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

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.

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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..

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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…..

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Binding the Pigs!

I am really busy right now with a new small book project,  but also making some, albeit a bit slow, progress with the “Salute the Pig” books.
I have “assembled” one trial binding. I say “assembled” because it’s definitely trial and error and there are still some things to get right in the stitching and spine areas. But it is coming along.

I printed the endpapers and cover designs some time ago:

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Trotting trotters for the endpapers…


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Two halves of one very big pig for the cover….

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End papers pasted in….

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Cover assembled…

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One book bound :)… only another 24 to go…

AND…. Chris is working hard on the accompanying little recipe book. “A Feast of Pork”…

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All tried and tested here at home ….MMMMMMMM delicious !

Monday, 12 March 2018

Almost done: The Problem Woodblock

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.

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“Alder” one of my favuorites,  with the charcoal burners and rooks.

Then the last one just would not print.

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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.

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Eventually on Friday, still with the awful cold, I finally managed to print the last block.

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“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.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Half the Hog: Part 2

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.

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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.

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Adjusting the packing on the press

Because 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.

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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.


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Not a mistake but deliberate overprinting  to check for correct and consistent positioning of each consecutive textspot on!

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Piles of printed texts with the trial page

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Dry texts in neat labelled piles.

Friday was our final day to print the title page, copyright  and some extra images on larger sheets.

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Chris printed the last few prints. This is his favourite, the Berkshire!
Behind him the other prints hanging up to dry.

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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….

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Half the Hog in Amsterdam: Part 1

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.

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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!

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The Berkshire block locked up on the bed of the Vandercook

Proofing 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??

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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!

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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,

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and printing the edition.

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Wednesday we started printing the texts!

Part Two tomorrow.