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

Thursday, 8 September 2016

After Amsterdam….

Three great weeks in August, some serious letterpress printing, lino cutting, cycling, fabulous museums and galleries,  good food, drink and company.. and plans to return for even longer next year.

I will be putting some post up about my time there, which if you are not a letterpress fan may look a bit dry. But my aim was to lean more about the capabilities, restrictions and potential for future projects.
I achieved all that and more thanks to the very excellent Thomas Gravemaker at LetterpressAmsterdam and the Vandercook. More projects planned….. : )

And Another Hortus Book

Before starting the project with Thomas, there was by chance a short three day “Make a Book” course. ie cut linos, make etching plates, print them; hand set type,print it; bind book. Sounds fairly simple but is a huge amount to do in 3 days in a class. The course was run by Thomas, Carola Rombouts and Thekla Ahrens. It was excellent.

As I was in Amsterdam to print part of my Masters project it seemed appropriate to keep the theme going.
Just time for 5 of the 7 Janus herbs this time …
Simple imagery, typesetting and just 2 colours.


Proofs, wood and metal type, lino and stamps.

And the finished book.

Covers …

Double spreads..

Simple, with super fast lino cutting, but many more techniques understood and learnt…Great !

More Amsterdam printy stuff soon. Just a couple of weeks to go and the course is up!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Some Lovely Bees

The only thing to do at the moment is to go out and commune with some bees.



Tiny tiny delicate white faced  Hyleaus bees on the coriander flowers and the furry lamb’s ear. They are such a favourite of mine. No-one ever bought a print of this one ..too much like a wasp people said…..


The normal hover flies look enormous in comparison

Little male Bombus lapidarius sleeping away a rain shower.

and without its pollinating bee anymore, the self pollinating bee orchid from a grassy patch by the reservoir.


All that dressing up with no-one left to impress, except a few of us humans… The male longhorn bee is known to visit this beautiful thing,.. but they are very rare in the UK. It would be lovely to see one; it is the right sort of habitat with vetchling, clovers and trefoils. Maybe another day .

Monday, 13 June 2016

Growing … can be a deadly business…

I like to get really up close and personal to my subjects, so am growing the herbs for the final MA project work.

Here is a wicked little set of Janus plants; Henbane, Deadly nightshade, Foxglove, Thornapple, Artemisia, Celandine… sure, in their various strengths and concoctions, to do you more harm than good.


Innocent little seedlings right now…

And then there are the plant dyes. Little bottles of colours …lovingly prepared with mordants and salts and minerals, macerated, ground and pulverised, boiled, extracted, slaked and reduced, drowned in alcohol and fattened with oils, relaxed with ox gall and waterproofed with saponified shellac. A little witchcraftery in the kitchen and and studio.


av-ink av-gd

Some gorgeous avocado ink. Add a little gold here and there for true alchemy…

People ask me how Chris is doing?  Well he’s just fine; at the moment. He just needs to watch his step.


(BUT one final thing today.. it’s just a “get well soon wish” to Orlando. Why this beautiful, fun–loving city?  Responsible for some of the very very happiest days of my life and some of the best people I have ever met. I am thinking of you all.)

Friday, 27 May 2016

“Nothing Is Arbitrary”

Thesis is done and out of the way. The research was fascinating, the writing just a chore. I wonder about the scores of these reluctantly written texts which are destined never to be read ever again. I wonder if this is the right way of assessing the understanding of essentially visual subjects.
However after a short break to beat the garden into submission I am back to work.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the excellent egg tempera course I attended. On the first day Dr Spike Bucklow of the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge gave a short introduction to tempera and  particularly its medieval  uses. His initial statement, referring to both the artists, and the paintings, was

“Remember, at this time, nothing is arbitrary”.

Everything about a painting from its pigments to its supports, its media and its content was carefully considered. He spoke about the alchemy of paint and painting, of the community surrounding and involved in the production of paintings and that community’s ability to read the significances of both paint and content, which we have largely lost. Sometimes the deeper meanings are not in the image but are within the paint itself.

This remained with me as I wrote my thesis and thought about the materiality of the Russian Artists Books I was researching. It remained with me as I learnt more about the simple ingredients, precious pigments and beautiful dyes used to make Persian Miniatures, and as I started thinking about my major project which notionally is set in the 17th Century and concerns plants and medicines and a certain amount of alchemy. There are many parallels between making paint and making medicine ( and making food). Sometimes they use the same ingredients. Sometimes that is not a good idea.

I am also reading Spike’s book “The Alchemy of Paint”, so in these early stages of the project rather than just reach for the nearest tube of paint I have started to make some of my own.

Firstly: … Beetroot and Woad. ..


What a very lovely combination. I could also drink it or cover myself with awesome tattoos in preparation for the Last Battle.

“Remember …nothing is arbitrary” :)…..

Monday, 11 April 2016

Stone and Bee

I am delighted to say the hairy footed flower bees are back! They have survived the winter in the strawberry pot for the 3rd year.
A lucky shot of the male with his gorgeous hairy feet. He was sleeping in the sun by the back door. The little black females are around too very noisy and very busy. Many other bees are out and about. I just spotted a Tawny mining bee very new and very russet red gorgeous. It is lovely to see them.

Anthophora plumipes  The Hairy Footed Flower Bee.

And in the last two weeks I have been on a couple of short courses. A very good lino workshop about 4 colour overprinting with Kevin Holdaway and last weekend an egg tempera workshop at Wysing Arts with Sohelia Sokhanvari.  Both were excellent. Many years ago egg tempera and pen and ink were my favourite media. Then commercial life got in the way. But going back to this again I realise how much I really love working with egg and pigments.. Hmmm .. yes .. I may well do some more.

We also experimented with making various kinds of inks. What I like so much about all this is that the materials are quite humble and simple. You can make paints and inks from many things found around the house and garden.

These are a few comparisons of the different mixtures, looking at  flow, density, wetting, granulation,etc etc


I started the tempera study of the stone on the last afternoon of the class and finished it at home today. Just 5 pigments and one egg yolk and some water .. and a 00 brush.



Almost finished study 4 x 2.5”…  not quite there but they never are.
What you can’t see of course it the beautiful sheen that the egg binder gives and the complex surface. It is really nice stuff to work with!

Back to thesis tomorrow…

Monday, 21 March 2016

And yet more trials…

There has been little time for practical work this week except a few more trials with mostly collagraph plates and combining some scrap prints with different plates to see what happens.


Printing lightly on thin paper gives a lovely soft grainy effect and subtle overlapping colour mixes.

blue-4    blues-det   

And a combined lino, collagraph and a bit of chine-colle


Some accidents can really help, especially when, what you are actually trying to do, isn’t working. (often)
It’s always worth looking at some tiny details which could be enlarged and developed into new prints.

berries-2     berries-1

It’s also quite useful to have scrap prints to use for something else, a trial book jacket perhaps..
Ah yes ! And here is one I made earlier, out of scraps…There is nothing in it yet, it’s just a sort of book in waiting and will probably remain so.. 


Spring though is definitely springing here…many bees, many birds and much frogspawn, lovely! I am having a few days off to dig the garden. Back after Easter.

Friday, 11 March 2016

More print trials. Collagraphs this time..Hmmm

This week has been taken up with more print trials and thoughts about my cast of characters as well as some thesis reading.

I have only made a few proper intaglio printed collagraphs before, usually preferring to print card plates as relief prints. But there is much to love about the intaglio method especially in the hands of someone as outstanding as Katherine Jones. I attended her workshop this weekend which was a fascinating insight into her working methods.
Courses given by master printers are both inspirational and frustrating, because they make it all seem so simple.
It isn’t…it so SO isn’t!

However the trials I made will be very useful and I am beginning to understand how I can combine printing methods to created the images and effects I want. There is much to learn. These are some trials from the weekend.


Fish are always a nice design-y subject to play with. These fish actually do have a special significance for the project.


Two inkings of the same plate. This time a larger A3 plate.


You can achieve some very beautiful, if accidental, effects.


At the moment, every time I lift the paper away from the plate to reveal a print, it’s a complete surprise. If anything lovely happens it is purely accidental. Hopefully that will change and I will have a little more control.

I carried on playing when I returned home and tried to make some systematic comparison plates using slightly different methods and materials

Home trials with different inking


Trials with different plates to compare marks and inking and surface.


But it’s messy! I am not yet sure about collagraphs. They are thirsty for ink, laborious to ink up, and very very messy. Or I should say I am very messy, despite gloves. Me, my clothes, the paper, the press and the house are all covered in ink.

The Characters
Then I am also beginning to think about the characters. They include 17th century explorers, botanists, gardeners, herbalists, doctors and apothecaries. The process you choose to use can really change how you approach the imagery. I am playing with ideas, with methods, scale and imagery to find out what might suit. In arty terms its called “visual language”!…

Trialling a simple bold lino print of a face.No one in particular ..just a trial.


2 figure sketches and accompanying linos as yet unprinted.


They will hopefully appear in some guise next week….

Friday, 4 March 2016

Trial Books and One Well Registered Print.

I made up three of small trial seed prints into books as an exercise in binding, 2 case bound and one stab stitch. I made a quick cover design and the results are not bad. I will improve. Hopefully before I have to submit final work. What that will be is still a mystery to me but the more I make the clearer my ideas become.


I was thinking about the next stage of plant growth and made a small seedling print which might be included in one of the final books. The most exciting thing was to actually get a decent registration on one print.



Awesome registration Val…:)