After discussing the concept of relief printing, ask
students to imagine how Vallotton’s woodblock
must have looked. Which areas would be lower
(cut away) and which areas would be raised? Have
students create and print their own relief block
using a pencil or spoon to press lines or broader
areas into a Styrofoam tray. The image that has
been pressed into the Styrofoam will remain free
of ink and will appear as the color of the paper.
Alternatively, have students create a relief block
by building up shapes with layers of corrugated
cardboard, then inking the block so that only the
raised areas print.
Vallotton used photographs to inspire many of his
woodcut portraits of famous people. Select a newspaper or magazine photograph with a full range
of black, white, and gray tones. Using cut paper,
translate the image into black-and-white only,
feeling free to emphasize, simplify, or eliminate
In translating Poe’s face to the woodcut
medium, Vallotton made some notable changes.
Curly hair that almost disappears into the dark
background of the photograph now stands out as
a decorative pattern against white. Poe’s heavy
eyebrow, eye, and surrounding shadow merge into
Since Félix Vallotton created his portrait of Poe
long after the author’s death, he probably based it
on an engraving derived from a daguerreotype that
was made a year before Poe died. (A daguerreotype
is an early form of photograph on a metal plate.) In
the photograph, Poe appears to be a somber man
with heavy eyebrows, dark hair pulled straight
across a high forehead, dark mustache, expression-
less mouth, and sloping shoulders. Light strikes his
face from the right leaving his left cheek in partial
rifying whirlpool that sucks ships into the depths
of the sea, and a stately raven that arrives to
announce unending loneliness and sorrow. Poe’s
mystery stories and poems may make you feel
uneasy, jumpy, or send chills up your spine, even
if you know that his bizarre fictions couldn’t possibly be true.
Compare Vallotton’s woodcut portrait with Poe’s
photograph. What did Vallotton simplify? Elimi-
How did Vallotton prepare his woodblock? How did
he create the shapes that print in black? How did
he make the shapes that remain the color of the
paper? Which part of Poe’s eyes did he cut away?
Which parts of Poe’s scarf remain raised on the
a single black form. The once-severe lines of eyebrows and hairline are now a bit wobbly and the
line of the right shoulder seems to have caved in a
bit. Most of the shadows on Poe’s cheek have disappeared, producing an image that is stark black and
white, with no intermediate shades of gray. As a
result, Poe’s face seems broader and flatter than it
appears in the photograph. A few spare lines suggesting chin, cheek, nose, and weary bags under
the eyes complete the brooding face of this melancholy man.
Many artists have produced book illustrations of
Poe’s tales. Read a story or poem by Poe, paying
special attention to its wealth of visual description. Select several especially rich scenes and create your own black-and-white illustrations for the
story. Compile your illustrations with Poe’s text in
a book format.
Linda Andre is manager of teacher programs and
resources and holds the Sylvia Friedberg Nachlas
Why is an original handmade print considered
more valuable than a similar print reproduced in
large quantities by machine? Why might handmade prints pulled from the same woodblock look
different from each other?
nate? Flatten? Consider changes to the shoulders,
eyebrows, eyelids, hair, and shadows on skin. Do
these subtle changes alter your impression of Poe’s
temperament or disposition? Would your opinion of
Poe be different if the print were multicolored?