Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Took a rare day off yesterday and travelled, with J, to the Suffolk coast. The first stop was Kessingland, with its striking church. I love the tall tower an partly thatched roof.

We visited the grave of J's parents and checked the lettering for her father that was added to the memorial. Afterwards, we wandered through the graveyard. Some graves date back to the 1760s and I was interested in the lettering and carved motifs, which ranged from skulls to anchors (for sailors). We ate lunch in a pub overlooking the sea before walking alng the beach.

In the afternoon, we dropped in to see Arthur at the Suffolk Villa gallery in nearby Lowestoft. He always has a good selection of East Anglian artists on display. It was good to be in Lowestoft again.
J grew up here and we were married in this town, twenty four years ago.

Back to work today on another commissioned piece. Regular readers will know that I tend not to show these so I will lead you into the kitchen to see what jars of jams and conserves look like in the house of an engraver.

I enjoy making the labels. They are good ways to practice lettering. Here is a closeup:

A and O are hosting a small party tonight and the music has started. ts time to tidy myself up and slip off, with J, to a nearby house to meet up with some other villagers.

I hope that 2007 brings everything that you wish for.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Notes From A Cold Studio

So what is the happy engraver doing today?

Up early to scrape the ice off the car and run J and A to the station, then help O scrape his car.
Took food and water for the hens and walk out with Bella through icy lanes.
Into the studio to rig up another temporary handle for the small Albion. I fettled it from a spanner and a yard of black insulating tape. I must get a proper one cast next year. Finally, I set the inking slab warming over the little oil filled radiator ready for printing - the main task for the day.

And now? Steaming hot coffee, toast and marmalade - and a chance to blog after yet another hectic week. Today should be one the last big working days before Christmas.

The latest news on the Rembrandt is that is does appear to be the self portrait with a fur hat from 1630. I need to arrange to take it to the museum to compare it side by side with their example. At the moment, its propped up on a shelf; I'm looking forwards to seeing it conserved and framed.

Unwrapping a parcel is always a great pleasure. When it contins 250 sheets of Zerkall paper, it is doubly so. Here is a year's supply of printing paper ready for transfer to the top drawer of my mapping chest

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Set Off To London - Came Back With A Rembrandt!

It seems like I have been engraving solidly for weeks, working through my list of bookplates and other commissions, and so it was with great pleasure that I, together with J, took a day off and went by train to London town.

First stop was the British Library - just five minutes walk from Kings Cross station. There is a wonderful display of treasures. J mainly drooled over illuminated manuscripts - as did I, but my heart was finally lost to a Gutenburg Bible and Caxton's Fables of Aesop.

A short walk took us to Falkener's Fine Papers. Here were more treasures and, if we had not a day in the city ahead of us, I would have stocked up on hand marbelled and paste papers.

We swung along through Bloomsbury, past the British Museum to Museum Street - one of my favourite London locations. Sadly, the bookshops and print shops are slowly disappearing from this short street but it is still a pleasure to explore - especially in the hope of picking up a bargain. We sorted through a box of inexpensive prints and drawings and one small image stopped me in my tracks...

A couple of weeks ago, A and I had spent a happy half hour in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I had wanted to see the exhibition of Rembrant etchings and A was glad to come along and join in the fun. It is a lovely display of etchings in a small room off one of the main galleries. Much of it concentrates of his portrayals of his wife, Saskia, but there are also many of his etched self portraits and we were really captured by them.

Now people who know me well will confirm that I am not great at remembering people's names but I maintain that I remember every painting, drawing or print I have ever seen. And that is why, gentle reader, I was in a state of some excitement when I took my own Rembrandt self- portrait, rescued from the box, to the desk and paid for it.

I had to wait until this morning to confirm my suspicions. A moment with a hand lens showed that this was an etching and not a reproduction. A Google search soon found the work - a self portrait in a fur hat from 1630 just a I recalled from the exhibition. The full image would have looked like this:

Mine has been trimmed within the plate mark and pasted into an album at some stage. I found a trimmed example in another museum:

My copy is wider and has just the end of the signature/date above the head.

I need to get some advice about the state of the etching - it would be great to find out that this is lifetime impression. I also need to think about conservation. I doubt that it has any great value but it is a thing of great beauty. Just to contemplate the quality of the working takes the breath away; it is amazingly fine. And how much did I pay for this? I would normally avoid any financial references here but I have to tell you... sorry, but I really MUST point out that it cost me slightly less than the cappuccino that I enjoyed at the British Library! It just goes to show that even an impecunious engraver can acquire art.

We enjoyed the rest of our meanderings through London but, I have to confess, my mind did keep wandering back to what I was carrying in my backpack, slipped into a magazine for safety.

I will recommend, once more, the Fizwilliam Museum. It has some online exhibitions, including a couple which concentrate of Japanese Woodblock prints:

And now back to work, a chilly studio and the LJ bookplate.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Illustration and Introducing "The Days Between"

I am interrupting my bookplate work to take on a couple of small illustrations. Far from being an unwelcome intrusion, I enjoy this work; apart from any other consideration, it puts vegetables on the table for another couple of weeks.

I always keep a day or two free in my weekly schedule to take on this type of work - illustration is unlike the rest of my work in two respects: there is usually a strong design brief and the deadline is generally very tight. Since most of my work involves lengthy planning and, perhaps, days of engraving, I enjoy the change of pace. Its a bit like being on a long walk, with its steady pace and rhythm, and then breaking into a run - a sprint. Afterwards, you are happy to get back to the usual pace for a bit.

I often get "bogged down" with longer term projects. Invariably, taking a break to spend a day on an "illie" allows me to go back to the job in hand refreshed.

As usual, with commissioned work, I will not show it here. Instead, here is a view of Ely cathedral across a sunny, but slightly misty, fenland - viewed from the bedroom window a few minutes ago.

I have started a new blog "The Days Between" to allow readers who are interested in engraving to continue to read "Studio Diary" without having to put up with the tedious details of my everyday existence. If you are interested to find out how this journeyman engraver spends his days, then you will find it here:

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Printing Bookplates

One of the reasons that I post infrequently is that most of my work is commissioned and so is either for publication or - very often - a suprise. I have spent much of the day printing a bookplate and I asked permission to share the process with my readers. Thank you Katy for giving me the go ahead.

For most of the images, you can see an enlarged view by clicking on them.

Here is the block when it was almost finished; before the first proof was taken:

The next photograph shows a view of the studio. The block is fixed in the bed of the smaller Albion Press. You can see the orange sheets of packing and makeready taped to the tympan. To the right is the inking table and, in the background, my engraving desk. This configuration works well as I hardly need to take any steps during the printing.

Here is a closer view of the block on the bed of the press. It is held in place by "furniture" which is tightened by "quoins".

In the next photograph, I am using a brayer to roll a thin film of ink on the block. For engravings, it is generally better to print with a thin layer of ink under high pressure.

Next, I am placing a small piece of Zerkall paper into position on the tympan. I have developed a method of holding small sheets without the need for gauge pins. I will reveal all on this blog in a few days.

The pressure is achieved by pulling the bar towards one, as can be seen in the next photo below. The beauty of this method is that the printer "feels" the pressure through the bar and so can control the printing pressure. The date 1865 is stamped into the bar; This Albion was built in the year that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The next step is to wind the bed out from under the platen and carefully lift the tympan. This pulls the paper off the block and I can inspect the work.

Finally, I place the printed sheet up on the drying rack. Adter drying, the plates are carefully inspected and then they are trimmed, reeady for dispatch.

And that, as they say, is that.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Design Week

A rainy morning has given way to a most pleasant afternoon. Sunny out but chilly enough to ask O to help me move the lemon tree into the cabin for the winter.

No engraving for me this week. I am spending my time with my sketchbook, pens and pencils working on some of the projects that will soon need transferring to blocks, ready for the graver. I start engraving again on monday, working on the next bookplate.

I have caught up in other ways this week, carrying out some more work on the website. I really need to get more images posted so I intend to spend a large art of tomorrow scanning. I will try to finish the "Birds and Beasts" section.

I have been plagued by migraines recently. I have had a cluster for over a week; the last one was a real "hum-dinger" and left me really disorientated when it started, followed a few hours later by the familiar aura and then the headache. Nothing for a couple of days now so I hope that it was going out in style and will leave me be for a few months. Luckily I can control the headaches quite well now but my vision loos and tiredness tend to get in the way of work. C'est la vie!

I have posted quite a few printing-press related photographs on my flickr site:

They include the setting up of the new Albion press and two stages in the work on the smaller one: recovering the tympan and fettling a temporary handle.

Work carries on apace with a lovely variety of projects: bookplates to design and engrave, a press device and a commission of an ancient favourite dog. At the same ime, I am keeping an eye on the future and hoping for fresh commissions for January and February.

As I sit and type at the dining table there is a loud rapping at the window and I have two visitors:

Since "Three French Hens" are likely to figure on my Christmas card, its a good idea that I have my sketchbook handy!

Design Week

A rainy morning has given way to a most pleasant afternoon. Sunny out but chilly enough to ask O to help me move the lemon tree into the cabin for the winter.

No engraving for me this week. I am spending my time with my sketchbook, pens and pencils working on some of the projects that will soon need transferring to blocks, ready for the graver. I start engraving again on monday, working on the next bookplate.

I have caught up in other ways this week, carrying out some more work on the website. I really need to get more images posted so I intend to spend a large art of tomorrow scanning. I will try to finish the "Birds and Beasts" section.

I have been plagued by migraines recently. I have had a cluster for over a week; the last one was a real "hum-dinger" and left me really disorientated when it started, followed a few hours later by the familiar aura and then the headache. Nothing for a couple of days now so I hope that it was going out in style and will leave me be for a few months. Luckily I can control the headaches quite well now but my vision loos and tiredness tend to get in the way of work. C'est la vie!

I have posted quite a few printing-press related photographs on my flickr site:

They include the setting up of the new Albion press and two stages in the work on the smaller one: recovering the tympan and fettling a temporary handle.

Work carries on apace with a lovely variety of projects: bookplates to design and engrave, a press device and a commission of an ancient favourite dog. At the same ime, I am keeping an eye on the future and hoping for fresh commissions for January and February.

As I sit and type at the dining table there is a loud rapping at the window and I have two visitors:

Since "Three French Hens" are likely to figure on my Christmas card, its a good idea that I have my sketchbook handy!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Engraving In France

One of the most wonderful things about engraving is that it is an extremely portable pursuit. My briefcase, purchased many years ago to use in college, holds everything that I need. It takes less than two minutes to assemble everything and set up.

So, when J proposed that we spend a week in France, I didn't have to worry about falling behind with work. We were very lucky with the weather and engraving, like eating, was carried on outdoors; I set up in the shade of the summer kitchen. J is in the distance, gathering walnuts.

I was working on a bookplate with an intricate design. It took hours to carefully draw out the design. Here is the result of the first session:

The central image focusses on two owls. The next photograph shows them drawn onto the block, ready to engrave. You can make out the pencil marks of the "squaring up" that I used to transfer the drawing onto the block:

Finally, I started to engrave the owls. I enjoyed this work as it involved much detail and the block of English boxwood engraved beautifully. Here is a later photograph:

We both enjoyed our stay in France. Although we can "get by" in much of Europe, we are both more confidant of our French and enjoyed several pleasant conversations. Add to this the good weather, the walks, the food and some excellent museums, and you have a recipe for a most pleasant week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This has been a very productive week so far with two engravings finished: the PJ bookplate and the tawny owl. I illustrated the block for the owl some time ago and I have only taken it up intermittently, between other jobs. It was nearly done yesterday but I made some final adjustments this morning and accepted the 4th state as the finished version. Click on the scan for a larger image:

I have also worked on the new Albion press for the first time. I will soon start to describe what I have been doing on the Albion Press Restoration Blog so check it in a couple of days.

There are other kinds of productivity to describe at this time of year. I sat out in the sun this afternoon and "strung" the rest of the onions we grew so that they can hang and keep dry in the garage. Earlier this evening, I foraged in the hedgerows with A to collect blackberries. We stewed these with apples from the garden and enjoyed them for dessert.

I recovered the tympan of the small Albion this evening (also to be described in the Albion blog). I will put it in a warm place to dry overnight so that it is ready for packing tomorrow morning ready for editioning.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The New Albion

The last few days have been crazy! I dismantled and moved the Arab Treadle Platen press out of the studio. I cut down my desk by 6 inches so that it would turn and sit next to the map chest to give more room. The bookshelves were emptied and removed and smaller items were stacked onto my desk.

The reason? My new Albion arrived this morning. It was delivered, assembled and set-up by the guys at AMR, who I recommend highly. More details to follow but I wanted to share some photos.

I feel I must warn readers of a sensitive disposition that the piston and platen have, at some time, been painted bright red. I was planning on repainting them but I have to say that it is growing on me and I think the colour will stay. I have christened it "Red".

Friday, September 01, 2006

For Sale (Or Rich Patron needed)

I have been offered a larger Albion Press:

This is exactly what I need to print from larger blocks. However, this is the worst time for me as I have just received my final paycheck from college and my only current income is from engraving.

So, in a desperate gesture, I have gathered together my "life's work of engraving" - namely:

A copy of all of the engravings that I have editioned. There are over 100 of these. Most are from the signed, numbered editions; a few are signed Artist's Proofs. All are perfect copies.

In addition, I include about fifty "states" from various engravings. These are the the proofs that I take to show the stages between the first pull from the block and the final editioned image. Each "state" is numbered but not signed. I will happily sign these if you wish.

In addition, I will include some of the original sketches made for engravings. There are at least ten of these. They are signed pencil or ink drawings.

All of these will be placed in a handmade box and mailed to you with no mailing charge.

In addition, you will receive your own engraved 2 x 3 inch bookplate. The earliest that this could be delivered would be January 2006 as I already have many bookplates in a queue. I would include 100 plates. Additional plates would be charged at cost.

The price for the above is £1000. Bear in mind that bookplates start at £250, and that the most expensive print included costs £120.

Alternatives? 1) Make me an offer. 2) If you are rich and a very nice person, make me a gift and become a patron. 3) Pay me the above and I will create for you your own engraving (at least 4x6 inches) and print your own exclusive edition of 100 prints and also include the block and all original artwork.

Email me if interested. I am interested to discuss any aspect of this. This would only pay for a proportion of the cost of the new press but it woulod certainly help.

I'm off to bed to dream of Albion Presses!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Engraving Al Fresco

I returned to my exhibition after lunch so that I could demonstrate the noble art of engraving. Peter had set aside a table out on the terrace that proved perfect. Since, like most printmakers, I work in isolation, it was a pleasure to be out and about and chatting about the process of making the images that are on display. I decided to carry on with my owl - featured months ago. I cut the outside of the block into a gothic arch and started to use stippling to attempt to show a halo around the moon in the background. The photograph that I took - looking through my magnifying glass - is not that clear but the print will feature in further entries in this blog.

During the afternoon, I took a break after Peter supplied a plate of scones, cream and strawberry jam. This is just what engravers of a certain age need to sustain them during an afternoon of engraving!

This was a very pleasant afternoon. I don't often have the opportunity to show how I do what I do and to talk to the people who are buying my things. We are planning another demonstration - probably in two weeks time.

The exhibition continues to be very successful. We have sold just under half the works in the first two days. With a month to go, I am starting to hope for a sell out.

Friday, August 25, 2006


The "Private View" of my exhibition was a great success last night. It was lovely to see old friends and great to see those red dots appearing on the works as they sold. It was a frantic day - I was actually half an hour late for my own show as I was still sorting out the unframed engravings.

When I arrived at the gallery, I could finally relax. The exhibition was looking good and I tried to find the time to chat to everyone. A is back on his feet again and took photographs for me. At the end of the evening, I took the opportunity to take my own photographs of the empty rooms. Only then did I realise how hungry I was and so J and I walked the short distance to find a restaurant that was still serving food.

You can see more photographs on my new website:

Find "Latest News" on the drop-down menu from the "Home" tab. Yes - its finally online. No images of engravings in the gallery yet but they will follow shortly.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Back to work after a few days at the coast. It was good to relax but now unto the breach, dear friends. While I was there, I collected my new set of exhibition frames. I am very pleased with them; they are simple, square profiled planed ash. The engravings will look superb in them. Pictures to follow.

I returned home to a treat - my first ever ripe fig from the garden, eaten and enjoyed straight from the tree. I know that this is nothing to some readers, but seems to me to be another facet of our changing climate. The lemon tree is also producing fruit in quantity and I look forwards to a garden "g and t" with fresh lemon slices later in the year. Sadly, no olives yet. The Mediterranean certainly seems closer, in terms of climate.

Today's job is framing (again) and I hope to break the back of it this morning. Writing this is a bit of a distraction for me as A in on the operating table as I write and I won't be able to settle until I hear how things are. All being well - including the weather - tonight will include not only a fatherly visit to hospital to see the hairy son, but then open air Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet) in the gardens of Girton College, Cambridge.

Yesterday, I pointed my new domain name at the servers and so I hope that the website will be "live" in a few hours. I will announce with suitable fanfare as soon as this happens.

And now, back to the framing.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A New Life

It is weeks since I posted here. I imagined that, after the end of term, I would be able to write a nice chatty blog every day. As it happens, I have been working long hours catching up with jobs in hand.

My "retirement" could not have been more pleasant with good wishes, cards, presents, dinners, speeches and visits from old students. My colleagues gave me a wonderful Lawrence's print drying rack. I love the old technology - wood, wire and glass marbles. I still need to hang it from the studio ceiling but I am already putting it to good use.

The last week left me exhausted, especially the clearing of 26 years of accumulated materials. I used cupboards at college to store trays of type and my childhood fossil collection, among other things.

I have so many jobs under way that is it difficult to finish one. I am gradually getting through them, working on a strictly first come - first served basis. I will be emailing over the next couple of days to update everybody on progress with their particular job. Everything will have settled down by the end of the month and new jobs will have a much faster turnaround than before.

I have an exhibition at Ely in Cambridgeshire, UK which starts on 25th August and carries on until 30th September. It is at the three cups gallery. I hope that some readers will be able to visit during the month. I will give more details in a few days.

There we go; just about caught up here - if only I had in real life!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Serendipidy and Change

I was proofing a couple of engravings for wine labels on tuesday evening when I realised that I was running short of ink. I found myself driving home this afternoon with a car laden with boxes full of ink - a gift of unwanted materials. This was a most pleasing juxtaposition of events. Here they are (click for an enlargement):

The larger tins are old and I am not yet sure what I can salvage. The smaller tins are much newer and much of the ink seems to be fine. Here is a large quantity of coloured, rubber-based inks.

However, I use black, oil-based inks.

But this has got me thinking. I used a rubber-based ink at Alembic Press and was very pleased with the results, despite the longer drying time. I particularly liked being able to leave the ink on the slab to carry on the next day. I don't think the drying time is going to be an issue with me being in the studio every day so I am considering... wondering...

Since this is a time of big changes, perhaps I should be more open to less familiar ways of working.

But... colour? Now there's a thought!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

New Horizons

June is really blooming! I worked through the morning on a piece of commercial work - a wine label. I then reviewed my current bookplates and planned what to do next for each of them. Finally, I made some mental notes about my forthcoming exhibition in Ely during July. I really need to finalise the engravings I will show and organise frames.

This was followed by lunch in the garden with J, finishing up the last of the goodies she brought back from France. The garden looks lovely at the moment; we ate close to this rose:

Some of you will already know of my news but I will also announce it here. After 26 years, I will be leaving teaching to concentrate on engraving and illustrating full-time. The story behind this is lengthy and complex but, essentially, financial problems in my college allowed me to volunteer for redundancy. In a few weeks, I will be building each day around engraving. Unfortunately, the arrangements are taking an awful lot of my time and I am making very slow progress with my various projects. Things will really speed up after the end of term. I will keep you posted with developments through this blog. A new life beckons.

Friday, June 02, 2006

New Work; New Life

There is always something special about opening a parcel, especially when it contains beautiful woodblocks. The large and small blocks are boxwood and the other is lemonwood. Here is my work for the next few weeks:

The largest block is for a rather special bookplate. It has been commissioned in memory of the client's parents and everything in the design has significance. It is the most complex bookplate that I have been involved with but it has been a pleasure to work on this project. Here is a detail:

Boxwood is expensive but it is an absolute delight to engrave if detail is required. I am now clearing out the areas that will not print. This is laborious with boxwood, which resists such clearing but I want clear white areas around the lettering that is found at the top and bottom of the plate so I must keep at it.

Today, it seemed that summer was here again after some dull, damp days. The garden is looking glorious. Here is the large border:

I am sitting here contemplating some momentous news. I cannot go into detail yet but it seems that my dream of devoting myself completely to my art is finally going to happen! Watch this space... and fingers crossed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Did You Have A Good Day At The Press Dear?

In a word - no. Alas!

I collected the repaired part of the Arab press that has been with the blacksmith for over a year. The repair looked strong enough. I know that he has not been keen to take on the work but I am glad that he tried. Here we are:

You can see the repair as the light area on the right hand side. The positioning of the two broken parts was crucial and, after spending an hour fitting it, it was with my heart in my mouth that I turned the flywheel. The press started to move but, after about one quarter of a turn, it started to jam. The repaired pieces were slightly misaligned. There was no point in trying to force things with more pressure and so I brought the press to rest and let it be.

My only hope is that I can locate a spare part now. It has been frustrating to have this lovely old press standing unused and it looks as if the frustrations will continue.

So now... a cup of tea should soothe. Then it is back out to the studio to carry on with the illustration. Tonight I will attempt the face. Its death or glory now; if the face fails then all is lost and I start again - the reason why I normally start with the face.

An earlier positive development was the start of the final drawing for the JG bookplate - one of my long term projects that has been on the back burner while I considered the many elements that are contained in the design. I am gradually working through my outstanding bookplate commissions and hope to have them all at least in the rough sketch stage within a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Engraving... Eventually

J 'phoned from France at dinner time and reported a hot and relaxing day. Definitely cooler here but still very pleasant and spring-like. I lingered over the outdoor jobs such as watering in the greenhouse and collecting the eggs from the hens.

Despite the fact that I have a long list of jobs to finish, I decided to relax a little this evening. I did a little preparation for the engraving on the block - a magazine illustration - and then made coffee, which I took through to the sitting room.

I decided to watch a film and chose Krzysztof Kieslowski's magnificent Three Colours: Blue. I run out of superlatives when I try to describe this visually stunning and poetic film. As always, the rich score by Zbigniew Preisner stayed with me long after the film ended. It is a remarkably precise film which drew parallels in my mind with engraving - everything considered, detailed and deftly wrought. I paused the film at one point to fetch tea and a bowl of figs. I returned to my large. comfy sofa and indulged myself some more.

Of course, I was putting off my work. I decided to concentrate on just one thing tonight and that was to engrave the hands of the child on the illustration. Actually, during the film, I found myself rehearsing the movements of the graver and, when I started for real, everything went smoothly and, examining the block, I know that they will be fine. Hands, like faces, are expressive and mistakes are obvious.

I will not include an image here yet as this is a commission. I did find a photograph of the CG bookplate in progress. I had just finished engraving celtic patterns on the stone cross and was rather pleased with the results. Please disregard my rough hands - I'm a worker!

Afterwards, I had time to frame and hang a recent purchase, a wood engraving by John O'Connor depicting a nude in an interior. It is an artist's proof of one of my favourite O'Connor prints and I was delighted to hand it on my print wall. John's work was so much broader in treatment than mine. I do think that one of the reasons that I enjoy it so much is that it is so different to my own work.

Well, its after midnight and i had promised myself an earlier night so... off to bed

Monday, May 01, 2006

Printing from a Cleared Block - and news

During the week, I printed from several blocks that had cleared areas at the edge. I do clear these areas carefully, using a couple of "scorpers" to take out the wood. I do find that even these carefully cleared areas can print under great pressure, leaving small spots of black. This typically happens after printing twenty or thirty perfect prints. A simple solution is to ink the block and then place a small card mask over the offending area. One drawback is the fact that this makes printing slightly slower but the quality of the finished prints is more important than speed. Here is photograph:

You can see the piece of thin white card that I have laid over the cleared area. It is very important to keep this card clean so that ink does not transfer to the print.

It has been a very busy week. The CG bookplates are completed and posted. I framed and delivered my selection for the Cambridge Drawing Society. This is an old-established society and I was pleased to have all my work selected, as it has been for many years.

I have been spring cleaning the studio and making one or two changes. Firstly, I set up a small platform to raise the work a few inches. This is to ease pains in my neck and shoulders that I am prone to. It has been qute successful so far.

Secondly, I have shelved the end wall. I was reluctant to do this, as I wanted to hang pictures tere but I am pleased with the results. I have lots of things at hand and the floor is now (almost) clear again. This made my spring clean easy and the oom is looking spic and span. Here is a view:

J is away to stay at her sister's house in France so I am spending the evenings working on current projects. I have several final drawings to complete and an engraving to finish. I am still not taking on new work in the hope that I can not only clear my backlog but produce good work. I hate to rush and then be disappointed with the results.

Hmmmm - midnight - better get back to work.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Monday

Easter Monday - a bank holiday - but not a day of rest. I dropped A at his place of work an drove the camper to Homebase to pick up the things I needed to finish the roof over the chicken run. The van is running well after a lot more welding to hold its 30 year old frame together.

Back home and then finished the work on the roof. This has three purposes: to keep the chickens dry in a downpour, to act as a biosecurity measure with avian 'flu in the country (dove droppings threaten to land in the water/food from the plum tree above) and to stop the hens gorging themselves on the plums when they fall. Job done, followed by lunch - eggs from said hens.

After this, I loaded the van again and J and I set off for our allotment. Today we added some more trees - two apples and a quince - and planted peas, onions and potatoes. Its a busy time down there at the moment but its good to be out of the dark studio and in the open air.

Tonight, I am back inside, checking and trimming a new bookplate. Here it is:

This is the first bookplate that I have cut on boxwood. It has been worth the effort of changing, especially when cutting letters. These are nearly ready to send. After that, I have enough work to keep me busy through until the autumn.

Well, that was my Easter Monday - time for bed. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Turning Fifty!

I turned fifty a couple of weeks ago.

Luckily, significant birthdays do not bother me and I had a rather good time. We dined at a local restaurant in the evening and then held a small dinner party for close friends. I was lucky with my presents, especially the bookplate that J commissioned for me from Simon Brett. A is a promising photographer and I asked him for a portrait. I much prefer to be behind a camera but, since it was A, I was at my ease. Here is the result:

I am afraid thatI have not been very busy in the studio recently. I had a virus that took some time to shake off (must be my age) but I am engraving again, working on the GC bookplate and finishing drawings for several others. I also have some interesting projects on the horizon, including a book and a broadside. More of those later.

All the Best from Old Andy English! Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 17, 2006

Notes Fom A Warmer Room and Cuttering

I'm making a later start this morning after yesterday's exertions. I finished insulating, boarding and painting the end wall of the studio and one can feel the effects upon ntering this morning. Until yesterday, I only had half an inch of plasterboard to keep out the winter's cold. Now I have several inches of insulation packed between two boards. I still have one more wall to do but, for now, my fingers are warmer.

This morning I am making drawings for forthcoming bookplates. I am still catching up with older projects and looking ahead to new. My order books are closed until July and then I need to ration these projects to one a month so that I can work on other things. I do love the design problems involved in capturing something of the essence of a person in a 2" x 3" space. This morning, I hope to finish four preparatory drawings for a client. These will be scanned and emailed. If one takes his fancy then I will work on that and make a good ink drawing for further comments. Finally, I will arrive at an agreed design with appropriate lettering and then it will take its place in the queue for engraving. I have made one recent change of policy - all bookplates will now be engraved on boxwood. I have had too many problems engraving fine lettering onto lemonwood in the past. The extra expense will be worthwhile if it makes the cutting easier.

I am also sotrting through the founts of type that I have been collecting over the years. I have printed specimens of the larger display type and am moving onto the medium sized ones. J and I are planning a series of small publications. More of that another time.

Still no news of repairs to the Arab treadle press. I don't like to nag my blacksmith - he is always busy with agricultural jobs - but I have waited months. I am keeping my eyes open for other presses; I have set my heart on a larger Albion to print the larger blocks.

There is no shortage of smaller presses. Yesterday, I spent a moment lookinhg over the small Vandercook that awaits restoration. This will be a great size for taking to demonstrations as I can lift it fairly confortably. I am going to bring the Adana 8 x 5 tabletop press back into commission to print labels and, perhaps, pages of miniature books. In a flurry of eBaying, I have just bought another Adana for spares and two tiny Adanas - a job lot. More restoration work to be done, but can one ever have too many presses? What is thge opposite of decluttering? Cluttering, I suppose. Well, I clutter - always have and always will!

Monday, February 06, 2006

An Evening Reclaimed

Listening: Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris: Grievous Angel
Reading: Robert Southey: The Doctor &c - a battered 1836 1st American edition

A change of plans this evening. We were getting ready to meet with an advisor to discuss financial matters when the company telephoned and cancelled. This was irritating for a few moments but I soon realised that I was free to "follow my bliss" and head for the studio.

I am printing the BM bookplate - quite a big run. I carried on setting up the packing while chatting to A who had dropped in with a CD of the band he will be jamming with - great stuff. I started pulling proofs while we listened. The first few were very chalky and unsatisfactory and I gradually inceased the pressure by adjusting both the press and the packing. Things were nearly there and the final step was to ink a bit more heavily. At last, the good prints started to emerge. I set myself up with a pile of cut Zerkall paper and started to print.

This was one of those rare times when everything went well. I found my rhythm on the handpress and, gradually, the pile of blank sheets went down and the pile of bookplates grew. There were few rejects, but I need to look through them in the cold light of day - there will always be some to throw away. Here is a view of my setup at the end of the session:

You can see the block on the bed of the press and the packing taped to the tympan. I am using sheets of thin red card with a couple of sheets of acetate. I find that this gave the best hardness of packing. The upturned bin with a book on top was improvised to take the finished plates so that I did not have to move too much - sounds lazy, but it is important to be efficient in one's movement when a long run is underway. My inking table in the right is a bedside cabinet that I put on wheels. They lock to keep it still. I roll the ink out on a thick piece of glass which sits on some foam packing. The draws contain brayers, ink and clean rags. I cleaned up and left things out ready for the next run.

Much more satisfying than discussing finance! I am tired and ache a bit but I know I will sleep well tonight. A hot bath awaits. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Planning an Engraving "As You Go"

Almost all of my engravings are carefully planned. The most complex have detailed drawings, normally twice as large as the final image. I refer to these as I engrave and find them invaluable. On the wood, I translate the textures of the drawing - usually in ink - into the marks made by my gravers.

Sometimes, I like to make things up as I go along. Some time ago, I engraverd a tawny owl on a small piece of lemonwood. It has sat there, forlorn and unfinished. Recently, I have not been in the studio much to work. I went in to tidy it and then started to insulate the walls as it gets rather cold in there in winter. I think that I benefit from this break as now I am refreshed and keen to get on with work. I thought I would get back to the owl.

I had the idea when I engraved it that a moon would be a good addition. A few nights ago, the moon was shining through broken clouds with a halo around it. This has stuck in my mind and I will try to recreate it. The foreground will be simple, with the owl perched on a post or stump.
I scanned the block last night so that I can post it. The block is not much more than an inch across - its quite detailed work. You can see the ink sketch I drew on the block. Click on the image to enlarge it.

I will keep you posted with progress reports. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Sunday Evening.
Listening: Kronos Quartet; Michael Nesmith
Reading: Richard Brautigan

I spent today making pencil sketches in preparation for line drawings for a website. This is for local restaurant in an isolated Fenland village, about 15 minutes drive from my house. I have always enjoyed bartering and, as this restaurant serves some of the best food in the area, I have arranged to be paid at the dining table!

I drove out on a damp, misty day to make sketches and take pohotographs. These conditions really emphasise the atmosphere of the Fenlands, where I was born and where I still live. This photograph gives a flavour of the ladscape - click on it for a larger version.

OK - back to drawing. Posted by Picasa