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

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Cutting the Wood. Inevitable Dilemmas.

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.

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A pile of rough working drawings.

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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!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Block Cutting, Print Trials and more Sketching

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.

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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.


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5 Part cut blocks..

More sketches while the weather is OK and there are a few leaves left.

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Field
Maples,who seem to like to be in companionable threes.

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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

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Slow .. but progress.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Reference Sketching.

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.

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Hazel and Lime

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Alder and Elm

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Beech

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Elder

I 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 :). 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Twelve Trees Book at The Logan Press

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!

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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!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Tiny Brushes and Faint Owl

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Colour Sketches from the Wood

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.

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Its a small square sketchbook 5.5 inches square 14 x14 cmss

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There are 60 pages.. I hope to fill them all.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Autumn Jess

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.

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

Sunday, 24 September 2017

More Colour Print Tests

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….

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Sketchbook and plates.

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Colour trials.

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Image 4 x5.5 inches.

They are going to get larger..