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:

Monday, April 09, 2018

Feed The Bees - a new miniature engraved book.

I have made handmade books since 1991, publishing them under the name "The Isle Handpress".
My miniature books are engraved completely, including the text. This makes them a lengthy but pleasurable undertaking. I normally have a couple of  ideas for future tiny volumes.

I have wanted to make another bee related project since my stamps for Royal Mail. This time I decided to concentrate on plants which we might grow in our gardens to encourage bees to visit.
I started with a list of plants from our own garden and it seemed sensible to divide them into seasonal groups, paring each one down to a list of four or five favourites. These lists became four little sketches, whcih I then redrew, more carefully, into a line of images.

I had already decided to engrave these designs on two woodblocks, each one was divided by a careful saw cut. I darkened the surface slightly, outlined the design in ink and started to engrave:

It is a sensible idea to take the first proof before the cutting is completed as it is easier to see how the marks look once they are printed. Here are the first and second states of the first block - you can see how the right hand print has developed with an extra day of engraving:

Once I was happy with the first block, I made a start on the second. You will notice that some plants cross over between the blocks, in the same way that they might spread over more than one season.

When I was happy with the four seasonal gatherings of plants, I started to design and engrave the texts. I kept the title page simple but added a couple of bees which I based on one from the postage stamp artwork, keeping a link between the two projects:

The colophon involved more text but the boxwood block was large enough to include another bee and to make a floral flourish, based on the sunflowers from the Autumn engraving:

The four blocks had slightly different thicknesses so it took a morning to set them up on the larger albion and use paper makeready to adjust the height of each one until I was happy with how they printed:

I have a stock of Mohawk superfine paper in the studio which I used for my first miniature book, "A Prospect Of Ely". I remember this printing well and so I decided to use it again. Here is one of the printed sheets being trimmed on the hand guillotene:

I had already planned to use the top half of the title page as labels. I printed these on a cream Zerkall paper using the small Albion. Here they are before trimming:

The cream label looked good against the cover paper I had chosen, hand marbled by Kate Brett of Payhembury Marbled papers. The small scale of the book led me to choose paper with a small pattern. I liked the blue/green/grey tone of the colour:

I cut grey card to size for the boards and pasted paper over it. Like my previous two, this was to be bound as a concertina book, tied by ribbon laces. After some thought, I decided on an olive green ribbon and glued the ties on the boards, ready to attach the folded engravings:

Here is the finished book. It is small but packed with fine detail. It measures just by 8.2 x 5cm. Each one is numbered and signed in pencil:

 I settled on an edition of 120 copies. Numbers 1 - 20 will be hand coloured and each one will have small differences. Again, this links back to the stamp designs, which were hand coloured:

I usually only sell these books directly at events I attend but I have been asked if I will offer them online so I am putting some in my Etsy store. Here is the link:

Please note that I am making the hand coloured edition in groups and that the first two batches have sold out. I will list five more in a couple of days.

I will also add some of my other two miniature books: