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Monday 27 July 2009

Bumble Bee and Ginkgo

This double intaglio was only partially successful as we had problems with the soft ground which was used to prepare the ginkgo leaf plate. The ease of making the ginkgo image (you “just” run a leaf through the press on a soft grounded plate) was counteracted by the soft ground coming away on the wax paper, the leaf crumbling and sticking to the plate. Hmmm. My admiration for etchers grows and grows. One slip of the etching tool, one second too long in the acid, one tiny mistake with the soft or hard ground and you have wasted materials and hour or more of time and expectation. But the proof turned out better than I had thought.

I am beginning to get more of a feel for the inking, but as David, our tutor of 35 years of etching experience, says, every plate has its own character. Here is a sample of his work. His dark tones are wonderful, and to achieve this I know takes much plate reworking and very expert printing. The internet image does not do it justice at all.

“Flight Line“ 3’’ x 9.5”
See more on his website at

Etching has a beautiful, mysterious feel to it. Something of the antique. They are quiet contemplative things which require an intimate encounter. They don’t reward the casual glance or give the instant colour thrill of a screenprint. At their best they contain depth,detail and atmosphere. They reward people who enjoy the quality of marks for their own sake and who love the atmospheric.

But I am almost done with etching. The short course will finish next week and without a press, acid and, most of all, space. I won’t be doing any more for the time being. That’s one of the drawbacks of etching.. its not quite so easy as a few brushes some paints and some paper, and I am still trying to achieve the illusive non smudged, perfect print.

Bee and Ginkgo Plate

bee and ginkgoplate2

I was using some watercolour paper for this proof.. too thin really, as the print has buckled a little .. yet another variable and pitfall waiting for the would be etcher.

bee and ginkgo2

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Thursday 23 July 2009

Lincolnshire Lurcher

So it’s not all bees. I decided I should do an etching of my much loved, long gone, but never forgotten lurcher, Jessie. This really belongs in my neglected dogblog and will get there soon I guess. Jessie was a rescue dog, left by some travellers on Lincoln Common. She was the most elegant, gentle and delightful dog you could wish for. She made a pair with my other big bad hairy lurcher Charlie.

I wanted to try some much more sweeping strokes in the hard ground rather than short scratches. So I have a typically windy and grey Lincolnshire sky with some tiny church spires on the horizon. The first proof had only Jess and the sky. I added the hares in a strip along the bottom. Being a lurcher she loved to chase hares ( and squirrels) and dreamt about them often …so she told me :)

Jessie’s Constant Dream.

jessie lurcher sm

This is also dedicated to Barbara and Stan Kempton who became Jess’ wonderful carers and lavished more love, care and attention on this little dog than she or I ever deserved. She was the luckiest dog in the world.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Sunflower and Moon Bees…Trials and Errors.

Having done one bee I decided to try some backgrounds to accompany it. I have always liked combining images and mixing things up so it's a mix and match bee set. This etching is all a bit hit and miss, every print is a complete surprise… i.e. I have no control!

It’s very easy to over or under-ink the plate and every print is different. I know the master etchers try to achieve a series of prints which are as identical as they possibly can be, but at the moment part of the fun is not knowing exactly what will be revealed.

I first did a quick vine (with, of course, a few pods...) to see how the technique of overprinting, correctly called double intaglio I think, would work.. Basically you have two plates and one piece of paper, and print the paper twice. Just getting the registration right is tricky, but the tutor has a very neat registration system cut out of an old “For Sale” sign. I will try to get some photos tonight.

so.. “Bumblebee and Vines”..3 different papers.

bees and vine

Then, I had read how much bumble bees like sunflowers, so,

“Bumblebee with Sunflower” printed on different papers with slightly different coloured inks.. and different levels of success!


And, of course, I had then to have a moonflower bee as a companion…

“ Bumblebee and Moonflowers ” again different papers, different inking and different results.

moon bees

My aim this week is to try to get a few really nicely printed which will be for sale in my new Etsy shop.. “Waving Bee Press” coming very soon, plus a blog too..

Why Waving Bee Press? .. well a longish story but part of a project I have been developing for a few weeks now, which looks like growing into an exhibition, prints cards and some handmade’s so exciting!! The sort of project I love, lots of research, lots of ideas and an end product. More of this later..

As part of the work I have had to learn Adobe Illustrator from scratch.. phew… vectors…The problem is that switching now between Photoshop and Illustrator has me even more confused. It’s all to do with digital letterpress, which is whole new box of soldiers to play with.!… Heaven !

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Thursday 16 July 2009

Bee Etching

Inspired by my good friend Dy in the UK , I have been learning something about etching over the last few weeks. Not much, but enough to realise how very tricky, time consuming and complicated it is. Dare I say I have barely begun to scratch the surface..:)

It seems a deceptively simple process. Coat a small zinc plate with some hard ground, (a combination of asphaltum, beeswax and rosin) scratch through this waxy surface with a pointed tool, immerse in weak acid, (which etches into the plate where the surface has been revealed) ink up and print.. easy!

What makes it so difficult are the mind numbing variety of options you have, starting with the different types of plates and grounds, the time in the acid, the inking up, the paper, the pressure on the press and combinations of all of those... however, I am giving it a go.
My little bumble bee seemed a natural subject so here is my first small bee print.

plate and bee

Plate and first print in burnt umber on Strathmore, plate size 6” x 4”


First print...


Second print, on a laid cream Rives BFK paper.

It seems that etchings are very difficult to scan, the computer just wants to merge all the fine lines together in a jumble of pixels , so here is a closer detail of the bee, which is about 2 inches from top to toe.

bee detail
I am amazed at the sensitivity of the process. The tiniest lines with only a short exposure to acid will give the finest results if correctly inked etc. ……..but so much to learn and so many pitfalls along the way as I am learning!

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Monday 13 July 2009

Bombus:Humble, Bumble and Bees

When last home I was exploring the old potting shed in my father’s garden. It has lain largely undisturbed, for years, wreathed in hanging spiders webs. “Exploring” is not really the correct word, as all I do is go in, find the spade, hoe, fork etc I need and hastily retreat before being overcome by my spidery fears. However on a window sill I did see a little dead Bumble Bee. Bees are about the limit of my “dead thing” collecting and I do like to draw them so I put it in a small box and it came back to the USA with me. I found it again while unpacking, it was a bit worse for wear but OK for a study or two.

This I think is Bombus terrestris, the buff-tailed bumblebee or large earth bumblebee. I liked this definition from Collins Discovery.
“Bumblebee: any large hairy social bee of the genus Bombus”

Large, hairy and completely delightful. Much loved but endangered, see the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust for what you can do to help.
Called Humble Bees too, not as I thought for the bowing, inclined aspect of their head but because of the noise they make. R W Emerson wrote a rather odd early poem in praise of the Humblebee, here is a snippet.

Insect lover of the sun,
Joy of thy dominion!
Sailor of the atmosphere;
Swimmer through the waves of air;
Voyager of light and noon;

Epicurean of June;

Regarding sailing and swimming, the aerodynamics of the bumble bee have been called into question, but as successful business woman Mary Kay Ash said
“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” .. a good motivational quote for a Monday. You can read about this incorrect theory and perhaps how it came about at
And see a lovely slow motion, in flight, bumble bee doing very nicely, here on YouTube.

I made these sketches a couple of weeks ago just before starting the printmaking course. This coming week, the bee in print and much more about bees in general.


pencil bee

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Wednesday 8 July 2009

A Subversive Tree in Baldwin Park

There are good and bad things about our new location. Lake Baldwin is good. It is one of the few Orlando lakes whose shores have not been commandeered by the elegant houses of the rich and privileged. We can escape the heat and noise of our new box to join the dog walkers, joggers, the many “boggers” ( joggers with babies) and cyclists of all ages and abilities, to make a circuit or two around the 2 mile path. On one side of the path are the houses and on the other is the lake, bordered by a strip of land which has been allowed to revert to its unruly origins and is now a protected natural environment.

As an ecosystem, an abandoned military base generally has no place to go but up. So it was at the Orlando NTC. Part of the redevelopment of the site has been reestablishing the original ecology. The developers worked with Florida Audubon to recreate the natural habitat of the area, reintroducing native grasses and other species.
The developers decided to preserve the shoreline around the community’s two lakes as parkland, instead of selling it as waterfront property, and to focus on passive recreation around the lakes, so that people are not “pestered with jet-skis,”
Hometown: Baldwin Park, Orlando, By Ruth Walker here.

Cycling into an ever changing head wind round the lake is not really my idea of “passive recreation” but the anhinghas, ospreys and herons may fish and swim with not much more than a rowing boat or an enthusiastic Labrador to disturb them.

The development of Baldwin Park sprung phoenix-like from the old Orlando Naval Training Centre whose four gate posts still stand. I am not sure what part the lake played in the training or what naval manoeuvres may have been practiced there as there seems barely enough room for one warship never mind a submarine as well. But anyway, Baldwin Park has left its military memories behind, turning away from the drill and discipline to slip into the new life of an easy and relaxed residential suburb.

There is a lovely doggy park on the lake which must be a perfect piece of dog heaven, complete with trees, water and other dogs. A place where canines can frolic together in and out of the water, watched by happy and relaxed owners and, occasionally by this dog lorne person who often pines for a furry companion. I would imagine that the word “fleetpeeplespark” causes much ecstatic tail wagging in the homes of local dogs.

The strip of eco wilderness which borders the lake has some wonderful old trees, twisted oaks and tall pines. They grow in amongst a muddle of creepers and vines and seem incongruous, as only yards away are the rows of neat obedient little crepe myrtles which line the paths of orderly Baldwin Park.
These untidy old trees with their untrimmed branches just act as a reminder of the disorder of nature in the raw and amongst them is one particular tree that has escaped from an Hieronymus Bosch painting. This is a real little monster of a tree, a two fingered salute to the neatness all around it, a little bit of a nightmare creeping into the suburbs, unremarked. I had to draw it.

From its reptilian snout, sprout three main limbs which spiral up and up to eventually clear the surrounding oaks. Its “mouth” seems to be eating smaller twigs, while the hole left by a lost branch keeps an eye on you.

I took a small sketch book and a pen, and made couple of sketches.

tree1 treepen3
Sketch Book pages 4 x 6” pen.

Then the next day another more accurate drawing.

tree 2 

Sketch book page 8 x 10”

And then this watercolour sketch.

blog col sketch

Sketch book page 12” x 9”, watercolour.

I am sure it is a Sweetbay Magnolia (or even the lesser know fish tree :)….) Possibly it looks endearing but this may be its ancestor……


“Hell” from the “Garden of Earthly Delights” Hieronymus Bosch  1504,


Bosch’s trees are not quite so benign, but this odd little tree is a very good subject for an illustrator like me and I will no doubt be drawing it again. It’s a natural for etching, a medium new to me but proving to be fascinating and frustrating.. as all art is!

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Saturday 4 July 2009

Distant Figures and Tin Men at Temple Bruer

Scarecrows are really best seen from afar. Get too close and the magic will vanish. Like the down-at-heel circus act, whose tawdry costumes need the kindness of distance and theatrical lights, the good scarecrow needs to stay at imagination’s length. It has just a few moments to persuade you it is real, and not just a bundle of sticks and rags and bits of plastic.

Some do better than others. The very first scarecrow I photographed I encountered on a remote farm track. I remember the occasion well, an unsettled dawn with a storm brewing. It’s an odd creature, but with an endearing human aspect. She is walking, head down, silhouetted up on the ridge of the field and just for a fraction of a second you would catch your breath. But then you realise that the plodding step does not progress and it is only the wind that is shaking the fluttering strips of plastic, and the head, oh dear, the head is too big and too yellow.
Back then, I called this one “Alien.”


Another skyline figure, prominent in a Lincolnshire landscape of slight hills, just a snag on the horizon. Headless, in a field of fading oilseed rape, just past its chrome yellow splendour.


Another distant figure in a cold misty dawn. This one I named “The Milkman”. The low sun had illuminated two old plastic containers.


Tin men of Temple Bruer

I had a very nice email re scarecrows from Brian in Kansas, home of the very famous scarecrow and of course the tin man. I found 2 tin men scarecrows about 10 miles from my home near the tiny hamlet of Temple Bruer. This is an odd little place with only a church and a couple of farms. It’s bleak and strange as is most of the heath to the south of Lincoln.

But it was so apt to find tin men walking these particular fields because here, isolated, almost forgotten and unnoticed, lie the remains of one of the Knights Templars’ settlements. All that remains today of this extraordinary and rare site is the southern tower of the church, which dates back to 1160. Nearby, there are some green lanes, where riders and dog walkers cross paths and another pretty and isolated little church.

So here are my knights of the field.. corrugated tin and painted metal sheeting striding across the kale, quite a fitting tribute to their ancestors.

tin man 1

When researching the book I also came across an anecdote concerning an old suit of armour which had been set up in a field to scare the birds. It would have been a wonderful sight… and sound.

I immortalized some of these oddities in the book as pen and ink chapter headings and ends.

tin men pen and ink


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Thursday 2 July 2009

Unpacking boxes….

This is now the 7th move in 6 years. Two of those have been to different countries and it is at times like this I wish I were a diamond salesman. Artists just do not travel light. I met a diamond salesman once and the tools of his trade were contained in one tiny briefcase. Back in the dark ages, the school’s careers advisor failed to bring diamond selling to my attention, but then, it seemed, there were only three suitable careers for girls, teaching, secretarial or nursing. If I had chosen diamond selling there would have been 20 fewer boxes, 2 drawing tables and a book case less to move.

But here we are for a while and it’s back to work, blogs,drawing, painting, printmaking and book preparation and some exciting explorations into letterpress printing….