Thursday, November 13, 2008

Christmas card 2008

Here it is then.....shades of Barbara Hepworth's garden with a sprinkling of Cornish tin mine and coastal village goodness. Mart and I are walking the dog and son and his fiancée are admiring the tree. The pub is the Pentreath Arms, named after Dolly Pentreath, she died 1777 and was reputedly the last Cornish-only speaker. The seagull is obviously a Cornish Pirates rugby club fan and wears a club scarf to keep his neck warm.

I'm getting the card printed by a proper printer this time, as my poor old Canon is coughing it's last. I hope my friends and relatives like it!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Corel Painter magazine

Copyright for the above of course lies with Imagine Publishing Ltd.

Terrrah! This month's Corel Painter Magazine contains a tutorial by yours truly, about making an advent calendar. I did the images and write-up on the first two pages and the designer did the other two about assembling the calendar.

I found the images easy to create, but oh...the text caused some headaches! I'm just not used to writing in that sort of vernacular. Luckily, Hubby came to the rescue and helped me iron it out a bit so there it is.

On the engraving front, instead of editioning my block yesterday, I had to get on and do some work on my personal Christmas card, otherwise it won't be printed in time. Here it is so far..........

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Last proof and xmas card

I finally managed to get time to run off another proof of the rugby block. Cutting away the background further and lightening other areas has improved it enormously, I feel. Looking at it I feel it just needs the end of the ball lightening slightly as it's getting lost in the player's armpit. That'll be done Friday and hopefully I can start a print run.

The other important thing to get on the go is my personal Christmas card. I shall have to get it printed at a print shop as my own printer is on it's last legs, so time is of the essence now. Here's the line work, done bar a few details and extra bits I slip in. That's hubby and I walking the dog and son and his girlfriend admiring the tree. I shall probably insert a few more hapless souls before or during painting it.As usual it's on a Cornish theme. And as usual, I've used my Mac and Corel Painter to create it.

Incidentally, speaking of Painter, the Corel Painter official magazine Christmas issue contains a tutorial on how to create an advent calendar, all painted images and write up by yours truly! Get your copy from Nov 6th! ;-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

First proof

I ran off a proof today to see how the print was looking. As you can see there are a few issues to deal with. The rugby player in the background has increasingly troubled me and on proofing struck me as a bit like a 'Mini-me' perched on the foreground player's shoulder! I painted onto the proof to try and knock him back further and he just looked like a phantom and I was being constantly distracted by him. So.......I think he has to go.

Other little adjustments include (as you can see where I've made notes on the proof) softening edges, defining the hand grasping the jersey and evening out tones. It won't be a long job and I hope to have 'proof mark 2' ready to show soon.

For now, it's clean up and go downstairs to make my favourite onion, bacon and potato hotpot (in a cheesy sauce) Yum!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Almost time to proof

As you can see, progress has been made and although I need still to lighten some areas, such as the ghostly player at the back and one player's shirt, I'm just about ready for a preliminary proof. I'll keep the background a bit rough and choppy for now.

As this is a maple block and a bit crumblier than box I'm having to keep my burins very sharp. It's quite tricky to do without bowing the cutting face of the blade and I definitely need more practice to get it right.

And here you can see the beast I've got on 'permanent' loan from my mother...a 'Vision England Stereoramic 'magnifying light. It's rather heavy and was rescued from my Dad's drawing office back in the 70's, when it was being thrown out. It has x2 magnification, which is perfect for my purposes. Just enough to take the strain off my eyes, not so much that I'm tempted to cut detail too small for the naked eye!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cornish Cream

Back off our holidays, a trip to Cornwall, which gave a welcome break and moments of sheer inspiration. I went to the Tate St Ives again with a friend, while hubby surfed Porthmeor beach, just in front of the gallery (big waves, too!). After a suitable period of drooling over a particular group of St Ives school works (Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and company) we moved onto Barbara Hepworth's house and studio just down the road. I'll put a few shots of her amazing sculpture garden in a later post. Suffice it to say, I was enthralled by her wonderful pieces arranged as if naturally amongst complementary plantings of shrubs and flowers. I could have sat there all day.

Anyway, while I was away I attempted to carry on with my rugby block but was scotched by the lack of adequate light in our lodgings. I had to wait till we came home to carry on with it...most frustrating!

Here you can see I've started building up the tones and the features on one of the players. I don't want him too smooth, but rugged and a little brutish. (Many thanks, incidentally, to Simon Bryant, who very kindly not only gave me permission to use a section of one of his fabulous photographs from the web as a starting point to this engraving, but who sought me out before a Cornish Pirates match in Camborne and handed me a real photograph of it as it had a bit more detail than the web version. What a nice man....I've promised him a print!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Design transferred to block

The photos here show the design reversed and transferred to the maple endgrain block. It's just 2" x 3" but I think the bold design will carry it off.

As you can see, the design has been adjusted and strengthened by overpainting in dry white gouache. Mainly , I did this because when I darkened the block, my pencil lines all but vanished so I thought I'd take another hint out of Simon Brett's book (see last post) and use a little gouache.

It's a good way to adjust the design on block, actually. I had my doubts, but it works. If you use carbon paper or any direct tracing technique to put your image on the block, you can find the design looks stiff and lacks the immediacy of your pencil sketch. I like to sketch direct onto the block, but in this case the positioning of the elements was important so I did a simple carbon transfer then used that as a base to sketch over it in fine black pen and white gouache.

Now for the cutting, which will take a little while as I have a couple of illustration jobs to do before my holiday starts on Saturday. I shall post again before I go.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rugby players

I've had it in mind for some time to do some engravings of rugby players. There's something very formal and dance-like in some of the set piece aspects of the game such as scrum and line-out. The players form patterns, lines and circles. Straining limbs intertwine in the struggle for the ball and knots of bodies end up on the (usually muddy) grass. Then suddenly there will be an explosion of movement as one player streaks towards the try line with the ball under his arm with a wake of opposing players thundering after him. I love it!

I wondered what it would be like to engrave from a tonal sketch, rather than a more linear one (as I normally do), as suggested by Simon Brett in his book 'Wood Engraving, how to do it'. So I've done a little sketch with the watercolour brushes in Corel Painter, on my computer............ I have a 3" x 2" maple block, all I need to do now is transfer the design.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Final cut and print

I lightened the little finger, as I said I would and I think it's made all the difference. I'm pleased by the way this went and I learned so much about working from the darkest tones to the lightest and handling the tools. The experience all stands me in good stead for my next print.

I printed this little block on Zerkall paper, using a wooden spoon to burnish it. It's an edition of 20. I didn't use my press due to the fact that this box block is slightly over type height (0.9186 inch) and my press's impression cylinder doesn't go over it. I have a little box of small blocks, all slightly over type high and will try at some stage to get them sliced down to size. That said, hand burnishing wasn't too onerous and I still enjoyed the process. I have weak wrists though, so I couldn't hand burnish a long run!

I'm in the process of organising a little 'shop' on the craft site Etsy to sell my prints. That should be up and running soon.

I have several rough ideas for engravings mulling around in my head, but few blocks on my store shelf at the moment, although I have earmarked several ancient blocks from some 28 years ago (when I tried my first engravings) for resurfacing by Chris Daunt, the blockmaker. That will ultimately give me at least 6 good box and pear wood blocks to re engrave. In the meantime I have a 21/2" x 3" maple block to play with. I'd like to try a figure or figures.

Watch this space!

Friday, August 15, 2008

motley bottom

In the far recesses of Castle Woollatt's archives, I rediscovered this scraperboard image, circa 1984. I thought you might be interested. It measures 23cm x 15cm.

In the 60's, Dr Beeching closed down innumerable rural railway lines and took away the tracks, rendering many railway buildings defunct. Some people bought up the old stations, including platforms and converted them for living, which is what these two have done. So where the 8.45 to Paddington used to thunder through, a row of cabbages now flourish.

A detail:

Monday, August 11, 2008

First proof

Here's the first proof, hand-rubbed with a wooden spoon. I'm quite pleased with it, but I am going to lighten the little finger slightly, as it's starting to merge with the background.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Almost proofing time.

I'm just cutting the background now. Briefly toyed with the idea of adding a small flying insect like a ladybird or something, flying from the hand, but decided against it this time.

I may leave some texture to the background, depending how it turns out when I proof it tomorrow. I'm going to have to proof with the wooden spoon this time, as the block's over type high and I don't have an electric saw yet. It's on the 'to get' list, along with a new matt cutter for framing.

On another note, I caught sight of one of these home-buying programmes on BBC; the punters were looking round a lovely old cottage in Buckinghamshire. In the garden was a large wooden studio and in the studio was.......a large Albion-type press! They didn't linger there to show us properly though, sadly but went off to look at the cottage wallpaper again....philistines. Whose was the press? Was it yours, dear reader? :-)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Charlie's in!

I'm happy to relate that my engraving of Charlie, above, has been accepted into the Society of Wood Engravers Annual Exhibition. As you can imagine, I'm very pleased and encouraged. It's hard to know sometimes, when you work alone, whether you're working in the right direction, even whether you're any good at all. Of course, the advent of the internet and blogging has eased that situation considerably and we can get advice and contact from like-minded people from all over the world.

The Exhibition starts on September 24th at the Bankside Gallery in London and tours round the country for a year.

And I still have a big smile on my face..................

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A good session.

The block isn't far off completion and I have to say you 'see' before you a happy woman. I was a bit worried about the cutting of the area on the base mound of the thumb. My previous attempts at cutting long variable-width lines with the spitsticker have been...err...variable...but not in the right way! So it was with trepidation that I girded my loins and set to.

Well, what do you think of the lines? I'm pleased, very pleased. They went exactly how I wanted them to. Not only that, during the cutting, something in my understanding went 'click' as I raised and lowered the burin to vary the width...I feel I've stumbled up another step in the engraving learning curve.

This engraving session was meditative in it's intensity. Time simply flew by; I was unaware of how late it was. So much so that when I did happen to glance at my watch, I had to down tools and scoot to prepare supper for my homecoming menfolk, hungry from the rugby pitch training session. That's how printmaking should be.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Look what my arty Mum and I found in an old drawer in her studio. Some old lino and woodblock printmaking stuff she bought decades ago and hardly used! There's an old William Mitchell lino cut set, complete with diddy roller. Also an unopened pack of basic woodcut tools; even some type-high lino pieces. They'll be fun to play with.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Give me a hand?

After engraving feet in my last block, I've found myself doing hands...or a hand anyway. I wonder if my future blocks will incorporate knees and boompsiedaisy?

Back to the block. I recently bought Simon Brett's wonderful book 'Wood Engraving, how to do it' and if you're interested in engraving at all, it's highly recommended. The publishers have gone out of business, sadly, but Simon has a stock of his books which he will sell to anyone interested. This book showed me how to sharpen my tools better and a new way to hold my burins, which gives me more control and that was just for starters. He goes through the engraving process, both practically and also dealing with the 'thought processes' that go with the craft.

So, I resharpened all my burins, cut a couple of little off cut blocks as samplers to get used to my new grip, then it was time to reach for another small offcut and have a play. I wondered briefly what to do as the block was an irregular rectangle then saw my hand there on the end of my wrist and thought...'That'll do'. I have always had very lined hands so can go a bit mad with texture and creases, which sounds like fun. I decided to try Simon's method of cutting the block starting from the dark tones and working up to the lightest, without touching the 'outline' till last.

I darkened the block (not sure what wood it is but it'll be either box or lemonwood) and copied my pencil sketch onto the block. (The old paperweight in the top photo is to raise my hand to almost the same height as the block as I sketch.) To make sure I didn't go too awry I made use of my late father-in-law's calipers but kept the sketch loose. Then I shaded in pencil and sprayed the block with fixative (Tesco's hairspray) to keep the pencil marks from smudging.

Next job was to begin pecking at the darker tones with my small spitsticker. And that's as far as I've got today.

Just a little grouch...why aren't engraving tools standard sizes? My set is twentyeight years old, from Lawrences, but the numbers on their shanks defy logic. If I wanted to buy any more sizes I'd have to make sure I wasn't getting a size I already have. I do have enough for my needs now though, fortunately.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Final print

It took me a while to sort out and finish cutting ,but here it is. There are bits I like and bits I'm not happy with, but I'm never totally satisfied with any of my work. I've learned a considerable amount from creating this block, both in cutting and printing. In that, it's been a very positive experience.

Now I've taken the decision to use part of my working week to apply myself to my wood engraving I hope I make faster progress and return the element of creativeness to my working week. My recent educational illustration jobs have been something of a treadmill in their repetitiveness and inflexibility (the sheer amount of it, too has been draining) and I'm feeling stuck in a rut. to my sketchbook to plan my next block. I still have a maple piece and lots of ideas. Watch this space!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Catch-up time

I'm back! The new renovated studio is looking much more respectable and clean. It's a nice space to work; I spend many hours every day in here either illustrating on the Mac, or wood engraving. Space-wise I'm still pretty squished, as you can see my little farley press (sheeted over still for protection) is crammed behind my chair, but I can function.

It's been apparent to me for a while that if I want to do more in the way of printmaking, I'm going to have to create the time by dropping something else. My cunning plan is to extract a day out of my commercial illustration working week, spending that whole day engraving/printing etc. A whole day engraving! Bliss! In the short term of course, this will create a small problem, as I have a month's worth of illustration work in hand and can't afford to take any days out of it, so my compromise is to use Saturdays instead till this big job is over....and the housework will have to do itself. It's a hard life!

So today is Saturday, I've been beavering away at my latest block and because I've had a whole day of unbroken time on it have actually made a lot of progress. I hope to finish cutting by next weekend and get printing soon after. This is it so far...bear in mind that this is a scan off the block and the actual print will be transposed.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Temporary studio space

Here's my new 'home' for about a week. while the studio upstairs is skimmed, floored and generally sorted out. It's the dining room table, so we'll be eating off our laps in the sitting room for a bit.

This afternoon my Farley press will be carried into our bedroom by hunky hubbie and son and the existing manky carpet will be taken up. The builder comes tomorrow.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Studio renovation

I'm still carving away at my block but will have about a week of disruption from about tomorrow. We're 'refreshing' various bits of the house in order to sell and move (hopefully I'll be able to have a bigger studio in the new place!) and it's the turn of the spare bedroom, aka my studio. So tomorrow the Mac and my work stuff will go to it's temporary home on the dining room table (I have a fair bit of educational work to do just now) and my press will have to bunk up on our bedroom floor. (We really don't want to carry it downstairs more often than necessary!)

Then Neil the builder will come in and skim the walls, paper the ceiling and put some new flooring in with new skirting boards too. After that I'll quickly throw some paint at the walls and move everything back. So I will concentrate on finishing the block ready to print. (If it comes to it, I may print while the press is on the floor! If my creaky knees will allow!) I'll still post block progress as I go so you can still 'watch this space'.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking it slowly......

I'm cutting cautiously, I know how quickly I can get carried away with the scorper! This time I'm making more use of a little practise block , just a boxwood scrap, that I keep near to try out tool textures and work out how to tackle certain passages on the block. To make my cut marks clearer I'm rubbing a little talc into the lines. It all brushes out in the end, and my block smells nice as well!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A quick update...I'm being brave and have got out one of my few very old (28 years old!) unused pear wood blocks to use. I've decided to re-cut the 'home' design at a larger size so I can play with texture and detail a bit more, so instead of the print being 2"x3" it will now be 5" x 4". The pear is cutting nicely. You can see it here, alongside the sketch.

I took the opportunity to re-jig the design a little, too. I made the foreground larger in frame and added a nice patterned rug on the floor for more texture.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On blocks and things...

I'd been thinking about the way the maple block cut that I printed yesterday. I do remember when I rubbed india ink over the block to darken it the smoothness seemed to go a little rough. I'm not sure why; it's not happened before but then this is the first time I used maple. I wonder if that was why it was a bit harder to cut?

So I thought I'd do a little test on the backside of this maple block. (It's a double-sided block, but this side has a light score mark across it that I didn't notice till it was too late to send back.)

So: On the one side I wiped a little india ink across as I did the cut block. The surface became a little rougher. On the other side of the face I darkened it with a waterproof marker pen, which dried very quickly and retained the smoothness and sheen on the surface. Then I made cuts on each portion and wiped a little talc into the lines to make them clearer. I think the side darkened with marker pen is a little crisper, even through a magnifier. I also did the a test on a small practice piece of box as a control; the lines are cleaner and easier to cut, but that would always be the case as maple isn't as hard or close-grained. Box is also very expensive, so I need to find out which woods (choice of box, lemonwood, pear and maple, generally) work best for me, at the most economical price. Interesting exercise.

Now...looking at the print I made yesterday, I'm twitching over doing another version , maybe not so much 'white line' drawing, more tonal depth. As an experiment in technique. On maple, just to show it who's boss!

If there are any experienced wood engravers reading, in your opinion am I trying to get too much fiddly detail out of a 2"x3" block?

This morning I spent time perusing the web site of one of my favourite engravers; George Tute. I can only stand in awe at his strength of composition and his textures and pure technique. Many years ago I went down to the city to see the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers. This must have been the late 70's. I saw a print by Mr Tute, I think it was called 'Dandelion Storm'...I was entranced. Stood in front of it for ages. I really wanted to buy it, but it was just too far out of reach for my budget. I did buy a Kenneth Lindley (Downland Monuments) and I have that still and am very proud of it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Well, here it is so far....I noticed a black line by the hearth that needs sorting out and one or two other things. The maple is relatively crumbly to carve in places and it's an interesting comparison with box.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Le Weekend

Here's the start of the latest print. It's a taste of the weekend in the Scribbly Cottage household. Blazing fire in the stove, good books and magazines to leaf through idly, a cuppa in my favourite Cornish blue mug and my feet up on the coffee table....bliss! I've moved the line of the fireplace left to avoid it making a visual line with the foot and leg.

You can see the original scribbles in my sketchbook and the design inked onto the maple block. I've never used maple before. I know it's softer than box; it'll be interesting to see how I get on.

I started the block and am finding the wood not quite as crisp to cut as box but ok as long as my tools are kept sharp. In my quest to experiment a little with the process, I'm trying for a slightly looser, sketchier feel, with the outlines more broken.

I'll be printing tomorrow; only a working proof of this one unless I manage to finish it, but I'm determined to have a day pottering with the press.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back in the groove again

And here's the reason why:

My new durathene brayer, which I should have got in the first place but being broke I got a rubber one which wasn't good enough for engravings. (I'll keep it though for when I get around to woodcuts). Now I'm getting more even inking and much less frustration.

Now to play! I've not tried faces in wood engraving yet, so I thought I'd have an experiment: This block is tiny at 1.5"x1 1.2" max.
First proof, looking to see what marks do what to the facial planes.

Then a bit more cutting and to show up the cuts more on block I've rubbed a little talc into the surface. (It'll all be brushed out before printing). Almost there I think. I shall print tomorrow.