Wednesday, April 22, 2020

To Be Sorted. Collections of engravings to raise money for charities.

*** Note: The sale of these books raised £903 shared among the organisations listed below***
***Thank you to all who supported this endeavour and sorry if you were not able to obtain one***

Strange times.

Luckily for me, I have hermit tendencies, work from home and continue to have commissions offered to me. I have also taken the opportunity to organise the printing studio.

While I was doing this, I pulled out a large box labelled "To Be Sorted". This contained a mixure: editioned engravings, artist's proofs, unsigned proofs and some proofs with issues - underinking, small smudges and the like.

By the time I had made a pile of 250 prints, it occurred to me that I might bind these as books to sell them to raise money for some charities. I trimmed the sheets to approximately 12 x 18cm, added a page of text and a colophon and stab bound them into thin card covers.

I made a new engraving in the form of a label for the front of the book:

Today, I finished binding the edition of 25 books, each with a random selection of engravings.
I did include a "jackpot" in the form of a signed A/P of "The Fossil Collectors" in one of the books.

They have been numbered 1 - 25 and shuffled so each order will be the next one from the pile.

The price of each collection of ten original engravings is £40.
I was able to make the books using materials that were already in the studio. The only costs to be deducted from the selling price will be Paypal fees and postage - they will be sent out using Royal Mail first class; I can stamp the packages and post them as my daily walk can pass the postbox.

 The profits will be divided equally between:

Ely Food Bank
The Trussell Trust
Alzheimers Research UK

The books will be sold through my Etsy Store:

The listing will be live from 7pm  on 22nd April 2020.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Nocturnal - a small handmade book of wood engravings

"Nocturnal" is a new small-format book from The Isle Handpress. Towards the end of 2019 I was working on some commissioned wood engravings of landscapes by moonlight. I have already made several engravings of creatures by moonlight and I started to plan this book.

It consists of eight wood engravings of nocturnal animals, together with engraved title, colophon and label. As an example, here are some photographs of  the engraving of  a fox in the Dean's Meadow by Ely Cathedral.

The engravings were all printed on "Red", our larger Albion Press. The images were printed two at a time and the the other engravings singly:

Once all the sheets were printed and dry, it was a question of folding and collating them and sewing them into their card covers. They were then given wrappers of a lovely hand marbled paper from Payhembury papers. Finally the labed was pasted on and the books signed and numbered:

The book measures about 10 x 14cm. The standard edition of 75 numbered, signed copies is available. There will be 26 specials, numbered from A - Z. They will be printed on larger paper and casebound with a folder of three or fours signed proofs. I will be making these over the next couple of months. I can reserve a copy if you contact me, with no obligation to buy as my specials usually sell out quickly.

I always get great pleasure in making handmade books but I am particularly pleased with this one.
Normally at events, you can handle a copy; the best that I can do is to make a video:

"Nocturnal is available to purchase from my website:

It is also available from my Etsy store:

I hope that you are all keeping your spirits up in these strange times.
Stay well,

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Wood Engraving and Happy Birthday SWE!

Today is the 100th birthday of the Society of Wood Engravers.

Last night would have been the preview of an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I was honoured to have my engraving "Box No. 1" selected for this. Today, I would have been at my table at the Oxford Fine press Fair, with a selection of my prints and handmade books for sale, seeing friends from around the world and catching up with their new work. The pandemic has stopped all this - the Fine Press Fair has been postponed until November and I am likely to have even more new work to show!

Back to engraving and the SWE.

Becoming an engraver.

I have always enjoyed printmaking, even before I really understood that it existed as an artform.
When I was young, I loved stamps, especially Victorian ones. A penny black was beyond my means but penny reds were common and could be had with pocket money. These were the imperforate 1841 stamps like this:

I was buying word, trimmed and tatty ones but loved the look of them. Once in a while I would find a "Maltese Cross" cancellation like the one above. I loved these the most. Grouping a few of these stamps together gave me a sense of them being multiples and this idea stayed with me. I had always loved to draw and paint - I only had thin paper and poster colours but it was enough. The more I thought about groups of stamps, the more an idea formed in my mind.

I went out to the outhouse where my fathers workbench was. This was also the coal house and housed the copper. This was a metal bowl set in a brick box where my mother washed the clothes. She would light a fire under the bowl to heat the water to wash the clothes, which would then be put through the mangle and hung out. The zinc bath was here as well. This is would be carried in, placed in front of the fire and I would have my weekly bathe. If neighbours came in, they would sit either side my bathtub and talok over my disgruntled head.

At the workbench, I took some kindling from the woodpile, fixed it in the vice and planed it flat. Then I took a chisel and my pocket knife and cut a row of heads in the wood. Then I took this inside, gave the surface a good brushing of red poster paint and pressed thin paper over it, smoothing it firmly with my hands. The results were crude but I felt the first satisfaction of revealing a printed image and making multiples. I remember making many of these "stamps" but none survive, as far as I know.

I kept on drawing - small detailed draings that were usually observational. In the mid 70s, there was not an art school in the country who would have been interested in what I was doing. My first degree was in Geology and I spent three contented years making small, detailed observational drawings of rocks, minerals and, especially, fossils. Following this, I taught in a Cambridge comprehensive for 26 years - and definitely not an art teacher, although I enjoyed "covering" art lessons - especially with the Columbian handpress that sat in the art room - generally used as a coatstand!

I did continue to flirt with printmaking - particularly with lino. My work was bold and fluid but I missed the detail of my drawings. I knew about wood engraving but put it off, thinking it to be a difficult thing. Eventually, in 1991, I took the train to London to visit Lawrences. I bought some gravers, a tube of ink, some paper, a better roller and some blocks that were in a "sale" box. The long thin shapes of some of these interested me.

When I first tried wood engraving, it seemed more like remembering that learning. The small scale, detail and black and white work that I started to pruduce - burnished with smooth wood - gave me the same satidfaction of making multiples. Being a country boy and still living in a village, it is no surprise that my work was rural. It was also autobigraphical - I wanted to engrave images of the things around me. I learned from trial and error and a battered book by Benson. It turned out that a colleague at school was also an engraver - she had been taiught by John O'Connor and Blair Hughes-Stanton at the Colchester School of Art - she gave me enough technique to stop me stabbing my fingers!

Joining The SWE

I have always been self taught at most of the things I do and this was no different. That year, "Venetian Morning" was accepted and hung in the SWE annual exhibition. I signed up for a weekend course in Norfolk, led by Sarah Van Niekirk, who was then chair of the SWE. That year, and the follwing, Sarah filled in the gaps in my practical knowledge and taught me the importance of establishing the light in the block. She sold me more tools and some more blocks, including a semi-circular one that I used for "The Fossil Collectors":

After I had been included in three SWE selected shows, I was eligible to apply for membership. I sent a portfolio of prints and related drawings (yes I really had found my artistic home) and we travelled down to the annual SWE picnic. These were very enjoyable and my first chance to meet other engravers - some with huge reputations as artists but all welcoming. Hilary Paynter came to find me and told me that I had been elected. I was hugely pleased and proud to join the society.

Inside the SWE

From my point of view, the SWE could not have suited me better. The members were always welcoming and encouraging. I am always aware of being an outsider in the art world - untrained and with a tendency to make small, detailed, rural work. Inside the SWE I was accepted. I liked the gender balance within the SWE - most of the artists who influenced me were talented women with great reputations. Since then, I have had work accepted for all of the annual shows (which are all selected so it is never a given) and have sat on the committee to make such contributions as I could. I set up the first SWE website when such things were simple and have enjoyed that aspect of the society develop in more professional hands.

After over a quarter of a century, I left teaching. My school needed two teachers to take voluntary redundancy. I applied and, with great support from Joan, became an "engraver for hire". I still am!


I am still very pleased to be a member. I went down to London in February for the preview of the fantastic annual touring exhibition at Bankside and saw lots of old friends. I still engrave - often commisioned work such as a bookplate, logo or some illustrations, often for Private Press books. I especually enjoy making my own handmade books - they are small, almost completely engraved, including text, and great fun to produce for my own imprint "The Isle Handpress".

So Happy Birthday SWE! A place where this art outsider found a happy artistic home.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Another John Clare Poem - Little Trotty Wagtail

I grew up in a small village. The lanes, woods and streams were my playground and the wildlife that teemed in them was a source of endless fascination. Watching birds and animals was an easy way to pass time in simpler times.

Its no surprise then that I have always appreciated the poetry of John Clare, recognising in his writing that same pleasure in watching wildlife that I has as a child.

I had already made a small broadside of Clare's The Wren as a collaboration with son Alex. The text was hand set and this was printed with a wood engraving printed from my engraved block. This sold out some time ago and I had been thinking about another project but had done nothing about it until I received an invitation to show my work at Helpston, John Clare's birthplace during the annual celebration of his birthday.

I settled on "Little Trotty Wagtail" as a popular poem with early printed editions that would avoid the problems of using a source still in copyright. I have also wanted to engrave a wagtail and chose the pied wagtail as fitting for a black and white illustration. For a while, I considered printing the poem as a small illustrated book but time was against me and another broadside seemed the best way.

I chose to make two engravings - the main one of a wagtail "trotting" to the left and a smaller tailpiece of a wagtail flying to the right. I find that a bird facing left arrests the left to right "reading" of those whose text is read in that direction. The right facing bird flies off with the eye.

Time to sketch:

 ... and then to engrave. Here are some images of the small, flying wagtail:

This time, the printing process was carried out in two separate operations. I had been thinking of trying out polymer plates and decided to use one for the text. This was printed on "Baby Vandercook", our No.0 model Vandercook proofing press which was made in Chicago and, according to a separate dealer's name plate, had been sold in Paris. I used a smooth Zerkall paper and was pleased with the results.

The two hand-engraved woodblocks were set on "Red", the larger of our Albions. This had been made in London in 1902 and had its working life in Ireland before coming here.

The finished broadside measures 24.5 x 17.5 cm. It has been printed in an edition of 100 signed and numbered prints.. I enjoyed making this and have them for sale at £25 including free postage worldwide. They are available in my Etsy shop and on my Website. Here it is:

I enjoyed my day in Helpston very much. I was given space in the lovely Annakin Gallery.
John Clare's memorial was beautifully decorated:

His grave was surrounded by "Midsummer Cushions" made by local children:

Monday, May 27, 2019

From Charmouth Beach to the Royal Academy

I have always loved searching for fossils. One reason for this is that the rocks that famously form the Jurassic coasts in Dorset and Yorkshire pass under the Fens and the Great Ouse Relief Channel was dug down into the Kimmeridge clay yielding ammonites, belemnites and even ichthyosaurus bones and teeth. I was hooked. Later on I was able to spend time in Dorset and, eventually, gained a degree in Geology.

During the summer of 2018, we treated ourselves to a short break in Dorset and I was able to revisit Charmouth beach. No bones or teeth but I did find a handful of tiny ammonites preserved in Iron pyrites, which gave them a lovely golden surface. Walking along the beach, I thought about an engraving that I had planned but never made. This idea rattled around in my head and then I returned home to other projects.

Later in 2018, I was invited to contribute an engraving to a book celebrating the centenary of the Society Of Wood Engravers. I was asked to choose a past member and respond to their work through mine. I chose Reynolds Stone for his beautifully lettered bookplates and accomplished landscape engravings. RS had lived in Dorset and made many works which featured the landscape. This was my opportunity to make my engraving of the Dorset coast.

I had spent years considering this print and then took weeks planning it. I set aside a 15 x 10cm block and started to sketch my ideas. The first was a pencil sketch in a vertical format:

I thought that the mid-ground was a bit lacking and decided to try a landscape format:

I was happier with this. It is a very stylised view of the beach after a rockfall had exposed the skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus. Other rocks had ammonites. I was still unsure and turned the design round again. Here are three more of the long sequence of drawings:

Reynolds Stone often included wildlife in his landscapes. I liked the way that he could make a tiny element of the image lift the whole thing. I decided to add one of the greater black backed gulls I had seen on the beach. Here are two more drawings:

This is as far as I was going to take the drawings. I could  mark this on the block in outline and then improvise the textures as I engraved. I prepared my lemonwood block (the larger one in this photo):

Now it was time to engrave. This is a large block for me and I was working on it for a week:

One of the first engravings that I completed was called "The Fossil Collectors".  I took the ammonite rich rock at the bottom of the image and incorporated it in my new print.

This was one of those rare occasions when the engraving looked good from the pulling of the first proof. There was very little to do. I made a decision of clear out the entire sky, leaving the two birds which I see as a form of "signature". Here is the finished wood engraving "On Charmouth Beach":

I was very pleased with this print and so, when I thought of submitting work for the RA Summer exhibition, I included this print. Both my engravings were shortlisted but I doubted that I would get any further through the selection process. However, it was first time lucky for me and "On Charmouth Beach" is going to be exhibited in the RA Summer Exhibition 2019 and I will be heading down to London for Varnishing Day.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Wonder Of Woodcuts. Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery, 2018

Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery  is simply the best craft gallery that I know. I first discovered it for myself a few years ago and so, when I was asked to sell work there, I was very pleased. Conequently, you can inmagine how happy I was top be asked to feature as one of two Printmakers in their "Wonder Of Woodcuts" exhibition.

The Gallery is found at the West end of "The Headrow", a large road that runs across the city Centre. The Town Hall and Art Gallery are unmistakeable:

The Craft Centre is tucked away beyond the steps and is a real treasure cave!

I am always impressed with the quality of the work offered for sale,especially the ceramics and jewellry, and we never leave without buying lovely pieces for ourselves of as presents. However, they also sell a wide range of original prints and it was these that I had dropped in to see.

About fifty of my engravings are on display. They are grouped together in large frames by theme and I was pleased to see that they have all been expertly mounted for display. There is a very wide range of my work on show here and unframed engravings can be purchased directly from the gallery.
It was nice to finally see them for myself;

My work is shown alongside the wonderful prints of Jonathan Ashworth. They made a nice contrast. I was more than happy with the title "Wonder of Woodcuts" as wood engravings were often been referrred to by that name during the gold age of early 20th century wood engraving.

It was good to have a chance to say hello to the staff and the gallery and look at some of the press cuttings they have from the Yorkshire Post and Evening Post:

The Wonder Of Wodcuts" is on display until 27th October but I have been asked if the prints can remain in stock in the browser after that so you should abve able to find my engravings in Leeds for quite a while yet! The Craft Centre and Design Gallery is open Tuesay to Saturday 10am - 5pm. Details available here:

We called in on our way home from a few days in the Lake District and I already have engravings in mind based on our visit.

Next week, We will deliver a solo exhibition of wood engravings to Hinckley to the Ten2Gallery and I will post details of the show, which opens on 6th October, very soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Summer 2018

Summers always start very busily here in the studio and then, thankfully, things ease off and I can take things just a little bit more easily for a few weeks before the Autumn and Christmas events begin.

The season began with a first visit to an occasional event: the craft tent at The Ely Cathedral Flower Festival. This involved several long sessions at the table but, with all the fellow stallholders around, it was great fun and a great success. The weather was lovely and there was Pimms on tap just round the corner from us:

The 2018 July Open Studios were very successful. Competition from Wimbledon, The World Cup and the effect of the heatwave were all threats but, as it happened, I often very busy and sales were very pleasing. Thank you to all who came and I hope that you enjoyed seeing the work and how it is made. My studio was open for three weekends and it was a pleasure to show the presses and work that often does not get an airing:

 Here was one unexpected visitor who came in, posed for this photo and then allowed itself to be carried outisde to a nearby rose bush:

In recent years, I have been pleased to have been asked to exhibit at the Old Fire Engine House,in Ely. This normally happens every other year and this year's show opened in early July and carries on until the end of August so there is still time to visit and see how my work looks when framed and grouped on the walls of a pleasant domestic setting. The food here is also very good!

Sales have been very good and unframed examples are available to take away with you, or framed work can be collected at the end of the exhibition.

The exhibition continues until the end of August.

Another place where you can see my work at the moment is in the wonderful Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds. Fifty of my engravings are on display there until 27th October as part of "The Wonder Of Woodcuts". I still have to visit and I will write more when I return. I am looking forwards to going there very much as the range of work that they show is remarkable. In the meantime, here is a link:

and here are some photos from their website:

As at Ely, unframed examples are available. The work will be on display until 27th October 2018.

Finally, I was very pleased to hear that "Garden Plants For Bees" is not only one of my engravings accepted for the forthcoming SWE touring exhibition, but it is also the winner of the Sheila Honigsberg Book Illustration Prize. I remember Sheila well and it is an honour to win an award in her name: