David Blackwood

Blackwood by Tony Ianzelo & by Andy Thomson, National Film Board of Canada

The Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto had a reception a couple of weeks ago for David Blackwood‘s current exhibit, Revelation. Blackwood is an eminent printmaker, known for his etchings that depict a by-gone way of life on the harsh coast of Newfoundland where he was born and raised. Despite his mastery of printmaking, since the ’80s he has also worked in a variety of other mediums, including oil paint, encaustic, and watercolours. It was deeply inspiring to see both his luminous and mesmerizing etchings, as well as his newer sculptural works that bring the subjects of his earlier etchings into three-dimensional relief. (The exhibit catalogue is here.)

In 1976, a film was made by the National Film Board about Blackwood and his printmaking process. The meditative process, with its repetitive subtraction (etching, Varsol, etc) and filling in (inking), recalls the movement of the ocean on the shore, slowly eroding and filling in. In the film, Blackwood describes each step in the etching and aquatint process. It is a process that seems to take patience and precision, as well as the ability  to visualize something complete, and then re-create it in meticulous increments. Although the craft itself may not have all that much in common with what we do here on our computers, writing, designing, and animating, there are things to be gleaned from his manner of work, and his approach to it.

Anyone who tries to create is sometimes hampered by the terror of the blank page, and sometimes flummoxed in gauging when a work is done. Blackwood notes something very useful at the very end. He says, contemplatively:

The final printing. …It’s very very hard to, to say when something is completely finished. ‘Cause it could be simpler, it could be more complex. It simply reaches a stage of development and stops.

By beginning with a well thought-out sketch, Blackwood does not really set a predetermined endpoint for himself as he creates his etching, nor does he wait for any sort of epiphany that signal’s completion. He works till he is content, letting the development of the etching dictate its own process, kind of like slowly feeling satiated with food, till you know you won’t have another bite. It’s something we can practice in our creative work, paying attention to that moment when a work feels ready, even if it is hard to explain why to a casual observer.