King's College London
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From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

Eric Gill

Wood engraved depiction of the Nativity, with a scene showing Mary holding Jesus and Joseph nearby. Animals are pictured just outside the stableWood engraving depicting the NativityFor the printers and artists of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the wood engraving was a favoured medium, embodying the skill and individuality of the craftsman in an age of mechanism and mass production.

Among its greatest exponents was the sculptor, type designer, and Catholic-socialist iconoclast, Eric Gill (1882-1940).

The St Dominic’s Press was founded in 1916 by fellow Catholic convert Hilary Pepler (1878-1951), who, like Gill, had settled in the small Sussex village of Ditchling.

Using a printing press which had once belonged to William Morris, founding father of the Arts and Crafts movement, Pepler and Gill produced books of engravings, Catholic devotional works, anti-capitalist pamphlets and a magazine called The game.

Gill became a lay member of the order of Dominicans and established the Guild of Saints Joseph and Dominic at Ditchling, an idealistic community of artists and craftsmen bound together by a shared Catholic faith.

Like Beardsley, Gill understood the special strengths of his medium, in this case the wood engraving ; his work is characterised by fine white lines and large areas of black. One of the great type designers (his sans serif fonts are widely used today), he also fully grasped the potential for combining lettering and illustration in a single block, as this charming depiction of the Nativity demonstrates.

Echoing the medieval tradition of the illuminated manuscript, Gill saw the wood engraving as ‘a sort of printer’s flower’, to be interwoven with the text to create a harmonious whole.

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