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: