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Pencil and Leaf

observations and inspirations from nature

Last Build Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2018 09:42:41 +0000


Almost done: The Problem Woodblock

Mon, 12 Mar 2018 14:13:00 +0000

It was all going so well .. so well. I came back from Amsterdam and with a bit of faffing about with shimming and extra packing, printed 11 of the large Tree woodcuts.“Alder” one of my favuorites,  with the charcoal burners and rooks. Then the last one just would not print. There is a low strip in the wood and sod’s law it is on a part of the block which really needs to print a nice even black. All  day Friday and again on Monday I tried everything;  shims, extra strips on the back under the low spot, raising the grain with steam and sanding down the high spots but still it refuses to print. By lunch time on Monday I knew this was doomed so the only remedy was to cut another block.  Resigned,  I came home and promptly feel ill with an awful cold and I thought I had come through the winter pretty well! Wednesday, still with my awful cold  but cheered by the arrival of frogs in the pond, I re-cut the block. What a pain. But as with all these setbacks there is something to learn. The dip in the wood was impossible to discern in its raw state but in future before starting I will run a block and sandpaper over the surface of the wood to flag up any serious flaws. To be fair this is cheap plywood and its done pretty well so far. Eventually on Friday, still with the awful cold, I finally managed to print the last block. “Willow”… at last. Printing these blocks on the Western Press has been interesting and quite a challenge. They are big plates so need lots of ink.  I have double inked most of them and re-inked the rollers after every 2 or 3 prints. The tricky thing has been keeping the printing more or less consistent over the series; not too dark and not too light. It’s a balance of inking and pressure. Some blocks are slightly higher than others and need less packing, some need lots of packing and more re-inking. Each plate must be proofed individually. It’s a slow and painstaking business. I decided early on that I would let the grain of the blocks show. It gives an added texture to the prints and of course, as they are about trees it is much more appropriate than slapping on a heavy black and obliterating all the fine grain texture.I am hoping to make 20 books. 10 with these plates printed on the Western and 10 with images I print at home. I am hoping to add another colour to some. But the next step is the binding. [...]

Half the Hog: Part 2

Sun, 04 Mar 2018 18:31:00 +0000

Printing the Texts:With the texts set, checked and the few changes made it was onto the press with them, locked up, positioned and ready to go. Most of the pages have to be printed on both sides so it’s essential to have the dummy book to work from to make sure the pagination is right for the book. Because of the thickness of the paper I decided to have three folded sections, rather than just two, so that the book sits nicely in its binding and does not gape open. The dummy pages pasted up with markupsfor positioning the text block on the press bed.The paper grain is also essential to ascertain as the grain must run in the direction of the spine, again so that the book pages lie flat and fold much more easily. Both papers are Zerkall which print beautifully and complement each other very well.Another consideration when cutting the paper was the question of the deckles. To keep or not to keep. We wanted to keep them, again as an addition to the whole tactile feel of the book. The cutting meant that some pages would have deckles and some not. Again, just part of the look of a special little book made with great care, by hand and with beautiful papers.Adjusting the packing on the pressBecause the type block consists of a light fine type and a heavier type the pressure on the packing was adjusted to allow more pressure for the large titles and less for the lighter text. The titles are set in a gorgeous original 1927 Futura. The big letters have the odd little chip here and there which just add to the character of the printing and the book. The ‘Welsh’ text about to come off the press.A day for the first sides to dry and then Thursday was finishing up the main texts.Not a mistake but deliberate overprinting  to check for correct and consistent positioning of each consecutive text…spot on!Piles of printed texts with the trial pageDry texts in neat labelled piles.Friday was our final day to print the title page, copyright  and some extra images on larger sheets.Chris printed the last few prints. This is his favourite, the Berkshire!Behind him the other prints hanging up to dry.And of course after each day the wash up. A strangely enjoyable task which marks an end to a good days work, the Vandercook clean and ordered and ready for the next task.We came home with beautifully wrapped ( by Thomas) brown paper packets. All I have to do now is design and print endpapers, design covers. collate, stitch, bind and tip in the plates ! Phew….. way to go Val….[...]

Half the Hog in Amsterdam: Part 1

Sat, 03 Mar 2018 17:11:00 +0000

Last week we were in Amsterdam to print the Pig Book, “Salute the Pig”. Its been a couple of years in the thinking stage, so it was very nice to see it at last become an almost reality.I say almost because I now have to design end papers and cover and then bind them, but they are looking splendid. We had booked a week with the excellent  Thomas Gravemaker at LetterpressAmsterdam. 5 days is a very short time to print even this small book and if Thomas had not done the typesetting we probably wouldn’t have made it. 4 of the texts tied up on the galley. While Thomas was finishing the texts, I started printing the images from the mounted lino blocks. A little bit of extra shim was needed to get the block to just type high but they printed pretty well!The Berkshire block locked up on the bed of the VandercookProofing each block is important because a letterpress press can pick up the odd raised cut mark so a little bit of remedial cutting was made on some of the blocks, Due to the large amount of black in these prints it was necessary to double ink each image.Which means running the inking rollers over the blocks once prior to the print run. After printing the tree book pages for 5 weeks my right arm must be getting stronger??The first rack of images..I am printing 30 of each for a book edition of 25 books. These plates will be trimmed by hand and then tipped in to the bound book. Thomas finished the texts, then there was proofing and checking the texts again and again for spelling mistakes, spacings and incorrect letters. You think it is all OK and then you find another!Texts ready for proofreading.By the end of Tuesday all the 300 plus plates were printed and we started on the book pages. We printed page 1and page 24 first because these contain two small linocuts which will need to be dry before printing on the reverse.Proofing the blocks,and printing the edition..Wednesday we started printing the texts!Part Two tomorrow.[...]

Tree Book Break and Pigs in Amsterdam

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 16:28:00 +0000

I printed the last text page of 12 Trees yesterday. Phew.. it was very tricky and time consuming, but all the text is now done!
I “just” have the 12 main images to print now but they will have to wait until I am back from Amsterdam where I am printing Chris’ “Salute the Pig” book with Thomas Gravemaker at Letterpress Amsterdam again. I printed my Masters project, Hortus Medicus Seedbook with Thomas and so I know the results will be great.

Proofs for the pig book

The book is a tribute to 10 favourite pig breeds with lino cuts and a short text by Chris. He is also preparing an accompanying recipe book, one dish per pig with a bit of extra info about these lovely animals.

Pigs on the Block.

I have cut the blocks and proofed them, made up a three section dummy for the pagination and a quick InDesign document as a guide to margins etc. However, letterpress printing, as I have learnt, in the last few weeks has certain constraints and so one has to be flexible about the design especially when hand setting the type.

Part of the 3 section dummy pasted up with text and images.

As with the !2 Trees book we are just printing the body of the book. endpapers and binding will be done later.It will be a small edition of just 20 .. which I think is about all we can print in 5 days! It’s all so very different from pressing the print button on the computer.. and to be honest much more fun.

More from Amsterdam soon.

I am also posting on Instagram now if you want to see some more snaps of pigs and trees and lovely type.You can find me here….@vallittlewood

Still printing.. and a snag

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 15:24:00 +0000

We finally coaxed the hand cut title page plate to print the following day and it was fine! It is sometimes bizarre how things work out. Here is the last one on top of the pile of completed sheets:


Then this week we starting printing the handset text

There are only a few lines of text because I am doing all the handsetting and  I am not an expert typesetter. Maybe for the next book I might increase the amount but it is a very slow process. The text is only a couple of lines for each tree and based on an old homily or weather lore saying.

The Maple tree text, set and in position on the press and the print:



There are two different founts, 24pt Modern 20 and a nice chunky italic face for the Latin names of the trees which says Modern 20 Italic 18pt on the case. Who knows but it suits well.

I am painfully slow at this. Each letter and each space is an effort, often involving tweezers and a bit of swearing and even after what I thought was the utmost care I have some letters upside down and some spellings incorrect, even after checking and checking. But progress was made and by Thursday I had all the main texts printed.

Then the snag:

As I was about to print the title page text, contents and copyright texts, the top oscillating ink roller stopped oscillating which means the ink just forms lines on the roller instead of being smoothly distributed so printing had to stop. Hopefully to resume next week.
The type is just about all set… note to self don’t use 11pt again….


More progress next week I hope!

12 Trees Book: More Printing

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 17:50:00 +0000

Day Four: Monday: Today more printing of the name blocks. Having printed one side of the separate sheets we are onto the reverse. It is Monday and over the weekend I had managed to forget the position of the deckle. Rather crucial for the finished book. Only 10 wrongly printed sheets, so could have been worse! Its just a matter of learning by mistakes but hey that’s printmaking.Printing this way needs intense concentration as every sheet is hand fed. Every sheet has to be kept pristine and taken off the cylinder at the end of the impression very carefully to avoid getting ink on the deckles. Mostly I succeed. Positioning the paper exactly in the gripper…the right way up is the first potential pitfall:This one is just fine!  If wrongly positioned it will cause incorrect registration on the sheet, which then has a knock on effect on the subsequent printings.. not good. Then comes the impression:Here the “Oak” print, still on the cylinder, block perfectly positioned on the print bed by Patrick and then perfectly printed by me (the easy bit). The press inks up the block as it goes which is the joy of it. There are 4 ink rollers.. and therefore 4 opportunities for ink to transfer to somewhere it shouldn’t be or for me to catch the edge of the paper in a moment of lost concentration. Hmmm. Day 5 TuesdayA bit of a slow day due to a problem with some ink transferring to the paper from somewhere in the press. Fixed eventually by some dismantling and deep cleaning. But today we finished all the tree name plates. Hurrahhh Press being cleaned… slow job. I am printing 25 copies of the book in the hopes of achieving 20 good ones. Each sheet will have to go through the press at least 4 times.  Keeping the sheets pristine is a challenge.At least 5 extra copies of each sheet are also printed as set up guides for the registration of the next element.These are my two working paper stacks. It is the whole of the edition plus the extra make ready sheets for positioning.Day 5 WednesdayToday we finished printing most of the small image blocks. All the name blocks are done plus the small birds.The last name plate and small bird spot illustration.Then the last small block, for the title page caused a headache due to the inconsistencies of the wood plate. The grain falls away slightly on one side which is a real pain. On the wood itself it is barely noticeable and I would not have known when cutting the ply. I might next time though!Patrick has enormous patience in continuing to try various ways of adding packing, and repositioning the block to try to improve things. It will be fine, some things are hard won though.Patrick being very patientSmall strips of paper are put under the large block of low base to try to raise the low point just a millimetre. Trial and error is the only way. Tomorrow we will print it.My checklist of print runs completed.. almost half way.[...]

Starting to Print 12 Trees

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 17:35:00 +0000

This week the printing of my 12 Trees book got underway.  I am printing the book at Logan Press with of course much help and guidance from everyone there, especially Patrick Roe, who owns the company, Tom who is an apprentice there and Bob the excellent compositor. Before edition printing can start there is much to do in the way of testing paper, print quality, setting up the press etc etc. This takes quite a long time. Letterpress printing is not for the impatient.Firstly the plywood plates have to be made up to type high. Here Patrick  is setting up  a test plate using low base and small clips to hold the plates in place. Getting the correct printing pressure is a mix of packing the plate and packing the paper and a sprinkling of magic dust.Because the plywood can vary very slightly each and every plate..30 in all… have to be both set up and printed individually. The plate must also be positioned correctly on the press bed to print in exactly the right place on the paper… each and every time.Once the positioning and pressure were set up we made some test prints but found snags due to the length of the press bed, the roller, the positioning of the large plates on the page etc etc. We achieved a lovely print but the paper flipped up at the end of printing and caught on the block leaving marks on the margin of the paper. How frustrating!!  Everything else was perfect. We tried many ways round this but in the end the decision was made to print the large images separately. There are often compromises in letterpress printing. Sometimes that can lead to a better result…? I am hoping this will be the case.Day two was setting  up some test type and the tree name blocks to make sure the press could cope with the paper size, the position of the title blocks and texts and to see how the paper would print these two elements.  I am hoping to use lovely Somerset paper produced by St Cuthbert’s Mill in Somerset which has a soft matt surface which will complement the woodcuts perfectly.One of the tree name blocks set up for printing andTwo lines of type set…then locked up in the chase with the help of Bob,and on the press bed perfectly positioned.One of the test prints on the Somerset which worked out beautifully. Day three, yesterday, we started to print the edition. This involves taking apart the dummy to get the correct pagination. The dummy is crucial as a guide as is page numbering!Patrick set up the tree name blocks, looked after the individual packing and the press and I eventually took over the printing. I am printing 20 of each page hoping for an edition of 15 books, plus some extra sheets on cheaper paper for positioning the type/other images for the next print run. Each piece of paper will go through the press 4 times so there are quite a few opportunities for error.. especially as I am doing some of the actual printing! Each sheet is hand fed through the press so concentration on the correct position of the paper in the gripper is essential.I calculated I printed 120 sheets yesterday ! …only 75 to go for the initial print run. Then do it all another three times, then print the large plates only, another 240 more impressions. After all that I will have the body of the books completed ! Hurrahh.Next it will be on to designing the endpapers, covers and then binding the edition..Phew… maybe they will be done by Xmas![...]

Almost done…part two…

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 18:04:00 +0000

I have almost finished the woodblocks for the tree book. Hurraah.. It has been a long haul and a steep learning curve. Deciding to do this book has perhaps been a rather rash way to learn about woodcuts but I am so far down the road now that it really should be completed.

Today has been trimming the text  blocks, neatening edges, sanding and cleaning up the blocks before final proofing tomorrow. Then there is finalising the dummy book, layouts and pagination before hopefully printing next week.

(image) (image)

Below two rather pleasing piles of blocks, 12 trees and 12 text blocks kept flat under weights.


It is at the stage where I am not fond of anything about it, seeing only errors and compromises.  But that is an inevitable part of the process and what actually spurs me on to do better next time!

The proofing and printing will be more interesting to blog about than a pile pf woodchips so more very soon!

A New Year and A Wolf Moon

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 17:42:00 +0000

What could be better than to start this New Year with a magnificent Wolf Moon. It’s the first full moon in January, so called because wolves are thought to howl louder at this time of the year. Not only is it a full moon,it’s also a supermoon. I woke up at 12 midnight to see my workroom flooded with moonlight casting shadows of the trees on the door and walls.

So, to celebrate, 2 monoprint moons from my Moon book, still waiting to be bound. Maybe this year!

Happy New Year!

(image) (image)

Almost done…

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 17:03:00 +0000

It would be very boring to keep posting yet another woodcut in progress but I am pleased to say I’m just a few days away from completing the set of 12 trees and their text panels. Then there will be proofing and the inevitable last adjustments. Then the start of more decisions, title page, endpapers, colophon etc etc. Then hopefully printing in January… then binding.


Xmas will just come and go as not only have I this book to complete, but also a set of delightful pig linocuts…more of that very soon.

So, a very Happy Christmas to all my readers. There may well be a” Wassail print” to welcome in the New Year. 2018 is looking busy!!

Cutting the Wood. Inevitable Dilemmas.

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 17:18:00 +0000

Cutting these blocks is challenging. In my new printmaking journey there have been only a few woodcuts, so I knew this would be a learning process. However I chose wood to match my subject. It is the most appropriate and sympathetic material for trying to catch the essence of trees and that’s my main aim.I am using very basic ply wood so cutting it is tricky because, as with all media, it has its own qualities and drawbacks. Unlike wood engraving blocks or quality solid woodblocks, it chips easily, does not take fine details and has a mind of its own, sometimes taking the cut in a different direction to the knife and it snags horribly if the knife is not sharp. The plus side is that it is easy to physically cut.The most intimidating aspect though is the “when its gone, its gone” problem. One slip of the knife, one thoughtless cut cannot be easily rectified, so there has to be some planning. But over-planning and following a careful drawing can make for a still, formal image … very good for some subjects but not for my trees! They need life and character.My tools are very simple. So far I have used 3 main cutters, 2 x V points and a U shaped gouge. I keep a trial cutting block on the desk to try out ideas for cuts.I spend probably too long looking at the rough drawing, trying  to work out some basic lights and darks and the day slips by. Plans for careful cutting and planning go out of the window and I have to “ just do it”. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. At this stage, about half way through the series I have made the main cuts on 8 of the blocks. The plan then is to proof them and see what I have and how they work as a series. Then I will work on the details to adjust the tones and clean up the blocks. If I have cut away too much I will have to start again…angst levels are high.A pile of rough working drawings.And taking the block out again, this time to the field maples.There is nothing like working direct.A series of anything are interesting to work with and I love the design stage. You need variety but also something to link the images, style, subject etc. This will be a simple  book with minimum text, so each turning page needs to bring some delight, something visually interesting, and intriguing, which makes you look forward to the next turn, each image adding something new to the “treeness” of the book. Ideally the complete book, the paper, the binding,  the endpapers and the printing, will become a thing greater than the sum of its parts.As I said, it is all a challenge and I am finding the fear of the pristine wood surface is even greater than that of blank white paper. I never thought I would find something more intimidating than that![...]

Block Cutting, Print Trials and more Sketching

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 15:57:00 +0000

This last week there has been more sketching, first print trials and block cutting for 12 Trees.It seems slow progress at the moment but there is so much prep to do before I can even start to cut the blocks, roughs to work out, blocks to cut and prepare and more sketching and research on the trees.However I have started trial cutting the text headers today.Elder and Elm, Beech, some too big, some too small. It’s trial and error.What looks fine on the block sometimes doesn’t look great when printed and next to one of the large images.5 Part cut blocks..More sketches while the weather is OK and there are a few leaves left.Field Maples,who seem to like to be in companionable threes.Ash Trees with their upturned branch ends and handsome black buds.Last Friday I started looking at type at Logan Press and hand setting a few lines, proofing on a lovely little Albion Slow .. but progress.[...]

Reference Sketching.

Sun, 12 Nov 2017 18:24:00 +0000

This last week I went out most days to make small sketches of the trees for the book. I find that just a short time sketching is a million times better than working from photos. Making a sketch, especially on a very cold day, requires you look hard and make fast, hopefully intuitive, decisions. So you tend to record just the essence of tree, very useful for the woodcuts which will have to be bold and simplified. Also I have to say that once I have sketched something I understand much more about the thing, how it is put together, what interests me about it and I remember all those things more easily, especially if I make notes. I am in a hurry too because I need to draw the trees before they all lose their leaves. I need to make sure I draw the right tree. My bark ID skills are not brilliant.Hazel and Lime Alder and ElmBeechElderI have a tight deadline so I also took the woodblock out to draw directly from the elder tree. This old, much pruned, tree has snaky spotted branches which twist back on themselves. Wonderful and slightly sinister as befits the magical elder!The tree prints will be based on trees I know well, what I like about them and what I know about them. A personal view rather than an archetype. I have discovered that one elm can look very different from another :).  [...]

Twelve Trees Book at The Logan Press

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 15:08:00 +0000

Over the last few weeks I have been planning a book to showcase just 12 of my favourite trees from the Spinney. I have been working up to making a proper book with letterpress type and the illustrations printed from the original woodblocks. Now it is a little bit closer to becoming a reality.

I am delighted to say that Patrick Roe at Logan Press has agreed that I can print the book with him. I will learn a huge amount, building on the work I did with Thomas Gravemaker at Letterpress Amsterdam who I hope to be seeing again in Feb to print “The Pig Book”.

So lots to do in the next few months. I will be documenting the progress of Twelve Trees on the blog and also on Instagram etc.

It will be a 32 page book with 12 full page woodcuts and a small amount of type based on old sayings, superstitions and the characters of the trees. The format is a nice generous 350 x 250mm portrait with full bleed images and hand cut titles.

Roughs and layouts and first cuts are underway!


Rough layouts for the twelve images and first roughs.


First block, rough and my original sketchbook drawing from last year on the blog here; “ In the Woods,some Useful Sketches.” I just knew they would be useful someday!

Tiny Brushes and Faint Owl

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 14:15:00 +0000

Last week I attended a workshop with Dr Veeda Ahmed looking at 2 different forms of Middle Eastern and South Asian miniature painting, Neem Rang and Siyah Qalam. “Neem Rang, meaning ‘half-painted’, is a style of miniature that features finely shaded images with selected bursts of colour. In Siyah Qalam or ‘black pen’ paintings, figures are sparingly and subtly shaded.”
I have always loved these beautiful drawings so was very keen to take the chance to learn something more about them. On many levels it was fascinating; the history, the techniques and the materials and the possibilities of learning classical techniques and then using those techniques for more contemporary imagery.

I was most interested in the technique of drawing with a brush, but I had not quite appreciated how very tiny the brushes would be. I could barely see the tip of this tiny thing with its curved hairs squirrel hairs.


In the right hands it can give a super fine, precise and most elegant line. In my hands it did not. However after a couple of days I began to get the hang of it in a very rough and ready way.


We worked from copies of traditional images which is a good way to learn but a copy can be deceiving and what appears to be one beautiful ink line is, in fact, made up of many tiny lines starting with an almost ghost image in pale grey, the thickness of the line being built up in certain places to emphasise and describe form. The originals are exquisite.

Needless to say I did not finish anything but just trying these techniques made me understand and appreciate even more the skill and finesse of these wonderful artists and probably improved my hand eye coordination quite a bit.


3 practise pieces.I think I have now done just 6 of the 10,000 hrs of practise.. way to go.. 

Meanwhile I am working on some much bigger, bolder, woodcuts… vive la difference!

Colour Sketches from the Wood

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:10:00 +0000

Some small sketches from the wood to make some colour notes as the weather changes. They will help so much for printmaking. I start with a pen sketch just quickly getting down some main lines and lights and darks and then follow up with the colour notes. I have wanted to do this for some time dithering about what paint etc as I need a quick drying paint for working outside. In the end I used gouche. Gouache is still my go to paint for these quick colour notes. I love its thick slightly chalky texture.Its a small square sketchbook 5.5 inches square 14 x14 cmssThere are 60 pages.. I hope to fill them all. [...]

Autumn Jess

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 15:11:00 +0000

Sometimes I would really like to get another dog. A few days ago I saw a lovely brindled whippet/cross scampering about in the woods. I could not help thinking on my late, much loved lurcher Jessie who I drew and painted so often.

So just for the sheer love of her and of course of a bit more printmaking practise I made a small print. I liked doing this so much that I plan a few more Jessie tributes.

It’s a two plate lino printed with blend rolls on Japanese paper.



Jessie sleeping amongst falling autumn oak leaves. image 16 x 11cms

More Colour Print Tests

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 16:42:00 +0000

There can never be enough tests! After a week in lovely Scotland I have spent today making some more test colour prints based on the sketch book work of the path in the wood.
4 colours. 4 small blocks. many many variables….


Sketchbook and plates.


Colour trials.


Image 4 x5.5 inches.

They are going to get larger..

The Sedgewick Museum, Fossils and other things beneath my feet

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 13:48:00 +0000

Back in 2014 I was beginning to discover the (to me) thrilling world of the fossils embedded in the Oxford Clay which underlies this area. We were once a Jurassic shallow sea and its fishy remains are still held in the sticky mud. I have collected quite a few, see my blog post; More about fossils, here,  tiny crinoids, elegant belemnites and the odd fragment of ammonite collected from the reservoir shore.On Tuesday we made a brief visit to the Sedgewick Museum in Cambridge. If you love cases of fossils and bits of bones and maps and things, a quiet contemplative atmosphere and no crowds, this is for you. I could have settled in happily for a few days of quiet sketching.Photos from the Sedgewick Museum Website.There is so much there to study and consider; the beautiful hand written labels on the specimens, Darwin’s note books, astonishing relics of creatures that knew a different earth and the strangely comforting feeling of being amongst benign ancestors. I thought more about the layering of my Path prints and those things deeper down from 200 million years ago.The museum was started by Dr John Woodward (1665-1728) and included fossils which had been collected and drawn by the Italian artist Agostino Scilla who published a book of exquisite observed drawings in 1670 See more about Woodwardian and Scilla here.A Woodwardian case including some of Scillas fossils.One the drawings from Scilla book magnificently titled La vana speculazione disingannata dal senso (Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense, 1670). I want to draw some more fossils and bones now.Then there is the structures of rocks to consider, the layering of rocks and sediment. Print work has been hampered by an awful cold which has laid me low for the last 10 days but colds are often an opportunity to think about things and I have been considering how I might incorporate some of these wonderful things in the prints. It’s all there under my feet, embedded and hidden, but there.However in the sketchbook I have been working on a few more rough ideas exploring the path, what I see on it, possible colours, how the map can help and other random thoughts about the fence posts. The charcoal burners keep returning too.~A4 Sketchbook notes          Ideas and thoughts.. sometimes having a cold can be quite productive.:).[...]

Prints, Prints and more Prints

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 13:49:00 +0000

After the very enjoyable experience with the large print earlier this month I have started taking a closer look at the possibilities of overlaying prints and combining plates. I have made overlays before, sometimes just out of curiosity or even by mistake.Now I am beginning to find the potential more intriguing, especially where I can combine different types of print: relief and intaglio, monoprint, wood and card or lino etc etc. the combinations are endless but I think this may be a way forward for me. There are technical problems. Plate heights to deal with, ink and paper issues and having the patience to LET THINGS DRY. Curbing my enthusiasm and impatience is sometimes very hard.They are getting bigger too. A2 is actually beginning to seem a bit small! A2 woodcuts ( from the big print) combined with added shapes. Up on the path in the woods the autumn Arum berries are a bright note in amongst the dark tree cover. The woodblocks were made with this walk very much in mind.A3 prints combining relief and intaglio blocks.    A4 Trials A2 Plates. Wood lino and card plates. They are loosely based on what I am seeing on the path at the moment, dappled light, twigs, stones, leaves etc I like these.They are an interesting development.  For me they need more consideration in the way of content and composition etc etc.. and of course then there is the issue of colour.. Hmmmm… way to go.  [...]

A Big Print

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:25:00 +0000

Following on from the sketches and small print trials from the last post, a large print. My first venture into large scale printmaking. You have to up the size of the marks, get organised, have much more time just for cutting and inking. Then have space for laying out the blocks and the print paper.

All this was made possible by our excellent tutor Katherine Van Uytrecht and the City Lit printroom.


It’s not a good photo but gives an idea of size. The plates were wood and lino and I loved doing it. There was only time for one print so I can only regard it as “ A Start”.  Some things worked some did not but that is what experimental printmaking is all about.


An idea of the surface detail…


The print set up… registration plate, woodblocks and the paper taped at the far end. The print is just over 4ft long. Nice! More to come.

Colour Trials

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 18:58:00 +0000

Following on from the sketches in the wood I needed to try out some possible colour combinations for next weeks printmaking.Greens and blues for undergrowth, the water of the reservoir, deep russets and reds for dark shadows and fallen leaves, white flashes for birds and insects which catch the light as they fly through the dappled canopy, dragonflies in iridescent blue, red berries and  cerulean sky blues.First some sketchbook notes.I am trying to keep the palette limited which will make the printing more interesting and hopefully harmonious. Then some small approx A5 trial prints using some of the colours.Limited palette overprintings with colour notes: For once I have actually made a note of the colours on the test pieces. My working practise is improving! It will be interesting to see what will happen when I start to interpret the sketches and colours on a larger scale. Maybe something completely different, but that is just one of the unexpected joys of printmaking![...]

Back to The Spinney

Mon, 31 Jul 2017 16:54:00 +0000

While working on other projects and having a bit of a holiday in Bilbao ( very nice) I continue to cycle up through the fragment of ancient woodland that is Savages Spinney. Heavy leafy branches now arch over the path which is patterned with the slanting rays of sunshine and dappled shadows.  I hope to be working on some bigger prints next week and so yesterday I decided to do some more sketches from my favourite spot for some reference material to work from.There is a particular tree on the path which often catches the light. This little sketch to record the basic shapes and the lights and darks. My sketch by a fallen tree in my favourite spot. Then more, to simplify things and look for shapes and ideas, making a rough record of what I am seeing now, in summer. It is so much busier and complicated,  so different from the stark tree shapes of the winter I had sketched before in November.This one above just line and a few details then the following sketches with more tone, to record the dappled light, the path, butterflies, branches knitted together with lichen, seed pods, spotted leaves, bees and leaf canopies, puddles and the water of the reservoir etc etc.  I made written notes about sounds and wildlife as well as notes of shapes that I might add.There is nothing like working on site. You can eliminate so much of the muddle and focus just on what you want. A4 Sketchbook pages, pen and brush and inks. The more abstract the sketches become the more possibilities present themselves and the more they represent to me the essence of what I see in the wood. I hope to get some small paintings done later this week to explore some of these in colour.It will be very interesting to see how these carry forward into prints![...]

Creating Characters: The Anxious Young Man

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 16:03:00 +0000

I am currently working on a rather complicated set of prints and hopefully an accompanying box. There is a sort of narrative to the prints and a main character. It is many years since I created characters and never before in lino. So it is an interesting challenge.

It made me think about what creating a character means. As soon as you make a drawing of something there comes along with it a potential for life, a  potential for character. Who is this, what sort of outlook do they have on life?  What is their story? My character, my anxious young man, existed in a different visual medium before. I am just taking him and giving him more life, rounding him out a bit. I suppose it’s rather like a novelist working with a real historical figure.

Lino cut 1

He has a companion too.. a dog. Dogs too have lots of personality, emotions and reactions. These two have just 8 encounters in this project. Some good some bad. How will they react to each situation and to each other?.

Lino cut 2

I also feel this curious responsibility because I am putting them in these situations. As I work with them an affection grows, to their weaknesses and shortcomings particularly. In the case of this young man I have, rather than created him, adopted him, but the responsibility is no less. In fact when I first saw him I thought he really needed a break.. so I am going to give him one..after a few setbacks of course, as is often the case in a good story.

They may well encounter a few of these as well.

Lino cut 3

Initial rough sketches.

Keep tuned for more of this project and and its origins.:)

“August Midnight”

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:19:00 +0000

As I said in the last post I have been attending a 7 session book binding course which sadly has just ended. There have been many trials and many many more errors. It is a slow and methodical process but small successes keep me going. This little concertina book was made to see how a three level concertina form might work, reasons for using three layers and the technical problems involved.It’s based around the evocative Thomas Hardy poem “August Midnight” which I mentioned before on the blog back in 2011in my Fly-Bee-night print post here. The poem mentions 4 insects that visit Hardy’s room at night while he is writing. “A longlegs, a moth and a dumbledore”  and “a sleepy fly that rubs its hands”.I played around with various formats and ways of doing this, but up against time rather than make prints of the insects I decided to use cut paper shapes which utilises the three layers. Things can get lost in the valley folds of concertinas sometimes so I reversed it with the insects emerging from the peaks, and designed it to lie flat rather than stand. Now the insects can have their wings open. Also the symmetry in both the poem and the insects lends itself to this form. The three levels needed to be to some extent visible and also support the layer above. So the base level is a hand printed lino of night sky on thick card, the second level Hardy’s handwriting printed on quite robust translucent paper and the top layer, the insects, made from soft Japanese paper which is also slightly translucent and very delicate just like his little companions. On the reverse is the night sky again but a darker print. The hard covers are covered with soft mat black slightly textured Japanese paper, the insect wings cut from printed Japanese paper are set in a recess in the cover. Covers and layers The reverse of the book It is designed to be lit. Night shadows of wings and legs.It was tricky to make, if you are just 1mm off nothing folds correctly. There were issues with getting the right paper, some papers cockling with the paste, some too thin, some too thick.  I made and remade it three times.Below is that big pile of trials and errors and my initial design notes written on the train on a scrap of paper. I love working on the train, few distractions and just a pen and a piece of paper. Again a big thanks to Sue Doggett our excellent tutor for help and advice. This book was a side project while working on a much bigger project which will take a month or so to complete… more of that to come. I am beginning to see how I can fulfil my long held desire to print and bind my own books.. at last![...]