"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Florence 1

I took the little Florence sketch from the Staffordshire figurine in the Fitzwilliam and made 3 woodblocks to correspond with the 3 main tones and printed them… many times, just as an experiment.

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The results were very interesting. Nothing wonderful but enough to make me think this is a good way to work.

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Some of the overprinted details are lovely and unexpected.The different colours and weights of colour change both the atmosphere of the image and her “look”.

I also made a little watercolour of the figure, just to get to know her better. I have a weakness for china figurines. Strange smooth shiny little people, often “idealised” versions of real people or classical figures, in pastel colours often with painted features that do not quite follow the contours of the model.  Nice! More character and much more real in a way. Sometimes, people whose makeup has gone askew, look just like this!

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I had a look at the real Florence Nightingale, who looked nothing like her china portrayal. The moon faced ideal of gentle Victorian beauty she was not, but a handsome, and uncompromising looking lady.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A New Bee for Easton

It’s been a while since I have painted a bee but, in February 2019, I am delighted to say “Buzz” the Bee paintings will be returning to Easton Walled Gardens.  They will be part of a “Plants and Pollinators” exhibition. My work will be alongside the lovely botanical paintings of Dawn Wright see her website here. https://www.dawnat29.com/.

It’s a few years since I painted a bee..in fact nearly 4 years. The last one was the lovely B ruderatus .https://pencilandleaf.blogspot.com/2011/05/black-queen-beautiful-bombus-ruderatus.html

This bee and another favourite, the female woolcarder bee, have never been made into prints and for this show I will be making a few prints of these for sale, as well as a new watercolour.

I have chosen the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, as Easton was the first place I saw this feisty little bee, collecting pollen from an early flowering espaliered cherry tree, in the spring of 2011. Back then it was  relative newcomer and so had not made it into my original British Bee exhibition.

I have decided the painting will be of the little bee perching amongst the cherry blossom just as I had first seen her.

As usual my working method is this: Thumbnail sketch to think about layout: then build the body shape of the bee, then “flesh” it out.

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First thumbnail rough for B hypnorum

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Construction of the bee form.

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Filling out the body.

Then some colour notes:

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hypcol4    hypcol3 

I am looking forward to making detailed painting again..I just hope I can do it!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Notes from the Fitz; China Ladies and a Thoughtful Monkey

Last Thursday I went to Cambridge to meet my good friend Alex but also to get started on the small sketches.

We managed just one hour of drawing but it was well worth it.

The Fitzwilliam has wonderful ceramics galleries which I always visit. I am particularly fond of the early English slipwares, Staffordshire figures, painted Delft and the wonderfully varied animals and birds, owls, bears, lions and tigers.
Nice for starting the quick drawings in the small sketchbook.
I was hoping to catch some of the robust character and delightful oddness of these early works.

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Grumpy Queen

I feel a real affinity with them, perhaps because I worked in Stoke on the pottery factories, perhaps because I have always loved the slightly wonky, slightly out of kilter, outside-the-lines sort of art.

sleep   lion   baby  

angelz  lady-with-owls  florence n

grumpy queen   hat   lobster

madonna   monkey   rest  

In Japan I came to realise how much I preferred the woodblock prints where the the colour blocks had not been perfectly registered. How much more life there seemed in these than in the perfectly printed ones.

My favourite is Florence (as in Nightingale).. she is the one I will be taking into a print.

florence n    FN

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Work for the Winter

In the last two weeks I have been taking some time to reassess work and winter projects. Three weeks away is quite disruptive but perhaps in a good way. Some things that seemed a great idea before Japan now seem not so interesting and I also had a good studio sort out which has made me see some old work with new eyes. I mean really old work, going back some 16 to 30 years. Having some distance has been really useful.

What do I want to do?
As a commercial artist you generally do as you are told. Teaching generally involves looking at the talents, aptitudes and desires of your students and guiding them to fulfil their potential. But what about me?

I am really happy to be working on the bees and the pigs and the careful observed drawing, all of which tend to be crowd-pleasers, so instant ego gratification!

But when I look back at my casual sketchbooks and exploratory drawing from many years ago there is an energy which can get lost in carefully rendered and necessarily designed work. There are also subjects that I want to explore but never felt I had skills in the right medium. Learning printmaking over the last few years has definitely helped but now it’s time to really see what I can do. It may also be that the years are ticking by!!

How to do it?

Sometimes the answer to problems is blindingly obvious. In my case it is "just draw with a different tool". So I am temporarily banning pencils and just working with brushes and felt tips.

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A couple of brush sketches for Diana the huntress from 2000

I found some small sketchbooks from about 8 years ago where I was looking at "notan". I was making Small sketches from paintings or the garden, with just 3 felt tip pens. It was mainly for teaching puroses.

But looking again they are so full of possibilities that I have decided to go back to this simple sketching form.. alongside the commercial work on the pigs, the books and the bees and the careful drawings.

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The tiny sketchbook notes. The books are only 4 inches square.

So that's what I will be exploring… :)

Sunday, 21 October 2018

“By emphasising the Light the Darkness is described”

I have been mulling over my experiences in Japan; the everchanging land and cityscapes, the daily kaleidoscope of unfamiliar foods, sounds and customs, visual delights of every sort, and the kindness of strangers.

Sitting at home in the rural quiet of a grey English October and letting some of those things find me again, its interesting to see which experiences stay with you or pester you with a creative itch that will have to be dealt with fairly swiftly. While I saw less in the way of Japanese prints than I thought I might, the prints I did see were inspirational.

One unexpected find was a little museum in Osaka, Kamigata, http://kamigata.jp/kmgt/english/.

“This museum exhibits ukiyo-e paintings produced in Osaka in the Edo period. Most of the ukiyo-e paintings made in Osaka were portraits of kabuki actors.”

The exhibitions change but when we visited the prints explored how light and dark are portrayed.It was fascinating to learn more of the conventions of the depiction of light and dark both in the prints and the theatre and how they inform each other, the many different sorts of light, candles, lamps and fires and the concept of black as being “invisible”.

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“By emphasizing the light, the darkness is described”

The museum is small and quite dark to preserve the prints but they will issue you with a LED torch which enables you to get very close and see the gorgeous details and the quality of the surface. Here the beam of light brightens the colours rather than bleaches them out.

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The embossing of parts of the prints, almost impossible to see without a raking light, gives an added dimension to the print and the use the “light”.

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My, not very good, photo taken with the aid of the torch.

As I said, inspiring!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Beautiful Gifts from Japan

Its been quite a while since I posted and not least because I was lucky enough to have a three week trip to Japan.

Chris and I travelled around from Tokyo to Onomichi, across the Inland Sea to the Island of Shikoku, back to Kobe, we sat out typhoon in Osaka, on to Kyoto and then back to Tokyo.

One of the nicest things was to be able to catch up with my lovely artist friend Azusa Sato, (see her beautiful delicate work here http://www.s-azusa.com/ ). We met up in Tokyo at the beginning and the end of our trip and on both occasions she gave me lovely gifts.

They were so thoughtfully chosen.

A box of little pressed birds in origami packaging.

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A box of charming Owl biscuits … all different. I have no idea how they are made.

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A Kintsugi gold mended dish which she had made for me. I love this respectful repairing of broken pottery and am so pleased to have this mended by a friend, which makes it more special.

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And, most exquisite, a tiny hand made book she had made which opens into a series of individual little faces; happy, sad, singing? and sleepy. The envelope is sealed with a tiny handmade bird.

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It is so beautiful and I am very very lucky.

Thank you Azusa!!

It was a fascinating trip. I am just trying to process all the images and experiences..my work may change a bit as a result of experiencing, first hand, some of the fabulous design, printmaking and craftwork. I rather hope so! And the garden may sprout a small temple and some large rocks … well in my dreams.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Nature in Art Residency and “Grain”

I am delighted to have been asked back for a weeks residency at Nature in Art this year at the magnificent Wallsworth Hall at Twigworth in Gloucestershire.

Wallsworth Hall

It’s a wonderful place “dedicated to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature” and I shall be there with bees, pigs, prints and drawings from 31 July to 6th August. I’m taking a small book press with me and will be printing some blocks while I am there.

Do come along and say hello if you are close by.

“Grain”
Meanwhile I have to say it has been just too hot to do very much practical work, but one of the 4 or 5 projects I have on the go is one concerning “Grain”. I was looking for an experimental project to work on to explore some different bookbinding structures. Chris and I are both interested in heritage and sustainable foods and grain is just one of them. At about the same time an opportunity arose to spend a day at a working watermill with Mike and Becky Shaw at Golspie Mill in Sutherland. It was a really wonderful experience and many ideas and possibilities arose from that short visit too.. but I will write more fully of the visit in the next post.


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Golspie Mill.

I started working on “Grain” before we went to Glospie, looking at some of the ancient grains, spelt, emmer, einkorn which are gathering popularity as well as rye, Orkney bere barley and oats along with milled peas and millet.

“Grain” is a concertina structure which holds 8 prints based on 8 different grains/pulses. It is quite large, when fully opened as far as it can go its 1.5 meters ( or just over 5 foot.)The 10 panels are approx 34 x18 cms ( 7x13.5 inches).

It  has a smaller concertina of woodcuts on the back which has 4 grain related farming scenes loosely based on the Lutrell Psalter.  I think all this needs another post explaining a bit more but meanwhile some snaps: I have realised I need a bigger house as I have nowhere to photograph this when fully opened!

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Dummy, roughs and trials..

book hand

The front cover, I made my own bookcloth and everything is handprinted.

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View of the inside with some of the woodtype I used and a block.

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The final spread.

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One of the back panels … “ploughing”.

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A  print from the woodcut of “sowing”….

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The back.. “reaping” with a glimpse of “winnowing”  in the background. As everything was handprinted, the smell of the printing inks is just gorgeous when you open it! It is weighty too which makes it pleasing to hold.

It was a complicated structure to put together, but served as a very useful experiment which I am going to develop further. There were many test pieces and problems but I have learnt an enormous amount.

More detail on the prints and processes soon.

Monday, 11 June 2018

A Box for Bird Hide and Stickers for Pigs

Things have been really busy this spring with the very good bookbinding course at City Lit and general print experiments based around ancient grains and their production and more pig progress.

One of the projects I worked on at the bookbinding course was a box to contain the little “Bird Hide” book I made a couple of years ago. See here https://pencilandleaf.blogspot.com/2017/02/bird-hide.html

I wanted to try making a box to hold a book, so I printed some calico for the bookcloth and some Japanese  paper for the interior covering material.

It’s not exactly difficult, it just relies on very accurate measuring and a methodical approach, building a tray, the box top and the inset, then preparing the base and side and front cover with an extra inset for the inside of the cover and then assembling it all.. and just hoping it fits. It did! Hurahh!

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The structure of the box inside.

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The front cover with the printed bookcloth and the box structure.

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The finished box interior. The book fits into the aperture and under the book is a map of the walk which relates to the concertina book. Opposite is a short piece of text about the book and the path.

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There is an extra element. If you lift the map there is a tiny nest with three eggs. It’s all about birds, hiding, the woods and the path to the bird hide by the lake.

I was so pleased that it worked! It has made something special of the small book.

And then pigs.. you can never have too many pigs. We are slowly getting round to the packaging of the Salute the Pig prints and the book. There have to be stickers!

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More soon…..