Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Gothic Hare

Earlier this year, I wrote briefly about visiting the "Gothic" exhibition at the British Library and ended that piece with a sketch. Its time to pick up the threads of that post and finish the story.

Here is the first sketch again:

Here is a more developed sketch, containing all the information I needed to engrave:

I make an engraving last year called Moonlit Ambling using an artificial Resingrave block and decided to do the same with this print. My work on boxwood has become even finer, especially with bookplates and so this is something of an antidote to that, forcing me to work a little more boldly.

I started with the hare. I have darkened the block with some black printing ink mixed with solvent. The light tone lets be see both my pencil lines and the engraved marks:

Next, I started to draw the Gothic arch, enjoying an opportunity to use my imagination:

I decided from the start that I would shape the block. I needed to cut the surface away quite drastically to prevent picking up ink from the edges so I reached for a saw and chisel and did the job thoroughly!

After a few days working on the engraving, it was time to pull the first proof, always an exciting time. No matter how well one thinks things are going, you never really know until you see a proof.

As it happened, I was very pleased with the result but with one reservation. There seemed just a little too much foreground. I used paper to mask off the lower edge and this confirmed my thought. More drastic action; another saw!

This time I was happy and there were just a few areas that needed a little more light and a spot of tidying up around the edges:

Here is the finished engraving. I like the almost cheeky expression. The eye was designed to put one in mind of the moon.

"A Gothic Hare" measures 190 x 85mm and is available in an edition of 125, printed in a 1902 Albion Handpress onto smooth Zerkall paper. Buy from my Etsy Store

You will be able to see this engraving at the first Hepworth Wakefield Print Fair. I will have a large selection of my engravings, hhand printed books and, as usual, I will be engraving at my table so you can see how it all happens. It would be great to see you in Yorkshire on 21st/22nd March. Admission is free. If you did want to buy from me, I should point out that I can't take credit cards so bring your chequebook or cash.

"A Gothic Hare" also features in an exciting book called "The Artful Hare" which will be available later Spring/early Summer. I have several more engravings included - and yu can see one of my hares peeping at you from the back cover. More news about this book when it is available.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Blake at the Ashmolean and at Home

We drove to Oxford in February for an early birthday treat at the Ashmolean Museum:
We certainly weren't disappointed. This was the largest exhibition dedicated to William Blake that I had attended since the one at the Tate I had visited back in 1978. In some ways this was more interesting for me because of how the exhibition was arranged to include the three periods of apprenticeship, development and mastery of his printed books and then the influence the old Blake had on younger followers.

Blake was always my hero - coming from a family of  Blakes helped develop my interest as a child.
Having been a young collector myself, scratching around in junk shops and bookshops with my pocket money, I was delighted to hear about the ten year old Blake attending auctions and buying Old Master Prints.

The young Blake was apprenticed to the great engraver James Basire, whose name I knew from my own childhood when my Grandfather gave me this Basire engraving after a design by Guercino:


I had seen very little of Blake's early work, making this exhibition a real treat. I am more familiar to his hand printed and coloured books but it is still a special occasion to see so many on display.

Another unexpected treat was to find a reconstruction of Blake's press and studio, complete with Durer's "Melencolia I"on the wall. Here is the press:

There was a lovely group of works by the young artists who were influenced by Blake, including some very fine etchings by Samuel Palmer. There was also a wonderful quote by Palmer which sums up the act of pulling a print well:

"Something of the excitement of gambling, without its guilt and ruin"

Those who know my love of Blake will know of my gentle obsession with his wood engravings, especially the oak tree, moon and wind blown wheatfield. I was very excited to see that the original drawing and woodblock were on display:

Back home, and on my birthday, I received the catalogue as a gift. It is a fine book and I am enjoying reading it from cover to cover:

The Blake wood engravings for Thornton's Virgil are reproduced very well:

 I am very lucky to have found two impressions of my favourite engraving pulled from Blake's original engraved woodblock. The first is lightly inked on a wove paper and the second more fully inked on a smoother paper. Both delight me, as you can imagine.


This engraving still influences me in my work.

Another delight; we have a new Grandson, Blake English.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


I was very pleased when the British Library acquired my portfolio of wood engravings which I made to illustrate The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. I was even more pleased when asked for permission to feature one of the engravings in the catalogue of "Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination" an exhibition that would "trace 250 years of the Gothic tradition and explore our fascination of the mysterious, the terrifying and the macabre".

The accompanying book arrived and I could see that the whole exhibition was going to be something that I would enjoy very much.

It is more of a book than simply a catalogue and it repays careful reading.

Engraving work and Christmas then intervened and it became a bit of a rush to get down to London to see the exhibition. It was every bit as good as I had anticipated, especially since this genre of visual and written art (and architecture) really appeals to me. Seeing my own work included in the form of four very well mounted engravings was the icing on the cake:

The exhibition continues until 20th January 2015 and I strongly recommend it.

Gothic themes are starting to invade my artistic vision again. I have always enjoyed the dark, ruinous and decaying elements of landscape and I have several ideas ready to set out in my sketch book. The first of these, which I am about to engrave, is provisionally titled " Gothic Hare":

While in London, we visited "Ancient Lives new discoveries" at the British museum, continuing until 19th April 2015 and, again, thoroughly recommend it.

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

Monday, December 01, 2014

From Provence to a Badger Part 2

So... where were we? We were in Provence, surrounded by trees and looking at a statue of a wild boar.

So what on Earth has this to do with a badger?

I have been planning an engraving of a badger for a couple of years but I haven't encountered one - alive - in the village. For me, the subject of a wildlife engraving is like an actor - it needs a stage. When I have encountered an owl hunting in a meadow, I can set it in the same location. My engraving "I Can See You Mister Hare" showed a real hare that I had been watching in a barley field. The badger in my mind had nowhere to inhabit.

Back to Provence. I was sitting out on a cool terrace while the wedding was in full swing and I was drawn to the the effect of the moonlight on a line of trees. I started to engrave in my mind. The moon became a "Samuel Palmer" moon. You know - this sort of thing:

In front of the trees, I imagined some shrubs and a meadow and the stage was set for a badger to come ambling towards the viewer, hair glistening in the moonlight.

Later, back at home, I could start to make a drawing, working on powerful shoulders and level, fearless gaze:

I made a start with the engraving. You can see that I am not using wood but experimenting with Resingrave, an artificial substitute for boxwood. It isn't a material that I habitually use and I don't find it as pleasing as wood but I felt that it might suit the marks that I had in mind to make. In the end, I was very happy with the results of this experiment.

Printing turned out to be one of those rare moments that we dream about. I inked the block and pulled a proof but there was a smudge in the corner so I inked and pulled again and there it was. Nothing needed to be done to this and the first state was also the final state; I could make a start on the edition, using a very smooth version of my usual Zerkall paper.

Within a few days, "Moonlitt Ambling" was framed and hanging in my exhibition at The Old Fire Engine House in Ely:

... and here it is:

"Moonlit Ambling"      100 x 75 mm.      Edition of 100

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This engraving is now available on my website as well as from my Etsy online store.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

From Provence to a Badger Part 1

Yes its an odd title but I hope that it makes sense in the end. We were invited to a wedding in the South of France in the late summer and, since we had planned to be in France that very week, we set our sights to the warm south and enjoyed out first visit to Provence.

The first thing that really caught my eye while driving from the airport was the long ridge of  Mont Sainte-Victoire, that I knew so well from many paintings by Cezanne.

Something that impressed me from the start was the aroma of the countryside, which was rich with herbs; the late summer heat was another pleasure.

The wedding was unforgettable and took place in lovely surroundings. The trees that surrounded the chateau feature later in this story; here is a typical view:

But let's set those trees aside for a while. We attended two days of the wedding and then explored for a couple more days. We were fairly close to Vence which attracted me for a couple of reasons but, even before exploring those, it yielded other pleasures, such as this lovely mosaic by Chagall in the small but handsome cathedral:

One of the reasons why Vence interested me is that the Cambridge wood engraver Gwen Raverat lived there with her husband Jacques until his early death. I love her engravings of the town and one hangs in my printing studio. Here is another...

... and how it looked in 2014: 

Another draw was the "Matisse" chapel. I had seen the designs for this at the Matisse "Cut-Outs" exhibition at Tate Modern and it was exciting to glimpse the building in the distance as we walked towards it:

Here is an exterior detail but photography is not allowed inside, which did help to maintain the wonderful atmosphere of this sacred space. We were given a very good tour of the interior. You can see more here:


The next day found us beside the sea in St Tropez, watching the waves, the people and the yachts:

All too soon, it was time to prepare to return to a chillier England but I was taking an idea back with me which involved those trees at the chateau, glimpsed on a moonlight night as I sat out on a cool terrace, escaping from the heat and sounds of the dancing.

All will be revealed in part 2!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Artist's Proofs

Some of the engravings available on my website are Artist's Proofs and I have explained what they are during conversations at events I have sold at, but never discussed them here - so here goes.

Googling "Artist's Proofs" is interesting, especially since the results show so many variations in interpretation. This is my practice. Say I print an edition of one hundred engravings for sale, they are signed and numbered 1/100 to 100/100. In addition I print some additional proofs which I have always regarded as being for my own use. When I started to do this, the general opinion was that these proofs should number 10% of the edition. I sign them and mark them "A/P". In recent editions, I have taken to numbering them as well ("A/P 1/10").

These are mine to dispose of. I give them as gifts, exchange them with other artists, give them to be sold for charities and, sometimes, sell them. Some of my most popular engravings, "The Fossil Collectors" and "Walking Towards Ely", and only available now as very small numbers of remaining Artist's Proofs.

Here are some more examples. They are all private commissions where there is no numbered edition for sale but I have my Artist's Proofs, which are available in very small numbers at £40 each with free postage and packing.:

 "Sparky" is an elderly Border Terrier who I eventually met in person. No longer as sparky as he once was, he was very charming. Available for Purchase here

Unlike Sparky, I never met this handsome fellow in person. Available for Purchase here

"Woody" lives close to the studio and he is strong and full of character (and not too keen to pose)
Available for Purchase Here

(On a technical note, sometimes the links to my web store lead to a "blank" page but refreshing it brings up all the details)

I should add that as an "Engraver For Hire" I do undertake commissioned work like the examples shown here but, because of high demand, I cannot always do this at short notice

My Ely exhibition is going well and still has a couple of weeks to run. Scroll down my blog for full details.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Old Fire Engine House Exhibition 2014

This is my third exhibition at The Old Fire Engine House in Ely. It is a restaurant and gallery and I think that the domestic setting it offers presents my work very well and I am very pleased to have been invited to show there again. The exhibition contains 46 engravings and continues until 3rd November 2014. I hope that you will be able to visit.

I have included many recent pieces and some were made especially for this exhibition, including my long planned badger, which I will feature in another post very soon.

My exhibition continues until 3rd November 2014 at
25 St Mary's St, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB7 4ER
Opening times:
10.30am-10.30pm Monday-Friday,
10.30am-5.30pm Saturday,
9.30pm-5.30pm Sunday excluding lunchtime, Closed Bank Holiday

Sometimes the room is used for dining and if you are travelling a long way, you might like to check with the gallery that the prints are accessible on 01353 662582 (they almost always are).

This venue is also a fine place to enjoy coffee , lunch or an evening meal.