Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Secret Bookplate

I have finally finished this. Phew!

One hundred trimmed bookplates in a handmade box. The original sketch and twenty-five signed and numbered prints in a handmade folder. I'm away for a night. Copy 1/25 is framed in a planed oak frame. Job done!

I will post picture on Friday, so I don't spoil the suprise.

Back to V&A. So many of the blocks are poised to start. I think that I will be working on several at once. Bring them on, as they say.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Wilting and the Printing Ceremony

Work is piling up but the heat is starting to get to me. I didn't engrave at all yesterday but did do some planning towards V&A - I must make up for it today, hopefully starting the last spot. I have given myself a choice of either a snail or berries and may go for the latter now. If I really crack on, I may do both and leave the choice to the Barbarians. I still want to stick to posting the small blocks after the weekend.

I really had to drag myself to the press last night but did make fifty copies of the "surprise" bookplate. This would be nothing on a motorised, self-inking press but its a slow business on the Albion and, I suppose, I prefer it that way.

Once the block is fixed in the bed of the press and the makeready has been sorted out (see a recent post and photo) then I start to print the edition. There is a lovely sense of ceremony to this, even when the heat is making me wilt. Firstly, I spread some ink on the slab and roll it out to "open" it and establish that lovely "hiss" as the roller (brayer) is moved over the ink. I tend to leave the ink for a few moments and carry out the paper tearing ceremony.

I have a draw full of my favourite Zerkall paper. It is smooth, off white and perfect for printing engravings. Each sheet is torn into different sizes, depending on the job. This is a 2" x 3" bookplate which will be trimmed close to the image so I was making 3" x 4" pieces. I made about 100 pieces - more than enough for tonight - and set them out in piles of ten.

Printing, in itself, has a wonderful rhythm and routine. I often use ambient music to set the mood but, last night, I chose the Yonder Mountain String Band to lift my flagging spirits a little. I set down a steaming mug of tea (yes, even in the hottest weather) and inked the block.

Starting in the centre, I push the brayer into the corners and then make a few single strokes down the block. Setting down the brayer, I take a piece of paper, check that the slightly smoother side is down and deftly lay it on the block - a slow deliberate movement to minimise the change of smudging. The card tympan is layed over and the bed is slid on its rails to a position underneath the platen. I brace my knee against the rail and pull the bar towards me until I can feel the pressure build. I judge the point to stop and let the press dwell there for a moment. I gently returen the bar and slide the bed out to a point where I can flip back the tympan and carefully peel off the paper.

I inspect the print and anything that it substandard is rejected and torn into the recycling bin. I print in batches of ten. If there is a reject, I take a separate sheet so that the finished pile of prints has the full ten. I worked through five piles to achieve 50 prints - half of the edition. I rejected four prints. More thanI would like but, perhaps, not bad under the circumstances.

And that, beloved readers, was my evening. Another fifty to go tonight!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New Doves Rise Phoenix-Like From The Wood

With the PM bookplate posted last night and the surprise bookplate ready for printing, I am returing to Venus & Adonis. My last, rather hurried, attempt at the doves ended up, as regular readers will recall, with the cutting of a block that showed two of the most evil doves ever seen.

I do, sometimes, have to repeat a block. I don't really mind with a small work as the new block will almost always be an improvement on the old. I started the new block yesterday and did some more this morning. So far, so good. Actually, things are looking very promising. I will try to get an "in progress" photograph posted later. I need to work steadily now. It is tempting to keep on cutting without standing back and taking a good look. It is best to take the first proof with a little bit to do. One can always cut more out but if the cutting is taken too far, it can be difficult to pull things round. It would be great to have this more or less done tonight so that I can get the last spot finished before the weekend so that they can be posted, together with their respective proofs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Here is the makeready for the PM bookplate that is pictured below (see last entry for an explanation). If you click on the image and enlarge it, you should be able to make out the separate pieces of card and paper that I used. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005


This is just an update really. The new bookplate is approved and so I will start to set up the makeready prior to printing.

My Albion still needs some parts to be made and this includes the bar that the tympan hinges on. At the moment I am using the following method: I hinge a piece of thick grey card with tape so that it can lay flat on top of the block. I then tape a couple of sheets of thin card to this and check that the thickness of the packing seems to be about right. I then ink the block, lay the card down and take an impression.

What normally happens is that things seem fine but there are some places that need to print darker. I tear paper or thin card and tape these over the parts that need darkening. I then re-ink the block, place paper on it and flap down the card. I take an impression and keep adding torn paper - called "makeready" until a good even impression is made. At this point, I tape a sheet of clear acetate over the makeready to give a smooth hard surface and I am ready to print.

I moved back to working on Venus and Adonis today. My eldest son modelled for Adonis over the weekend. I should be cutting the first of the bigger blocks in a couple of days. Then its back to those evil doves!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Notes from a Darkened Room

We are having something of a heatwave in East Anglia this weekend. I was up early this morning to walk with our lurcher along the old droves and ancient lanes that thread between the fields surrounding the village. Very soon it was quiet save for the birds and insects. The landscape still had the freshness of June but the sun shimmered across the wheatfields and promised long dry days to come.

And so I returned to work in a windowless room - no natural light or ventilation.

This does suprise some people and it was not my original plan. In the old house, I often worked at a first floor window. The trouble was I often gazed out of the window (I am wont to daydream) instead of working. I also had problems as the light changed, especially at night when I often couldn't make out the fine pencil marks that I sometimes use to guide my tools.

When I was converting the pressroom over the Christmas holiday, I had, at first, intended to set a window into the existing wall to let light flood in and give ventilation. I changed my mind for several reasons. Firstly I was afraid of dust. Without the window, the pressroom is a sealed box. I can keep dust at bay and I do not suffer from the problems that specks of dust cause when printing woodblocks. Secondly, I decided to standardise my light source. I have a large flourescent tube to light the room but set up a table lamp with a powerful and moveable "daylight" bulb which allows me to pick up my work at any time of day and night and always have the same light conditions. I have been very pleased with this. Today has also proved that the pressroom is actually a cool and comfortable place to work in as the insulation that kept my bones warm in winter cool the flesh in summer.

Right now I am on a break and a large mug of tea is at my side. The new bookplate has already been proofed and I think that it passes muster until one looks at the lettering. What did I tell you? Still, This is only the first state and I will soon be back at work, taking each letter at a time and fixing things.

Many thanks for your comments and emails. I will sit down and reply later today.

This is where it all happens. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 17, 2005

Here are the JF bookplates (100 copies) in their hand-made case. I posted them to him this afternoon - another job done. I am very pleased with them. The printed image of this bookplate is 15 x 5cm. Posted by Hello

Cutting Letters

Its always good to see a job finished. All of the JF bookplates are trimmed and set in their case. I will try to post a pic tomorrow. Immediately, I reach for a new job - another bookplate - as I still have a pile of work to finish before California and I need a break before cracking on with V&A. . This is smaller and shouldn't be too much touble. I always start with the most difficult part of the design and, with bookplates, this means starting with the lettering.

Lettering is one of my weak areas. I do love letters, whether cut in stone, caligraphy or cast as metal type. I am making steady progress with the practice of cutting letters but I have a long way to go before I will be satisfied - if I ever am. I am trying to develop five or six styles of lettering that I can offer on my bookplates. I have chosen one of these for the new project. It is based on the lettering on an Eric Gill bookplate from 1920 and I love it for its simplicity and gravitas. I think that it will suit the personality of the person who will receive the finished bookplate as a present. It is rather like a "Roman" typeface.

I like to think that my lettering improves with every bookplate but the reality is more like "taking two steps forwards and one step back". However, the general movement is forwards. I keep thinking about finding some tuition to improve my lettercutting but when? I can't see it happening before next year - perhaps a resolution for 2006?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Here is a recent bookplate - quite a large one. The lettering on the name is larger than normal, making cutting easier. The printing is a bit smudged but it was the only scan I have. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Here is the block for the lark engraving pictured below. This was before I took the first proof. I then made several changes before the final state, particularly in the texture of the sky. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Some Pictures

I finally managed to work out how to send some pics. One is of a recently completed image for Barbarian Press and the other is my lovely 1865 Albion printing press. You can see both below this post.

I took a proof of the doves block and you never saw such evil doves! It is the eyes that do it. I added a pinpoint of light into each one but I went too far and the eyes glow in a most undovelike way. Oh well - this happns now and then. I was rushing to finish the spots and that is something that I know I must never do. Actually I tend not to rush with larger blocks but I can be cavalier with the tiny ones.

I took time out to make some drawings for the larger V&A illustrations. These have figures and I am trying to give them a slightly erotic air - Get out your collected works of Shakespeare and read the long poem "Venus and Adonis" and you will see why; it is a tale of unfullfilled lust.

There are other jobs to do so break's over. I need to trim 100 bookplates. Hmmm.

This is a recent engraving. It shows a skylark soaring. It is tiny - only about an inch high. It is part of my Venus and Adonis illustration project and will sit at the top of a page. Posted by Hello

Here is my printing press. It is an 1865 Improved Albion Press. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 13, 2005

States and Proofs

Well it was a successful weekend in the studio with all of the JF bookplates printed and drying. That gives me a week to trim them and make a case. This client has asked for original sketches and examples of all the states as part of the deal and so I will also make a folder for those.

Do you know about states? Then I have finished engraving a woodblock, I ink it and take a proof from it. This is State I. This is a difficult moment because sometimes - its only happened a couple of times - I know that I have to start again. After twenty hours of work that can be a bit of a blow.

Usually, the image is a bit "flat" and I have to adjust the light by making more cuts, which will show up white in the print. There are usually areas where I need to clear away wood that is printing where I need an area of white. I work on the block and take another proof. This is State II. I keep on repeating this until I am completely satisfied. At the moment, I am working through about seven or eight states before I am happy. At that point, the block is finshed and I can set it aside until I am ready to print the edition. More about that another time.

I took proofs form the two small spots for Venus and Adonis. One is so nearly there and the other is looking good but will need a few more states before it is finished. I selected a woodblock for the last two spots and I hope to get them engraved and finished this week so that I can send the four finished spots off to Canada where they will be used to illustrate a limited, hand printed edition.

Still on V&A, I spent much of Saturday going through figure and costume references. Later today, I will sit down with pen and paper and draw out the latest versions of these larger illustrations. I hope that this will go fairly smoothly as I need to start engraving these if they are going to be done before California beckons. I received three of these larger blocks from Chris - good work - I'm looking forwads to using them.

I will figure out a way to show some illustrations on these pages so that you can see what I'm doing at the moment. Right now, its time to draw.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A little more

My website and profile will give you some background information about who I am and what I do. I am afraid that my website is woefully out of date but I am simply too busy in the studio to do much about it until the summer.

This evenings work: Prepare JF's Ex Libris for printing over the weekend. Finish engraving, ready to take proofs from two "spots" for "Venus & Adonis" for Barbarian Press. Research costumes for the same project.

Tomorrow: Take proofs for "V&A" and print 100 copies of "JF". Collect new blocks from the Post Office and work on the final drawings for the half page illustrations for "V&A".

I have several new bookplates to add to my website. I will scan them and let you know when they are posted.
My name is Andy and I create images by engraving them on endgrain woodblocks and printing from these. I will use this blog as a record of the work I am doing at the moment.