need to take off the CraftOptics.
I could see well enough when I used other magnifying devices but needed to take more stretch breaks after being hunched over my block. As there is less neck and back strain with CraftOptics, I can work for much longer periods of time.
I’ve also found the glasses come in handy for everyday magnification use when you need to see things more clearly. I recently used them to remove a sliver.
CraftOptics has great customer service! I worked with the lenses for well over a year before coming to realize that I really should have purchased them with a different focal length. I purchased the regular focal length and should have chosen the short focal length. Though I was well past the 45-day trial period, CraftOptics let me return the glasses and have them changed to a shorter focal length.
Currently, Instagram is the best place to see my most recent work online. I also have a website, which needs updating, as I would rather be wood engraving and I put that work off. My wood engravings can be seen at Artistree Gallery, in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. Currently, two of my prints are traveling the UK, in the Society of Wood Engravers’ (SWE) 83rd Annual Exhibition. I am an active member of the Wood Engravers’ Network (WEN), a US-based organization promoting our craft. WEN has an informative website and a touring exhibit; they offer classes and hold an annual gathering/workshop.