Prints of Saint Barbara

Laser Cutting a Woodblock

Students from Christine Andrews’ course on Northern Renaissance Art visited the Makerspace for a special project recently, recreating a 15th century print of Saint Barbara from the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. We began by cleaning up a digital image of the print and converting it to a file that could be used to carve a new printing plate using the laser cutter. One major challenge was to get the printed lines to be thick enough that they would show up in the wood printing plate. Students learned techniques for adjusting the image to thicken the lines.

laser cutter engraving wood
On a 60 Watt Epilog Fusion laser cutter, 65% speed and 100% power at 1200ppi gives good results.

With the help of Amanda Maciuba from Studio Art, we then turned to printing the recreated blocks. While contemporary printers often used the end grain of boxwood or cherry for their printing plates, we made do with a modern choice of birch plywood. The students got hands-on experience with inking the plates and running them through the press.

examining a print
Tori Gernert-Dott ’20 examines a print with Professors Andrews and Maciuba, while Rebecca Grossman ’18 looks on.

woodbock and print

Finally, the students turned their skills to creating personal printing blocks from details of historic prints or by creating their own monogram, employing the Photoshop skills that were used in preparing Saint Barbara. As Yiqi Chen ’20 discovered, this process can be both rewarding and challenging, highlighting how much effort goes into creating a good impression. The students came away from the exercise with a tangible experience that complemented their work in the museum, and a deepened understanding of the medium they are studying.

students watching the laser cutter
Students look on as their monograms and details are produced.
Personal monogram TGD
Personal monogram designed and printed by Tori Gernert-Dott ’20.

For anyone wishing to develop their own monogram, I would highly recommend The Classified Directory of Artists Signatures, Symbols & Monograms. With everything from Whistler’s butterfly monogram to Dürer’s actual signature, this is a valuable resource for aspiring artists and art historians alike.

albrecht durer monograms