5 Things You May Not Know About William Blake

This summer we’re giving you the opportunity to discover the print work of William Blake, in a one-day workshop with Michael Phillips, guest curator of the great Blake exhibitions at Tate Britain, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Petit Palais in Paris, and most recently at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

The workshop includes a lecture, seminar and a printmaking demonstration where you can try your hand at Blake’s own printing technique and make a copy of one of Blake’s prints that you can keep as a souvenir. To get you ready for the workshop, here are a few interesting facts you may not know about William Blake…

1. He lived close to Morley College

William and Catherine Blake lived at 13 Hercules Buildings (now Hercules Road, opposite Lambeth North station) from 1791 to 1800. This was where Blake produced many of his most famous poems, including “The Tyger” and “London”. The property was demolished in 1918, but a plaque now commemorates the location, and a series of Blake-inspired mosaics decorate the railway tunnels at Waterloo Station.

2. He developed his own method of relief printing

The process enabled him to print both the text of his poems and the illustrations he produced to accompany them on the same copper plate. He named the technique “illuminated printing” and used it to produce a number of extraordinary books, including Songs of Innocence and of Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Songs of Innocence by William Blake

3. He was well known in his time as an engraver

History remembers Blake’s illuminated printing best, but his commercial work was mostly created using intaglio engraving. It’s a laborious process, in which the artist carves an image into the copper and any mistakes must be hammered out by striking the back, so it could take months or years to complete a plate. His most notable engraved work is Illustrations of the Book of Job.

4. His wife helped to produce his prints

Catherine was illiterate when she and Blake married, and signed her own marriage certificate with an “X”. Blake taught her how to read and write, and then later trained her as an engraver. She became an invaluable assistant to him and helped to produce many of his illuminated prints. Their original marriage certificate is on display at St Mary’s Church in Battersea.

Blake’s work was largely neglected after his death in 1827, only to be rediscovered in the 1860s when Alexander Gilchrist published Life of William Blake. His poems have been set to music by classical composers like former Morley College tutor Ralph Vaughan Williams; author Alan Moore referenced Blake’s work in his graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta; and novelist Philip Pullman has cited Blake as one of his three biggest influences in creating His Dark Materials.

Find out more about William Blake’s printing process here, or see a video of Michael Phillips demonstrating the technique at the British Library. Our William Blake Study Day takes place on Wednesday 19 July, 10am-4pm – enrol online today!

This summer we’re giving you the opportunity to discover the print work of William Blake, in a one-day workshop including a lecture, seminar and a printmaking demonstration with Michael Phillips.

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