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

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Sedgewick Museum, Fossils and other things beneath my feet

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.

scilla fig 5

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



path-sketch-1          sketchbok1sketchbook-2sketchbook-3

Ideas and thoughts.. sometimes having a cold can be quite productive.:).

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Prints, Prints and more Prints

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 print overlays 

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.

Val L 3. Overprint trials_resize

A3 prints combining relief and intaglio blocks.

trial2    linos

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. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

A Big Print

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.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Colour Trials

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!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Back to The Spinney

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!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Creating Characters: The Anxious Young Man

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.:)

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

“August Midnight”

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!