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.