Cafe interview with Jo Ryall


Chief Administrator & Benevolent Dictator
Staff member
Nov 6, 2006
Covington, Louisiana
Thanks to Fred Marrinan for suggesting this interview!

Many of us have watched Jo's evolution into a world class engraver, engraving fine knives and high end watches. Her attention to detail and artistic eye are quickly becoming a signature style worthy of praise. Her hard work and dedication has paid off, especially for someone only engraving a few short years. I can only imagine the artistic surprises she'll be unveiling as the years progress.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Jo Ryall's interview for your enjoyment! :clapping: :clapping:

And please...if you like the interview please post a comment and not just hit the LIKE button.

Q. What's your name?
A. Joanne Ryall

Q. Where are you from?
A. Devon, England (the sunny bit, honest)

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. A little under 5 years, since I picked up my first graver.

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I was introduced to a maker of black powder pistols, who also dabbled in engraving. He lent me James Meek’s book, and I was completely hooked. He suggested that I’d struggle to find any assistance, as no one had helped him. That night I went home, turned on my laptop and found the cafe within minutes… the rest is history!

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. I’m a full time engraver.

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. Reading a lot and practicing a lot more - then repeating every day, all day, for about four years. I still have lots to learn.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Sharpening. I’ve always been very accomplished at making a perfectly sharp knife blunt, so I knew sharpening gravers was going to be challenging, to say the least. My life became infinitely more enjoyable after I purchased a sharpening fixture.

Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use
pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. For bulino work I don’t use power, but for normal engraving on hard steels I use both GRS and Lindsay tools.

Q. Do you believe the Renaissance masters would have used pneumatic tools, airbrushes,
or other time saving equivalents if they had been available to them?
A. Of course. The materials which renaissance artists used were far more advanced than neanderthals used for decorating their caves. Natural progression and advancement in techniques and tools will always occur, whether we all embrace it or not.

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. To be honest the FEGA book (pdf) which you receive with your subscription, is a hugely useful learning tool.
Sam’s sharpening DVD was a real life saver when I was starting out. Lee Griffith’s book & dvd, and Ron Smith’s scroll book are real gems also. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the learning material I’ve purchased.
I take my hat off to those engravers who have taken the time to produce these books and dvds - novices today are in a very fortunate position, compared to 20 plus years ago.

Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. I would have to say Ken Hunt - he was, and is, a real pioneer of modern engraving.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. As a relative newcomer, I’ve been fortunate enough to not make any notable mistakes... yet! - but give it time and I’ll come back to you on that one! I’ve heard a few nightmare tales of mistakes others have made though. One of which involved the wrong name being engraved on the Wimbledon finals trophy! Ooops.

Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. At the moment Watch and knife commissions seem to be consuming most of my engraving time, with a bit of Scrimshaw thrown in, now and then.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. The majority of my work is done under a microscope, although I do have an Optivisor and loupe. The great thing about having all of these optics, I no longer have any fear of splinters!

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. Design and composition. Once the flow starts it’s fine, but a blank sheet of paper is a very daunting sight!

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. Barrel work. I think you require to be part contortionist to enjoy this aspect of engraving.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. Whilst it’s the most difficult part for me, designing is also one of the most enjoyable aspects too. Just watching the design come together is very rewarding, and the excitement grows as you get closer to cutting it.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. I wouldn’t say I dislike lettering as such, but I wouldn’t want to do it all day. Everyone knows what letters ‘should’ look like, so if they’re not perfect, it’s easy to spot. Lettering is probably the most stressful part of engraving for me.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. Anything that I wouldn’t be proud of when it’s complete. Idealistic maybe, but I’m an engraver by choice.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. I think considering the tools they had, a great deal of what was produced back then is wonderful work, that has stood the test of time.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. Hand-engraving will go where the money is, so I think a shift in trends will be apparent. It’s been happening for years already, and it may well go full circle.
Years ago jewellery engravers started engraving guns. Today, as more gun manufacturers move towards laser engraving, our gun engravers are adapting their trade back to jewellery engraving.

Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. Italy is an obvious choice. I also really like much of the work being produced in eastern Europe.

Q. What engravers were most influential to you?
A. Andrew Biggs has been extremely generous with his time, and very patient with all of my questions.

Q. What effect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. Everything! From advice gained here, to reference material, as well as purchasing equipment etc. The internet is hugely responsible for my position right now.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Take advice, as there is plenty out there. Some good, and some (although well intended) not so good. For a novice, it can be a real mine field trying to identify quality, so always view that person’s work. If the work is good, then chances are their advice is worth heeding.
On any forum you will find there are always prolific posters. Don’t automatically assume they have the practical experience or ability needed to give quality advice.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A. None - I must have been in the woodworking class when maternal instincts were being handed out!

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. My partner is a full time rifle coach and hunting guide.

Q. If you have travelled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. Italy - visiting a good friend on his estate in Tuscany is my favourite. Sitting out in the gorgeous sunshine, picking fresh figs off the trees. Incredibly relaxing.

Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like to share?
A. I have many wonderful memories. A funny one involved sitting down, enjoying a family dinner one evening, when a Wild Boar came charging in through the kitchen door. As it turned out, ‘Grunjo’ was a relatively friendly boar, but the other guests didn’t know that, while he was running around under the dinner table.

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. Regularly hosting shooters and hunters, I get to meet a selection of very interesting individuals. One who sticks in my mind was a doctor who had been out hunting with my partner. He shyly asked if we could check him over for ticks (it was the height of summer, so they were out in force). We found 24 on him! The image of that man stood, with his arms out, in nothing but his ‘y’ fronts still haunts me to this day! :)

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Working my Spaniels in the shooting field, and shooting for the pot myself. Drawing, reading old hunting books, smoking meats & making biltong (jerky), to name a few.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. At home, in front of the log burner, surrounded by my dogs!

Q. What’s one thing of which you are most proud?
A. I have two - A number of years ago, I was hugely overweight. Waking up one morning I decided that that was enough. I spent the next two years losing 45kg (99lbs), and getting fit. The second was building my own house from scratch - and it’s still standing!!!

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. My father. Unfortunately I didn’t appreciate this until I was an adult myself.

Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. Formula One driver, Jensen Button is my cousin.

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Yes, lots! I am no grammar queen, however I do get annoyed by people who can’t be bothered with basic punctuation, like capitals and full stops. Also people who write in ‘txt spk’ on emails.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. I live about 10 minutes away from the South coast beach of Lyme Regis, so that’s always a nice place to go for a walk along the seafront, or sit outside the pub watching the fishing boats coming in and out.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. Anyone who’s buying - or someone who can cook, and doesn’t regard tomato ketchup as a cooking ingredient! (that’s a dig at my partner)

Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. Dick Proenneke and Jim Corbett, both incredibly humble, yet accomplished men.

Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. My friend phoned me and asked, "What are you doing right now?"
- I said, "Probably failing my driving test." :)

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the Engravers Cafe - and all who sail in her! My deepest thanks to everyone who has helped me along my journey, and also to those who have liked and commented on my work. It’s all very much appreciated.

Photos of Jo's amazing work.

BOAR HUNTERS MONTAGE black web.jpg ENGRAVING - Watch Rolex Daytona 12 (bezel).jpg PATEK PHILIPPE.jpg ENGRAVING - Watch 9 Rolex Daytona (web).jpg BEOWOLF MONTAGE black web.jpg ENGRAVING - Watch Rolex Daytona 12 (back).jpg MAKARA MONTAGE black web.jpg - b09-custom-022814-1 (Large).jpg - ENGRAVING - Watch 14 Rolex Joanne Ryall (web).jpg


Oct 20, 2010
Great interview ! thank you Sam and Jo ,great artists and wonderfull people here!


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Dec 9, 2006
Welfare, Texas
Fabulous work and, a great sense of humor!!
Thanks for taking the time to do an interview,


Aug 10, 2012
Virginia, USA
Excellent interview! Your layouts are fantastic to explore - so much to take in and very well done! Thank you for sharing!

Ps- "...sitting outside the pub, watching the fishing boats coming in and out" - sounds like a slice of paradise!


Tim Wells

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 9, 2006
Dallas, Georgia
This is exciting to see, the short span from beginning to where you are now is inspiring. Dick Proenneke is also one of my big time heroes, I've got all those videos and books.

Roger Bleile

:::Pledge Member:::
::::Pledge Member::::
Oct 4, 2007
Northern Kentucky

Those of us who have participated in this forum for a number of years can easily get burned out by trying to answer the steady stream of questions that begin with "I'm new to engraving..." Most come and go and few ever make anything of it. Nevertheless, it is the rare few folks like you who come along, take everything in, sort it out, get the right tools and books, and practice assiduously, that make all the effort worthwhile. Watching your development on this forum has been most enjoyable.

By the way, as a Jim Corbett fan, you would appreciate that when I was visiting with Paul Roberts at Rigby's in London, in 1996, I had the privilege of handling the Rigby Mauser that "Jungle" Jim used to shoot the Rudraprayag man eating leopard in 1926.

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Caty Blom

Elite Cafe Member
Dec 30, 2008
Vlaardingen the Netherlands
Thanks for the interview, Sam and Jo, the lesson I learn from this is that you just have to persevere. And a lot of practice and continue to create new things, and one day you will be able to say, I'm an engraver.Greetings Caty, who still is learning.


~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Nov 11, 2006
outside Albany in SW GA
Thanks for taking my suggestion Sam.

Jo, I have really enjoyed watching your engraving develop. Your artistic talent was obviously there and the skill level you have reached is outstanding. I have visited your web site on several occasions and am impressed with all your work. You are and will continue to be a force in the engraving community. Thank you for joining us and thank you for the interview. I feel I know you much better even after reading everything on your website.

For "Newbies" -take note of what Jo has accomplished with practice, advice, tools and a great deal of talent.

Willem Parel

~ Elite 1000 Member ~
Sep 2, 2009
The Netherlands
Very nice interview and very nice to get to know you a little bit more this way Jo.
Thank you very much, not only for sharing your wonderful work with us but also for giving us a little inside information about your private life.
Very inspirational the way you started and developed your career.


Staff member
::::Pledge Member::::
Feb 11, 2007
washington, pa
thanks for bringing back a long-gone feature of the forum. a special thanks to jr for taking the time to do the interview. her work is, to me, beyond description. she sets a real "bar" for one to achieve.

Andrew Biggs

Nov 10, 2006
Christchurch, New Zealand
An excellent read thank you, Jo. And we discover some things that we never knew and personal goals that you have achieved.

It's always a real delight watching your progress and seeing your work develop over the years. And I very much enjoy our e-mails. :)



Elite Cafe Member
May 19, 2012
Brisbane, Australia
Thanks Sam, and congratulations Jo, great to read, and an inspiration to us all seeing how far you have come in such a short time, best wishes for the future, :clapping::clapping::tiphat:



:::Pledge Member:::
::::Pledge Member::::
Jul 23, 2007
that was very interesting, Jo (& Sam)! i'm sure i'm just one of many who have been delighted to see how far your work has come in such a short time- it really helps those of us who've been around awhile feel we're making a difference when we try to offer advice.

and as far as "I do get annoyed by people who can’t be bothered with basic punctuation, like capitals and full stops." oh, well, i'm just lazy and usually type with a cup of coffee or big glass of ice water in my left hand... :rolleyes: