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.