Babies and Woodcuts

Loren Kantor
3 min readJun 1, 2022
Woodcut of a friend’s baby.

I began carving woodcuts in 2008. Woodcuts are brusque, harsh and bold. The carving process is slow and methodical. A single carved block can take weeks, even months to complete. You learn to live with small mistakes. If you make a large mistake, you’re forced to start over.

What makes a woodcut portrait come to life are age lines, wrinkles and weathered faces. A hardened actor like Lee Marvin translates much better than a young Audrey Hepburn. The ideal subject for a woodcut portrait is a coal miner, aging cowboy or grizzled war veteran. I once carved a “Faces of Woodcut” portrait series. The subjects included Steve Buscemi, Don Knotts and NBA Coach Jeff Van Gundy. Woodcut artists are like Bizarro World Plastic Surgeons adding wrinkles instead of removing them.

Several years ago, I was commissioned by an old college friend to carve a woodcut of his 15-month-old son. This was my first carving of a baby. The boy was beautiful, vibrant and alive. I was excited to capture his essence, to channel his spirit through my carving tools onto a linoleum-covered block of wood.

The carving process took six weeks. When I was finished, my friend invited me for dinner. He was excited to see the results. As I revealed the print, my friend’s face contorted as if he’d bitten into an unripe persimmon. He stared quietly, blinking a few times, stepping back to see the print more clearly then moving close again.

“What happened?” he whispered as if in shock.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I wanted you to capture the feeling of a baby waking from a nap. He looks kind of sinister, don’t you think?”

I was disappointed and confused. I’d been so focused on each individual gouge, I hadn’t taken time to properly assess the final image. I promised my friend I’d attempt another carving then I drove home, demoralized. My wife, a watercolor painter, reminded me that clients are never satisfied with portraits of their children. “Don’t take it too hard,” she advised. “It’s happened to me as well.”

I couldn’t let it go. I emailed the image to a number of friends asking for their honest, objective feedback.

“Rosemary would be proud,” the first friend replied. (A reference to Rosemary’s Baby.) “It’s alive,” read a second email…

Loren Kantor

Loren is a writer and woodcut artist based in Los Angeles. He teaches printmaking and creative writing to kids and adults.