In school, prepping a piece of wood for a carving was my least favorite part of the relief process. I took every possible shortcut, from leaving out a layer of varnish to protect the wood to skipping sanding after I've carved into the surface. I was always eager to dive into printing and get to the end result.
Now, I'm much more methodical in my approach. Part of the reason is that each progressive step often means a purchase. Where I used to have unlimited ink, I now have a big shipping bill. My conscience feels better when I make many small purchases over a longer period so to have all the necessary things for a project takes time. But money isn't the only reason for the change.
In making a woodcut, as long as I'm prepping the wood, I'm not committing. The wood carries all the potential in the world, and I get to imagine it. As soon as I make the first cut though, the possibilities are limited. The more I carve, the less there is to wonder about, until the wood has finally found its purpose, from which there is no deviating.
I am at a point in my life where the wood is prepped, the sketch is drawn, but instead of cutting I just keep adding varnish. I keep sanding. Somehow there is a safety in staying at the bottom of every ladder, which saves me from finding myself at the top of a ladder which it turns out I didn't want to climb.
I also have a hard time throwing away (in the recycling of course) paper. Nothing is more useful than scratch paper. Maybe there's a metaphor in that too.
Ironically, the ladder I least want to climb is the one whose view reveals that in the face of all these opportunities, I took none.
Now, at some point I usually always start to carve, and the print gets finished. But that first cut will always be the most difficult. Without exception there is always that moment right before I do it that feels like I'm standing at a cliff's edge, although I hate heights so I'm much more inclined to cut the wood.