Drawing with Light (chapbook)


Rosemary Kilbourn (born 1931) is one of Canada’s foremost wood engravers.  She was born in Toronto and studied at the Ontario College of Art and in England.  Her focus in those early years was on painting portraits, but already before going to England she had become interested in wood engraving, though at that time the medium was little known in Canada.

Upon her return from England she immediately became involved in creating wood engravings to illustrate The Firebrand, the biography of William Lyon Mackenzie, that her brother, the historian William Kilbourn, was writing.   She would illustrate two more books after that (including Farley Mowat’s The Desperate People), but her major work would be in the area of free-standing wood engravings for framing.  Some of them are very large – amazingly so, considering the minutely-detailed art of wood engraving.  The Resurrection is 27” x 20” [66 cm x 48.5 cm].

Many of her finest wood engravings are of landscapes in the Caledon Hills in southern Ontario (where she lived for more than sixty years in an isolated nineteenth-century schoolhouse) and in Muskoka.

Rosemary Kilbourn also worked as a portrait painter and a stained-glass artist: in her work, the different disciplines interact and cross-pollinate. 

Rosemary’s niece, Pippa Kilbourn, wrote about Drawing with Light: “I was blown away.  I appreciate your chronological treatment of Rosemary's journey as an artist (which has hitherto been lacking). I value your gentle, respectful treatment of Rosemary's words and works.  Yours is a gem of writing.  How can I thank you for this painstaking piecing together of so many disparate elements in Rosemary's artistic world?  I never truly knew my aunt as an artist.  But now, in this exquisite piece, lovingly illustrated, I have a fitting portrait of Rosemary as an Artist.  Your painstaking work in fleshing out Rosemary's musings on technique, on composition, on inspiration are, believe it or not, my first real glimpse of the Artist behind those engravings, with which I have been surrounded all my life.”

“Drawing with Light” focuses on Rosemary Kilbourn’s wood engraving, tracing the evolution of her style and of her interaction with the larger art scene, in which there has been a growing interest in the form.  It is generously illustrated with reproductions of Kilbourn’s wood engravings and with several photos.  Originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of Block and Burin, the magazine of the Wood Engravers’ Network (WEN), it is now available as a free-standing chapbook and can be ordered from the author: please contact mbrandis@cyg.net.   The price is CAN$10.00 + postage.