Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An update

Just to let you know that the move to the South West went as well as could be expected and we are ensconced and blissful in our new home. What with that and then Christmas and the (very welcome) visitors we have just waved bye-bye to, things have been almost too hectic to get out my engraving things.

My studio is in the spare bedroom again and is stuffed with boxes and art stuff that will ultimately go into the studio I hope to put in the back garden.

In the meantime I have been able to do a little bit on my latest block, not much but I'm dying to get back to it. A backlog of illustration work is being shifted and more looms, but once 'back in routine' I'll be able to get on with it again on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, if you would like to go on a little walk with me, click on the link below and I'll show you in photos how beautiful it is in this quiet corner of Cornwall.

Bolenowe walk

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moving Day looms

My life is boxed up and ready for the removal truck tomorrow. We're driving 350 or more miles to Cornwall. Nerves are jangling, we hope it all goes smoothly. I had a photo of all the boxes....alas, I went and packed the camera!

It'll be a week or two till I'm online again as due to a series of events we weren't able to book a phone line in at the new home till we actually move in. Please bear with me; I shall be back!

I'm off now to finish packing the kitchen.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Interesting times.........

It's been a hectic, stressful time, since I last posted. We had our house on the market and now have accepted an offer! So there are huge wodges of paperwork to fill in and a surveyor checking out the house structure, little jobs to finish for the electrician and plumber. And the hunt is on for a new home in Cornwall. The shortlist is still much too long and our miniscule budget means that compromises have to be made. So sadly, the cottage of my dreams, the sort of thing I draw, that clings to the cliff and overlooks the sea in all it's moods, is just not going to happen. I always knew this, short of a lottery win, anyway!

We will not be more than a few miles inland, however...nowhere in Cornwall is very far from the sea. We may even end up tucked away in a small town, but it doesn't matter. We'll be in the place we have wanted to be for so long, we can surf and watch loads of enthusiastic rugby games, go to the fish market and the Tate St Ives and....my favourite printmaking supplier, TN Lawrences, will be on my doorstep! Result!

Now all we have to do is pray the sale doesn't fall through......

Good news in the meantime, a couple of my 'Dinner is Served' prints have sold out of the browsers, at the Society of Wood Engravers Annual exhibition. Very gratifying.

Engraving-wise, I've been finishing off my illustration work and have only done a little more to my block. But I'm taking my kit with me (including the headset magnifier, modeled above!) as we head down to Cornwall to house hunt. (Oh, and surf!) I should have something to show you when I return.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I have trouble thinking of titles!

I have awful trouble thinking up zippy titles to my blogs, which usually means I end up naming them something pretty lame like 'Progress!' and 'More progress!' Sigh........

I have stolen some more engraving time from my 'ordinary' work schedule and the block is taking shape. I rather enjoyed doing the texture on the stonework of the foreground cottage. At the base of it I have decided to add some dark foliage, as if there's a sunken courtyard garden down there.

I must away now and sharpen my burins, it's amazing how quickly they lose their edge.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Here is the block as it stands. I'm amending and altering as I go, trying out textures and tones and generally just enjoying myself. I want to allow the background to be a bit gloomy, as if a showery squall was heading in to add to the figure's discomfort.

The Society of Wood Engravers' 72nd Annual Exhibition is now displayed online at their web page; click on the 'online gallery' button. My submission, 'Dinner is Served' is on page 10 and I'm pleased to see that they have used it also in larger form to embellish the page.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A new block

I've started engraving the latest block after chopping , changing and tweaking the rough sketches. What you see on the block as it stands is only the basic outline. The rough is full of tones and textures, which I love experimenting with. The porthole-shaped window on the side of the house is way too big and will be adjusted down, when I get to it.

I've also pencilled in a chilly seagull, if your eyes are sharp enough to spot it. I'm not sure she'll make an appearance in the final cut, but she's lurking, just in case.

For the interested, the block is an old pearwood block that I had resurfaced by blockmaker Chris Daunt. And it's 90mm x 128mm.

More tomorrow, all being well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A small triumph and new thoughts

For those of you who didn't hear the yodeling from the rooftops...my latest print (Dinner is Served, above) made it into the Society of Wood Engravers 72nd Annual exhibition. To say I am pleased may seem a small understatement given the happy dance I performed on opening the letter, but more importantly it means I'm finding my direction at last. 'Dinner' was the first time I had engraved and felt in control of the way it was going to look at the finish. The composition and subject matter were all me; the sort of thing I've done for a number of years in other media and feel at ease with. The distortion of perspective was new for me, a brave move but it felt right and gives a twist to the look of the piece.

Above is a scribble of an idea for another piece, exploring further the movement created by distortion and perspective. Also it's a small dig about the encroachment of big-league supermarkets into our smaller communities. There is still a goodly amount of re-sketching to do, there are parts that feel wrong, parts that grate and parts that need emphasis. It's a start though.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dinner is Served!

That's the title of the print, and here it is. I'm pretty pleased with the way it's turned out. I had a good print session, the block printed fairly easily and I was able to make full use of my home made drying rack. It's so much better than laying wet prints down over surfaces, windowsills etc! Here are a few pics:

Here is the rack strung out in my studio. I've only made half the length of pegs I originally planned for now, till I can move into a bigger space. There are 48 there though and that's not bad. Each colour represents 12 prints so I can keep an eye on how many I'm printing without all that tedious counting.
Many thanks to David Harrison for his idea, which I adapted. This rack cost me about £15 which includes postage and packing charges. I didn't have to buy the cord as I had enough in the shed, but blind cord would do the job. It needed an application of hair wax to the cut end though, to make it easier when I was threading the cord through the beads as the bead hole was only just big enough.

And here it is in use. The only thing I found was that the thin Japanese paper I print on was almost too thin for the pegs to hold. However, I merely tore up small strips of tissue paper and folded them between the jaws of each peg, as I pegged each print. It serves a dual purpose of protecting the paper surface, too. I'm really pleased with it. When I have a permanent spot for it I'll make up the other 48 pegs/ beads so I have a print hanging capacity of 96. Double that, if I put them back to back.

Now onto the next engraving!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Almost there!

I have just proofed the amended block again and here it is, alongside the last proof as comparison. (Latest one to the right)

Just a little tidying up and a few thin cuts of the shaded decking, extending to the base of the shaded wall. I will possibly soften the white line around the roofs edges to give them a little more space between them and the background. Then I *think* that's it, ready to put it to bed.

If I don't print today (I have a migraine coming on, so my vision is not too good at the moment), it'll be tomorrow. Possibly I'll leave it till tomorrow, as I can have a full day taking my time and also I MIGHT have my home-made print drying rack finished! I would love one of those smart wooden racks with marbles that hold the sheets in place, but at nearly £100 it's out of my range. So I'm basing my home-made affair on a design thought up by David Harrison

As they say, 'Watch this space'!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Comparing proof stages

Here are the two proofs side-by-side on the same image. You can compare them a bit easier. It's a larger file, just over 300k but the images haven't been reduced down, either.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

First proofs

Here's the block locked up in the press, ready for rolling with ink. As this block is a recycled, resurfaced block, it's height is somewhat less than type high. This isn't a problem, it just necessitates the insertion of a couple of bits of stout card beneath the block to raise it slightly. Although my press has an adjustable height roller, because of the card I haven't needed to alter the height setting from it's normal block position.

And here's the first proof, complete with many scrawled instructions to myself. I try to make sure untidy bits are sorted out and unsatisfactory areas highlighted for more work. As you can see, I managed to forget to engrave the little stove chimney coming out of a roof! I also feel the courtyard scene may be a tad too dark and have earmarked that for another look after next proof. The two round marks on either side of the print, are where I forgot to wipe the stray ink off the quoins holding the block secure in the galley tray! Silly me!

As I make amendments to the block I tick off each point so I don't forget. Time to run off another proof!
The quoin mark strikes again! I think I shall set up the block next proof so that the quoins are set further away from the inked area and behind some wooden 'furniture', which is printer-speak for the wooden spacers used to secure type and blocks in position for printing.

This proof is a bit light but ok for checking all is well. I still feel the courtyard scene could do with a bit of a lift. The sunlit wall is too dominant in comparison and the surrounds need toning up to create more of a pool of light. I shall have a ponder. Pondering time in engraving is at least as important as the cutting itself .

Friday, July 03, 2009

Ready for proof.

The block is cut as far as I want and I now need to pull a proof to make sure all is well. If I need to do any additional cutting, the proof should show me where. You can see from the scan above that I've brushed out all the white powder that I had rubbed into the engraved lines to help keep an eye on where I was cutting. You have to be very thorough about this and make sure none is left because it could make the ink clog the engraved lines or cause the prints to be spotty.

Hopefully I shall proof it tomorrow and blog the result as soon as the ink has dried sufficiently. If it needs any more cutting I'll mark up a proof and blog that, too, for the interested. And I have to think of a title...something I'm really not very good at!

And now, I must have a tidy up of my studio, because there's the detritus of a full working week, papers, briefs (not the sort you wear!) and reference books all piled on top of my press bed. Oh for a larger work space!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Concentrating on the sky and background...

I spent another session outside in the hot sunshine yesterday, engraving at the little table, while hubby laboured mightily pulling weeds under the deep shade of the old apple tree. It was very hot indeed and I had to sit in shade, too. Engraving outside is a joy, quite different to sketching, I find. When you sketch, your focus is more outward, towards your subject; your general awareness taking note of the light and atmosphere around you, which you hopefully transfer to your sketch.

Engraving outside is insular, inward-looking. You're concentrating on a block of wood (or resingrave!) a few inches in front of your eyes. Your subject is set days before, perhaps weeks. Every cut is considered carefully. You enter a gentle meditative state, lulled by the rhythm of your modus operandi. The way you hold your burin, the act of cutting, slow but deliberate, brushing away the tiny burrs of wood that form in front of the blade as you make the mark. At the same time, you're aware of the warmth of the sun on your back and sounds around you and what could be better than birdsong? It's a sublime state.

Back to the block, and I decided to cut the sky / background area because I wanted to see how the lighter area would affect the rest of the design. It's hard to tell from this photo what will print and what not, but generally I have scorped out much of the sky, leaving small pieces and ridges of wood to flick life into the white. Also I've cut a wispy cloudy formation to help act as a bit of a frame and hold the design in. It's a device I use a fair bit in my illustration work, not just to act as clouds, but gentle curvy strokes around certain elements of a composition can unify the whole. I had wondered how I could start to translate the technique to the starker wood-engraving medium. We'll see how this prints up.

For now, it's Monday. I have a lot of illustration work to do for Cambridge University Press and when my daily quota is done (or if a thunderstorm turns up, forcing me to switch off the computer!) I shall set to and carry on cutting. I hope the next stage you'll see will be ready for a first proof.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Engraving en plein air

This morning was warm and sunny so I decided to take my engraving kit outside to the patio and work there.

I set up my stuff as usual; block on the leather sandbag, burins in groups to the right for easy access, dish of talc to rub over and make the cuts more visible and small practice block to the left, on which to check tool sharpness and test textures. Also visible is the little arkansas block for sharpening and my sketch. The only thing missing is my lamp, but I have plenty of light coming from the great lamp in the sky..........

......and an engraver !

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surf's up!

I cut some more to the block again last night. You can see the seagull's mates hoving into view and the harbour water.

It's a lovely sunny day today...if it's like this tomorrow I will take my burins and block outside and engrave on the terrace! :-)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting on with it.....

Just a quickie to show you the latest stage. Mostly the work has been done to the courtyard area. I shall be doing more tonight........

Friday, June 12, 2009

More progress

I had a marathon session today, adjusted the seagull and concentrated on the courtyard scene. I had to get the magnifier out for the seated figure, my eyes aren't as good as they once were. Note the radioactive-eyed cat in the window! What do you think it's seen? I think I'll leave the uncut courtyard wall behind the seated figure as it is, as deep contrast. I'll decide for sure after first proof.

I've also moved one seagull down away from the distant houses and added another to the left. I don't think I've mentioned the size of the block but if you're interested, it's 9cm x 12.7cm (about 3 1/2" x 5" ).

It's been ages since I've worked with such enthusiasm and reluctance to pack up at the end of the session. The temptation to just cut one more passage........ but that must be it for today. My eyes are complaining and I have a nice glass of red waiting for me in the evening sun of the courtyard; a bit like this couple on the block. Hopefully no predatory seagulls lurking, though!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sorting out the seagull

I was engraving this sitting on my meditation cushion, with the block raised on my burin box (on the coffee table) and the leather pad, using an anglepoise for extra light. It doesn't sound very comfortable but I was able to work for a couple of hours before my knees cried for mercy. I wouldn't normally work like this, but having been ensconced in my studio all day I wanted to keep hubby company in the sitting room. I think it worked well for the short period I needed.

Anyway, I managed to start bringing the seagull out. I shall take him so far but pull a proof before I lighten him too much. I can always engrave away a bit more if he's too dark, but I can't put wood back. I think he's coming along fine. Next, the courtyard scene.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Another evening's work

I seem to be working on different areas at once this time. That could be dangerous if I start losing touch with the tonal relationships of adjoining areas. I'll have to be careful.

I'm making tiny amendments and additions as I go; in fact I woke in the dark of the night, thinking, "Oh no! I must remember to make the seagull's chimney granite, not brick!" This because granite is the building material of preference down Cornwall and would go better, rather than brick. I hoped I would remember when I woke up and not too late when I'd cut it; luckily it popped into my mind as I got up and I was able to scribble a note on my sketch.

Tomorrow is engraving day! Hooray! A whole day on it. Ah well, for today...back to the deadlines......

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Here is another stage of the cut. I managed to do a little last evening, but the light wasn't too good as I was out of the studio, so I took things slowly. You can see I rub talc into the engraved lines so I can see a little better where I've been and how I'm doing. It's a useful trick, but you have to be scrupulous about brushing it all out before you approach the block with a rollerful of ink!

I've decided to add a little foliage to the patio area; a few pencil marks on the block serve to remind me. I hope to cut some more this evening, maybe I'll remember to take my lamp this time. I think my eyes would thank me for it.

I wish I could ditch the day job and engrave more, but, sadly, a living has to come first. I do actually enjoy many aspects of the day job (educational illustration), it's often fun, sometimes a challenge and importantly, a steady income. I can work in my jim-jams if I like (but I never do!) as my studio is a spare room at home. No rush-hour traffic for me. This is the life I always wanted, so bring on the lottery win....then the day job can be gently released into the wild and I can enjoy my printmaking more often.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A new cut

It's been so long since I last posted....various reasons such as the dratted 'day job' , but I have managed to snatch the odd Friday for my engraving work. I have temporarily shelved the engraving idea posted in my last but one post, showing the young bather. Something kept poking at me regarding the composition so I haven't started cutting yet and the block will remain on the shelf while I think about it further.

However, hubby and I happened to take a trip down to our favourite part of this lovely island, to Cornwall, in late April and I came home with photos that have formed the twinkling of another idea. A day trip on the bus to St Ives, where we were stalked by predatory seagulls as we ate our lunchtime pasties, the great way the houses seem to stack on top of one another, as they march down the hill to the harbour. The tiny little back yards glimpsed from vantage points higher up, which I'm sure the seagulls would also take advantage of, watching for hapless patio diners.

Well, here's my idea...and my first cuts. Wish me luck! I decided to get the cutting of the seagull's eye out of the way first, in case it went horribly wrong. Happily I exceeded my own expectations and made a decent job of it! I am so enjoying this one.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I feel as if a corner has been turned. Another sale of the "Charlie" print (that is on tour with the Society of Wood engravers exhibition at present) necessitated another print session and last weekend was the best yet. I had had so much trouble and too many duff prints and varied results, using the lovely thick Zerkall paper; I came to the conclusion that my press, being originally designed for use with newsprint which is very thin and smooth, I should have another go with the Japanese Sunome Senaka paper. This is also a lovely paper, thin and strong and I was amazed and pleased at how quickly I started to be able to print out consistently good impressions on it. A goodly little batch of Charlie prints and an edition of 10 of my rugby print took no time at all.

You might notice the rugby image has been slightly modified from the one in my last post; I have lifted the tones on the tackler's face slightly and adjusted other areas. It is improved for it I think. On with the next block!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Creative drought over!

Before Christmas, I was scrabbling to get jobs finished from the 'day' job and trying to finish an engraving that I'd promised for a friend as a present for a family member. After Christmas I was trying to hit the deadlines for another few jobs that had been rescheduled or altered and messed up my schedules. It was pretty chaotic and exhausting and I ended up being rather dissatisfied with the engraving that I was having to find time for in odd moments. That's the trouble with rushing. Here it is:

It's not defined enough, I could do better and I feel I need to get some defining highlights into the faces and the ball. I shall have a play....and when I am happy I shall have to give my friend the option of swapping her print for a modified one.

Meanwhile, a couple of illustration jobs were supposed to start this week but have been delayed. So I find myself with a few days free, and I have decided to design my next block. This time I'm doing a detailed sketch on the computer to size, trying out ways of interpreting different areas in ways that please me. Working on the computer gives me the option of altering, resizing and testing textures out without all the tedious redrawing that working on paper would entail.

The subject is taken from a holiday sketch I made a couple of years ago, of a pretty young coloured girl, who having just come out of the sea is sitting in a towel on an old concrete tank trap and watching the surfing while the sun dries her out.
Above is a scan of the original sketch and below, my idea translated ready for a woodblock. The piece of pear wood I have is old, some stock I bought back in the 80's, and quite large for me...71/2" x 5" approx.

I find I'm still looking for a 'style' or my way of interpreting subjects into engraving, rather than copying someone else's style because I like it. This drawing is very similar to how I draw and it's going to be a bit of a challenge technically to cut some of those small swirls...but definitely worth a try.