I've wanted to attempt an "Annunciation" for some time, and have been working on a version for a relief print for quite a while. Several years ago I looked at a number of artists' interpretations as I was thinking about it, and my eventual version is loosely based on the Cortona Annunciation by Fra Angelico, painted in 1433-34.
I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the stages in the process.
Here's my original drawing from the painting, done back in 2012.
I got this far before getting discouraged and unsure how to take it further, and put the drawings away in a drawer.
In December of this year, I found the drawings and started working on them again. The figures had already been considerably simplified and moved. I eliminated Gabriel's halo, gave Mary a big one, and put her on a bench, below him. Mary's submissive acceptance has always been presented as a model of faith and behavior for women. However I very much doubt if a young unmarried girl of the time would have reacted to a message like this, delivered by a male angel appearing without warning, except with fear and great ambivalence: qualities that have rarely been depicted in artistic interpretations. I wanted to try to emphasize that in the gestures, the relationship of the figures, and in their expressions. On the other hand, because of the crudity of the relief-print process, it's difficult to show subtlety in faces, so whatever I did would have to be stylized.
I also worked a lot on adding some detail to the feathers, the angel's gown, and especially to Mary's dress, which is inspired here by traditional Palestinian cross-stitch embroidery.
The image had to be flipped, right-to-left, and I worked on ways to include a graphic background behind the figures that would help unify the composition. Somewhere around here I decided to allow the figures to appear in front of the final frame in two places on the right and left. At this point I also had to decide on a final size: the block is about 8" (22 cm) square.
Finally it was time to transfer the drawing to the linoleum and cut the block. The transfer was difficult because of the details, and the cutting took several days. I worked only an hour or two at a time, because my hand, neck and shoulder get tired, increasing the danger of a mistake, a slip that could ruin the block, or of cutting myself. I had wanted to leave myself plenty of latitude for the more serendipitous aspects of block-carving too: the particular quality of a carved line can't be duplicated in drawing, only anticipated. Also, I'm never sure how many "extra" lines I'm going to leave in the mostly-blank areas, following the forms and adding to the sculptural aspect of the final image. The final appearance of the angel's skirt was created almost entirely during the carving process itself; so were the feathers and the angel's coiffure.
And here's the final print. I'm contemplating a two-color version, but for now, I'm happy to see this one come into being. A lot was learned, and I'm glad I stuck with it even though there were struggles along the way.
(There's an edition of 20, available in my shop.)