artist · engraver

The Art of Engraving

Howard Phipps was born in 1954. After studying painting at the Gloucestershire College of Art between 1971 and 1975 and subsequently a post graduate year in Brighton, he became a painter, printmaker and illustrator with a special interest in wood engraving. He has specialised in engraving since the late 1970s.

He worked in Devon until 1980, before settling near Salisbury, where he is still based, and is probably best known for his drawings and engravings of the chalk downs of Wiltshire and Dorset.

Howard has exhibited widely in group and one-man shows including well-received exhibitions at the Dorset County Museum in 1993 and 1998, The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Salisbury Museum, Cheltenham Art Gallery, The Bleddfa Centre in Wales and Elgin Fine Art, London.

He is a member of The Royal West of England Academy and the Society of Wood Engravers. He has been a frequent exhibitor at R.A Summer Exhibitions where he was awarded the Christie’s Contemporary Print Award for a colour wood engraving. In 2004 he received the Landscape Engraving Prize at The National Print Exhibition in London, for the second successive year.

Shepherd's Walk extract
Extract from ‘Shepherd’s Walk’ now housed in the Photograph and Print Collection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre thanks to Creative Wiltshire.

With a particular interest in landscape, he has specialised on the downs of Wiltshire and Dorset, with their deep coombes and beech clumps. He draws directly from observation to capture a recognisable atmosphere and sense of place. He is now widely acknowledged as a leading exponent of his chosen art form and has a particular skill for shadow.

His Solo exhibitions include The Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, 1994., Dorset County Museum,1993, 1998 and 2004, Bircham Contemporary Art, Norfolk, 2002 and 2006, Lymington Museum, 2001 and 2008, and Cassian De Vere Cole Fine Art, London in 1997, 2008 and 2013.

Phipps also has work in the permanent collections of The Ashmolean Museum, Cheltenham Art Gallery, Dorset County Museum, The Russell Cotes Museum, Bournemouth, Exeter and Salisbury Museum’s, and The Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University. In 2009 The British Museum acquired twelve of his engravings for its collection.

In addition, he has illustrated books for several publishers including Bloomsbury, The Folio Society, and The Fleece Press, and has had a longstanding collaboration with fine press publishers The Whittington Press. They published his two artists books on the theme of Interior space, and ‘Ebble Valley’ [2007] with over thirty wood engravings, four linocuts and the text also by the artist.

Wood engraving is a printmaking technique, a development of the woodcut block, which was first used in Europe in the early fifteenth century to produce illustrative decorations, or single- sheet printed works. Woodcuts were made by cutting the soft side grain of a plank with knives and gouges, leaving the design, which was to receive the ink, in relief. With the invention of moveable type woodcuts could be used to illustrate books, as each could be inked at the same time. The art of wood engraving was invented in Britain in the late eighteenth century, and developed by Thomas Bewick of Newcastle. By engraving on end-grain hardwood such as boxwood, with tools comparable to those used by engravers of metal, it enabled artists to create finer images.

Woodcut engraver at work - extract
Extract from Phipps’ woodcut showing the engraver at work, part of the Photograph & Print Collection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre.

In ‘Boxwood Engraving’, above, the artist is shown engraving a block which is placed on a leather sandbag. The boxwood ‘round’ [top centre] shows an end grain slice with bark still on it, whilst adjacent to it is a prepared block made up of three jointed pieces. The burin-like tools used to engrave the mirror smooth blocks have intriguing names such as spitsticker, bullsticker, and tint tool; these make possible a wide range of linear and textural marks that will appear as white against the black uncut areas when the relief surface is rolled with ink and then printed. Wood engravers usually darken the block prior to engraving, as the engraved areas expose the light yellow colour of the boxwood; they are effectively drawing with light, whereas in a drawing dark marks are usually made on white paper. On completion the surface of the engraved block is inked with a roller, and pressure is applied in this instance using an Albion hand press, dating from the Victorian period [1862].

It must be remembered that wood engravings tend to be quite small, because they’re done on end grain rather than planks.  All of these are smaller than 5 inches along a side, and the arrangement, below, of garden tools, almost a still life, is only two inches square.


March hare - extract
We loved this March Hare which now forms part of the Photograph & Print collection at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. Notice in this extract also the tiny church away in the distance across the fields; real attention to detail so that nothing is forgotten.

As part of the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre’s Creative Wiltshire project the Centre has purchased nine prints in January 2016 from Rowley Gallery. Of these six will be housed in Salisbury Museum while three will be retained at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. The chosen prints include the March hare, Shepherd’s Walk, the engraver at work and Beeches Bookshop in Salisbury.

John Collin – Volunteer, Creative Wiltshire Project

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