Friday, December 30, 2005

More of the Partridge

Yes - I should have given the dimensions of the Partridge (below). It is 4.5 x 2" - quite a tiny thing but big enough with all the detail. If any of you are part of the SSNW exchange, then you will be receiving one before too long.

New Year bekons and O is organising a party for his friends. Leaving J and I to organise what WE will do while all the jollification is going on and to rustle up enougfh beds for those who cannot make it home.

Good news - the studio is all swept out and clean - finally! I ought to post a new photo while it looks good.I installed J's Christmas present to me, a stereo system, and have piled up a bunch of CDs to cheer me through the engraving days and printing nights. Perhaps I will spend New Year's Eve there?

With Love to you all and very best wishes for 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Partridge In a Pear Tree

Here is an engraving that I made for a seasonal project. I was pleased with the results. In the background, you can see the unmistakable profile of the medieval cathedral of Ely, viewed across the fields, pretty much as one sees it from our house. J and I attended the midnight service at the cathedral on Christmas Eve and it was a magical and timeless setting to hear some wonderful singing. Seasons greetings to you all!
 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Music Became Stone, Wood and Glass

I left the ink, press and paper last night and drove a short distance to hear Robert Fripp play Soundscapes in Sutton church. I arrived in time to sit and sketch, which always separates me from the relentless onslaught of life.

RF was introduced and he seated himself on a stool surrounded by sound equipment, pedals and two beautiful Les Paul guitars - always my favourite shape. He started in silence, looking up and around the people who had gathered for the celebration with a charming smile that engaged everyone and drew them in. I realised that if one were to score the performance, it would have to start with several bars of silence and smiling.

Knowing what was to come next, I watched faces around me as the sounds started to grow; I loved the looks of delight and wonder as this man with the smile of a sage coaxed unbelievable music from his guitar. I love music in a sacred space and wondered what preparation had gone into making a soundscape that involved the building, occasion, listeners and musician so completely. It was an intensely moving performance that carried me away from the pressures of life and the aches of my age. Inside me, a slim young man with a mass of hair was sitting cross-legged in a concert hall. Around me, music became stone, wood and glass. It swept through the building in waves and subsided into bells. I sat in quiet meditation for some time after the final notes had died away.

After the improvisations had finished and RF had walked out into the Fenland night. I drove home, walked to the studio and carried on printing the front of our Christmas cards. I kept my positive mood alive by playing "Love Cannot Bear" (live soundscapes) rather loud and filling a large mug with tea. As the music surrounded me I performed the slow and repetitive ballet that is printing on a Victorian iron handpress. I worked until midnight, cleaned up the ink, locked the studio door and walked towards the house in a tired but very satisfied daze.

A few days earlier, I had been asked if I had a blank engraved bookplate for a book to be presented to mark the occasion. I had nothing suitable and so I sat down and drew something. With so much work to do, it was immensely enjoyable to stop and sit down for a few minutes to do this just for the sheer pleasure of drawing; to do something spontaneously simply because I wanted to. It seemed to be a very luxurious act.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Well this dampened paper business was never going to be simple. I have never tried it for a whole edition until and I need 110 perfect copies - soon.

I started off on Saturday morning and the results were disastrous. The ink simply did not adhere to the paper enough to give a good black - just a washed out grey. In the end, I gave up, went indoors, lit a log fire and watched the rugby. I was out of sorts for the rest of the day but then had something of a brainwave in the evening which ascribed my failure to the low temperature in the studio. I had noted that the ink was very stiff while I was rolling it. I resolved to try again in the morning.

Sunday morning was another crisp clear and cold morning. I boosted the temperature in the studio with another heater and propped the glass inking slab, and a tube of ink over a small oil filled radiator. At this point, we took Bella out for a gloriously sunny walk through the lanes and the nature reserve. When I returned, the studio was piping hot and the ink slab warm. I selected the music (live improvised ambient soundscapes by Robert Fripp) and made a large mug of steaming tea before setting to work.

The ink was much runnier and a first attempt with dry Zerkall paper gave a lovely impression. I took the sheets of dampened Saunders watercolour paper and started to print. Things went very well indeed and I printed about 70 copies in about two hours. Things were starting to go wrong at this point. The prints were starting to smudge, as if the paper was shifting under the tympan. In the end, I lost five copies in a row and decided to give up again. I remade the packing but this didn't solve things. I tried a print with a loose card and paper pad between the block and tympan but had the same problem. I am sure that the problem is in the packing and I have redesigned this with a view of starting again this evening. I checked the prints, which are drying with interleaved sheets of paper between boards with bricks on top (neatly wrapped in brown paper) to keep them flat. I have 58 reasonable copies so I need over 60 more before I can finish this job. I was hoping to get this done over the weekend as I have engraving work to do. Its certainly put the dampeners on things!

Still, yesterday evening was lovely with a log fire, candles round the room, a bottle of good wine and Bruckner's 9th Symphony in the background - well you have to get away from the ink sometimes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Garden Engraving

I showed this engraving "on the block" a few days ago and here it is finished. It shows part of the garden that we have made behind our house. The seat at the top is a ghreat place to catch the last rays of a setting sun. I am printing this for a book project which involved much heavier paper that I am used to. As a result, I am dampening the paper - something that I do not normally do. I was staggered by the results and this is making me rethink how I might print larger blocks. This has pleased me as I feel I am really learning something from this process. At the same time, it shows that my modest press can cope successfully with larger blocks on rougher paper.

I have decided to use paper left in the studio of my dear friend Pam Hughes. I was given the paper when I helped clear the studio after she passed away. One of the dimentions is 11". Lo and behold, these sheets are already trimmed to 11". Sometimes you just know that things are meant to be. Thanks Pam - keep on looking out for me. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Venus and Adonis

Sunday was spent at the Oxford Fine Press Fair. This was my first opportunity to see "Venus and Adonis" finished. Even as I arrived, I was met with praise and congratulations for the engravings. It turned out that for, this book, Barbarian Press had been shortlisted for the Gregynog Prize, to be " awarded to the FPBA member who, in the opinion of the judges, has produced the finest book using traditional letterpress techniques in the period since the last Oxford Fine Press Book Fair".

When I finally saw the book, I was blown away. The design, printing and binding are all superb. I felt so honoured to be involved in the project. I particularly like the calligraphy that Crispin commissioned for the book. I have posted some photographs below so that you can get a flavour of the book. Click on any of the images to enlarge it. It will soon be available from the Barbarian Press website and through dealers on

I really enjoyed the fair, catching up with lots of old friends and meeting new ones; it was particularly enjoyable to meet the engraver Abigail Rorer.

The Book

The book itself is a very handsome object, long and thin with printed pattern paper and label on the spine; a joy to hold. Now it is time to open it.
Dont forget that you can enlarge any of the photographs by clicking on them. Posted by Picasa


Venus reclines beside a pool and spies Adonis approaching and our story is about to begin. I love the design of this book - and the wonderful calligraphy that Crispin has used Posted by Picasa

Opening Page

I had no part in this page but I love it for the wonderful calligraphy and typography. Posted by Picasa

The Hare and the Roe

This is the engraving that I enjoy the most from this set. As always, Jan has printed this block to perfection. If I never engraved again, I hope that people would remember me fondly for this image alone. Posted by Picasa

The Lark

Readers of this blog will have already seen the lark as a block and as a proof copy. Here it is at the top of its page as planned. Posted by Picasa


The final engraving (apart from the press device) with more beautiful calligraphy. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

At Work

I thought I would end todays long overdue splash of blog activity with some current work. This block is a material called "Resingrave". It is inferior to wood for much of my really detailed work but I do like it for larger and looser things as it is relatively inexpensive and does engrave well, especially the newest formula.

This project is a fairly loosely observed sketch of part of our garden. It is nearly ready to proof now so I will keep you up to date with its progress.
Even with the broader treatment I am giving the marks, I stll keep the magnifying glass handy to inspect the tiniest areas. Posted by Picasa

Nearly a Birthday!

I have already published this photograph on my Albion Press blog but I also wanted to show it here. It is just about a year since my Albion arrived and it is working well. I have replaced/repaired missing parts and I just need a drop handle to work the mechanism that winds the bed in and out. In the background are favourite engravings by Pam Hughes, Ben Sands, Peter Reddick and a lithograph by Carel Weight (I seldom display my own work). This is a happy place to work and a real refuge from the madness... Posted by Picasa


Well Autumn is definitely knocking on the door and I am resigned to cooler days. We have been reaping the benefits, thought, and Joan made the first batch of crab-apple jelly from the hedgerows. I have tidied up the garden and garage and took a van full to the "tip". I normally take a little money as they sell things that people have discarded. I normally come home with flowerpots, an office chair or somethng similar.
This time I returned with a large flowerpot and two framed pictures - all for £4. The first was an etching by Walter Dexter.

Now Walter Dexter was probably the first artist who caught my young eye during an early visit to Kings Lynn museum in the county of Norfolk. I remember a painting of a workshop - rather like my Grandfathers' workshop - and a wonderful landscape of Kings Lynn seen across the river. These pictures made me feel something for the first time - possibly because I was seeing them for real, rather than looking at reproductions in books. Now I finally own a Walter Dexter. It shows the porch of St. Margarets Church in Lynn (I met my wife a very short walk from this doorway); it is inscribed "No.1" away from the image. There is a little staining on the sheet but the image is good.

The second picture was a suprise. It is a sheet of illustrations by a very well respected French artist called Paul Destez, who worked around 1900. I love penwork from this era and this love helped establish my decision to work in black and white. It now joins works by Robert Anning Bell and Ernest Shepard in my collection of original pen illustrations. Incidently, Destez was either an engraver or engravings were made from his designs. I think probably the latter. I have posted images of both pictures.
An etching by Walter Dexter. Posted by Picasa
A sheet of Illustrations by French Artist Paul Destez. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Spam, Spam, Doves and Spam

Having finally posted details from the Venus and Adonis Illustrations, I was pleased to see comments but then disappointed to see that they are all obviously from spammers, promoting their products. Is there no escape from these people? Now I need to work out how to remove comments - or is my only option to turn off the comments - a great shame.

You may remember the saga of the doves. I finally sent the second block as I wasn't satisfied with the first. Sadly, the second developed a fault during printing so I made a third. Again, there does seem to be a problem with the wood - quite crumbly so I sat down again last night and engraved version four. I will proof tonight and post tomorrow. I never want to engrave a dove ever again!

Well, apart from those rants, things are good over here. The days are still quite warm and life goes on in a generally pleasing fashion. What more does one need? I ought to count my blessings more. My eBay sales are going quite well and I should make this month's payment on the press and save something towards having a drop handle made.

My next task is to make sure that I have plently of stock for a forthcoming weekend in North Essex where I will be demonstrating my work and, hopefully, selling engravings in an encouraging quantity. It has been a long time since I took myself out like this and I am looking forwards to it as, beneath the serious and reticent exterior, I do rather like to show off what I do.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Venus & Adonis Image Splash

I have scanned my Venus and Adonis illustrations and will give you a tantalising glimpse of some of the things that can be seen around the fringes of the "action" that is taking place. These "nature notes" became an important feature of my designs and subsequent wood engravings.
Reflections Posted by Picasa
Butterfly Posted by Picasa
Primroses Posted by Picasa
Bluebells Posted by Picasa
Another butterfly Posted by Picasa
Last One - from the tailpice Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Back To The Old Routine

Things are back to normal since I finished the V&A blocks. I had a good clean and tidy in the studio and got to work on the BM bookplate. This is a great favourite of mine with a formal garden seen through a window. There is a lot of detail and it is time consuming but immensely rewarding. Unfortunately I havehad to break off for another illness - one that has left me with dizzyness and an earache that makes engraving an arduous affair. I will soon be ready to proof and print, however.

I need to reclaim my scanner - last seen in my younger son's lair - so that I can post some details from the V&A blocks.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I have finished! The last of the V&A blocks is in the post and I prey for a fast and safe journey for it to Canada. The final day was crowded. I was up at 6am to work before breakfast. I taught a full day at college, engraving in my lunch hour and then was back in the studio for the evening. The proofs ran to five states and I finally had the block packed at 12:30 am.

I think that I did a good job. This is the best sequence of prints that I have ever done. I am only too aware of the faults but if I waited until I was satisfied then nothing would ever leave the studio. I am proud of the achievement and look forwards to seeing the finished book. Jan at Barbarian Press is one of the finest printers of engravings and I won't really see the images for the first time until I have seen her printing from them. I am not going to publish images here or on my website as this is commissioned work but I have decided to follow this in a few days with a splash of details from some of the images to whet people's appetite. All being well, the book should be ready it time for Oak Knoll at the beginning of October.

Now I am frantically catching up with life. I am cutting a long overdue bookplate and sorting out forthcoming commissions. I am participating in a show opening at the Salon International de la Gravure in Morhange in France very soon and, as I am treating it as something of a retrospective and showing over forty engravings, I need to have enough unframed work to take to sell. This means lots of packing but also some printing. After than, my artistic life should quieten down a little to one or two commissioned blocks a month as I design and illustrate the first book for my own Oak Apple Press.

I am too tired to celebrate finishing V&A but to spend last evening with my family, rather than out in the studio was something of a treat for me - and, hopefully, for them as well.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Slow Inch by Slow Inch

Quite a good day, today. Took the lurcher out for walks, fed the chickens, drank mugs of steaming tea and listened to England playing some magnificent cricket against the old enemy - the Aussies in the Test Match, a five day ordeal for the teams but great excitement for the listener or watcher. I engraved throughout the day, inch by inch. Things are going well for a spell but I am such a slow worker. Each of those inches seem to take an absolute age - planning the marks, choosing the tool,executing the cut and assessing the marks in terms of the form, the light, even the feel of the piece. Working towards another proof - please let it be good enough work.

The sands of time are slowly but surely running out on this project. This evening will be cutting and proofing; the night will be planning tomorrow's work. Tomorrow morning will be more cutting. Hmmmmm. Time, I think, for more tea!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Working In Dreamtime

Still feeling ill but I'm getting there. I didn't finish the block yesterday - just too much sleeping and too little engraving. I did, however, have a curious experience. At one stage, I woke up having dreamed that I was still engraving. My memory was fresh enough to go out and repeat the cuts in real life. I'm not surprised, as my work dominates my waking thoughts. Actually, there is little to do on that block before I proof and make the final adjustments.

I was feeling a little better today but this morning was taken up taking A to and from a medical appointment and getting to the bank. My head was still fuzzy but this started to clear during the afternoon and I made preparations for more engraving on the final part block. I have a detailed figure drawing and I divided it into areas of different tones. This leads to a very complex drawing but, once it is transferred to the block, the engraving work is quite fast. I have set myself the target of posting the blocks on Monday but I know that this is a huge task, given that I feel so weak and dizzy. No more engraving tonight but I will carry on working on the drawing ready to transfer it to the block tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Back from California with wonderful memories and a virus that has hit me hard. Yesterday, I just slept on and off until the evening, when I dragged myself into the studio to engrave, with deadline looming. Up at 5:30am this morning, hoping to carry on but just collapsed into a chair and slept. I go into the studio, engrave a few minutes until I just cannot focus and then sleep some more. Looks like this will be the pattern for the rest of the day; it is really important that I finish this block today so I can work on the other part page tomorrow.

People still ask if I do this for fun!

Of course it is, but that doesn't mean that there are not stresses, particularly not wanting to let people down. I have kept my order books closed until Feb. 2006 but may take on a Christmas card later this year so that I can meet the repayments on the press.

Back to California. The highspot? Probably the big black bear that ambled across our trail in Yosemite. It stood a few feet away and watched us and then turned away (thankfully). No time to reach for my sketchbook so I shot a short video. It was big - much bigger than ones that I have seen in captivity. I feel an engraving coming on!

Off to work then. My head is still spinning a little so I will keep to simple stuff.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Californian Bird Life

Here are some Brown Pelicans Posted by Picasa
Sorry about the silence. We are making our way through California and having a fantastic time. We moved from L.A. to Santa Barbara and then to Los Osos by Morro Bay. Yesterday we had a fantastic drive along the Pacific Coastal Highway to Big Sur and then stayed at Santa Cruz. Tonight we are in Yosemite, where we will stay for three nights before swinging back to the coast and Berkeley, then San Francisco. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cutting and Proofing

Another productive day. The wedding block and tail-piece are proofed with just a little adjustment to make on each. The corals are particularly striking and I am very pleased with the work - unusually after the first proof. It will only need a few more minutes work.

There is a little more to be done for the tail piece - a series of small adjustments that will take about an hour. All of this is to be done early tomorrow morning as it is my father's 80th birthday and we will be spending the rest of the day with him.

The fritillary design is ready to transfer to the block. Hopoefully I can start that late tomorrow night to finish by Wednesday lunchtime. Its all go! I'm really starting to look forwards to a holiday.
This is the block for the wedding project just before I inked it and took the first proof. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Hospital, The Bottle and Cracking On

Yesterday got off to a slowish start as I took my older son to Hospital for an appoinment. Actually, things worked out rather well as I took my V&A file with me and, after about an hour of waiting, thinking and sketching, I had finalised designs for two of the part blocks that I had not yet started: the press device and the fritillary. The former is going to be another suprise and so I will not show it here. It involves a large number of elements and I spent much of the rest of the day drawing these pieces, fitting them together and then reducing the drawing to fit the 2 x 2" boxwood block that I have been saving for this particular image. By 6pm, the drawing was transferred to the block ready for the engraving.

After the appointment this morning, A and I walked through the small city of Ely. There is a craft and collectors market each Saturday and I was pleased to find a lovely ceramic bottle made at the Leach Pottery in St. Ives by Trevor Corser. This is my second piece by TC and it is a fine piece of work. The very low asking price put a spring in my step; I love a bargain!

No work on Saturday evening as we travelled to a nearby village to celebrate the wedding of two friends. They live on a farm and the evening was perfect: great weather, good food and dancing in the farmyard to a band who played from the open doors of a barn. Its good to take a break eh?

This morning (Sunday) saw me busy engraving the press deevice. Box is such a lovely wood to work on, especially if lots of detail is needed. I engraved throughout the day, taking breaks to walk the dog and clear up. The block was finished this evening and I had meant to take a proof but we spent far too long looking for a hotel in Berkeley, CA - that last night to fix up on out American adventure.

I did manage to transfer the design for the wedding project onto its block. I will be engraving this as I crack on with the V&A blocks as its sometimes good to hget away from a project for a few minutes.

Its late. I'm tired. So I wish you a "Good Night", gentle reader.
Here is the block for the Wedding project. I have carefully drawn out the design in reverse onto the block. I will now darken the wood slightly with diluted "Quink" ink so that the light emerges as I engrave. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Advertising My Albion Handpress Blog

This is just by way of an advertisement for my new blog. This tells the story of the continuing restoration of my Albion Handpress.You can follow the story here:

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Productivity Saturday

Quite a productive day, today. Once again, I juggled references and sketches for V&A as I give "If He Be..." a rest and work on one of the full page illustrations. I keep tweaking the sketches to play with the balance of light and dark or reveal a shapely ankle, or more. It is good, sometimes, to lay down the graver and think about design. It must be right before I cut the wood and there is no going back.

I also sneaked a few minutes sorting through type - I have to find some way to get my hands dirty if I'm not printing.

The "doves" block is finally on eBay and I look forwards to seeing if anyone is interested. If I get anything at all, it will go towards new wood for future projects.

Finally, I scanned and emailed the sketch for the EW wedding invitation. This is a very exciting project involving corals at night illuminated by moonlight filtering through the water.

And now I can take an evening off as its party time out there in the Fens. Have yourselves a great weekend, faithful readers!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Into the Type Cave

Over fifteen years ago, I bought the contents of a small print workshop. It was a modest collection of old worn type and other odds and ends but I always wanted to print letterpress so I went ahead and made my purchase. An immediate problem was storage.

I made good use of much of the type in the early 1990s when I made small books for my own "Isle Handpress". After that, the type just sat there as I concentrated on developing my wood engraving. I have recently renewed my interest in letterpress and I have acquired small amounts of display type. However, I was short of larger amounts of founts suitable for text.

Recently, I have been told that the room that I teach in is being refurbished. I have been going through the room and its cupboards and throwing out the accumulatiuon of twenty-five years of clutter. I pulled out a tall cabinet in a walk-in cupboard and felt the same delight as Howard Carter must have done on first looking into the tomb of Tutankhamun - twenty-five cases of type that I had salted away like a squirrel. Here were old friends: Blado, Albertus and Cantebury. Best of all was the discovery of many cases of Melior and Times Roman - enough to get me started on setting text.

I have been engraving "If He Be Dead" for V&A. I started by very very carefully defining the tones on the face and now, exilerated and relieved that things are going well, ripping through the wood for the shirt. Great Fun!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Image Splash

I promised some images to illustrate recent posts. Here they are. As usual, some of them can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

Here is a larger block for V&A, "If He Be Dead..." You can see how I have divided the figure into areas of tones, based on my original drawing. Posted by Picasa

Here is the snail - the last "spot" for V&A in the block before the first proof was taken. Posted by Picasa

And here is the snail in person - or, at least, in ink. Posted by Picasa