Spring definitely hasn't sprung yet. Two weeks ago snowflakes drifted down from the heavens, and while much of the country ground to a halt, here at least the "Beast from the East" wasn't that beastly. It was very cold though so I hunkered down and got on with another wood engraving. This one is based on a sketch I did last summer of some lovely sunflowers grown by my allotment neighbour's children.
There are a few more bits of clearing here and there that I need to do on the block but overall it's worked out ok. The actual print on Hosho paper is more delicate than the rather dense digital photo so I'm reasonably happy with it.
The "Beast" is forecast to return this weekend so my delicate garden plants, with tender buds just appearing, are covered in fleece and I might just have to crank up the dial on the electric heater and start another print.
I have a thing about old wooden doors so, while clamped to a heater in my workroom last week trying to ignore the miserable grey skies and cold, I thought of hot sunny days in Palma last year and did this wood engraving. It's based on a sketch I did of the chunky wooden courtyard door at my sister's house.
Reworking a block is never easy as I work using a magnifying glass (dodgy eyes) so the marks I make tend to be very close together. Opening them up can just result in a mess. With this in mind I tentatively reworked the block to lighten up areas and printed again. It works better now. When viewed from any distance there just wasn't enough definition on the original print and it all looked too dark. I'm finally happy with the print and even happier that I didn't ruin it!
Last summer I trundled up quite a steep hill to look at Racton Ruin in West Sussex. It was a hot day, I was wearing flip flops (silly me) and I did wonder whether it was worth it for a few photos.
The folly was originally built for the 2nd Earl of Halifax, either as a summerhouse or as a place where he could watch his merchant ships docking at Emsworth. Today the crumbling brickwork has lost the flint stones which covered it, the four floors inside the 80 foot tower have gone and it's now covered in graffiti. I made it to the top of the hill eventually and got my photos and ultimately my wood engraving print.
I used this drawing I did of a sunflower bursting into life up at my allotment. I'd wanted to try and do a wood engraving based around this and last week I finally got up the nerve to try it out.
I know it's best to work on a darkend block but I started off by drawing on the block and inking it up. I made a few cuts but then realised I should darken it up with ink if I was going to be able to see the marks I was making so I applied a thin coating of watered down black ink and crossed my fingers that the drawing would stay visible. Luckily it did.
As always I was nervous of taking away too much wood so I made a first proof print which was too dark. I painted over areas to show where I'd want to lighten areas and made more cuts before printing again.
The additional cuts to the block did enhance some of the highlights and I got two or three reasonable prints on Hosho japanese paper. But now I've put the block aside for a while. I still think the image is too dark but I want to give myself time to work out how I can lighten some areas to give the print more definition without ruining the whole thing!
This week I've cut and printed a small lino block. It was a welcome change to work on something larger than a wood engraving block and not to have to use a magnifying glass to see what I'm doing.
Seeing strong winds whip up the leaves on the ground in the garden, along with pots and the odd bit of garden furniture, I made a few rough sketches before I started this small wood engraving on a one day course at bip-Art in Brighton in late September. I wanted to explore how to express movement, in this case the wind, in a wood engraving. It was much harder than I imagined!
I didn't manage to finish the block on the day but finally got around to it recently.
There might not be any snow here but I could at least imagine a bit of frolicking in some for my annual xmas card.
In September I was excited to find an old nipping press on Ebay at a reasonable price, in relatively good order and fairly close to here so I could collect it.
Then it sat in the boot of my car for several weeks before I got the help of someone stronger than me to carry it into the house! (Thanks Ian.)
It needed a bit of TLC and WD40 to clean off some rust on the base and top plate but an hour or so with some wire wood, fine wet & dry and a little elbow grease and it ready to go.
As I'd almost finished a new wood engraving this week it was good time to test out the press.
My sketch for the Stedham print.
I'd taken photos on the drive up to collect the press and used one of them for the idea for a new wood engraving.
There's clearly a little more work to do on the block but overall I'm happy with the result and with the nipping press!
I can think of a few choice words to describe the "summer" but they're probably best kept to myself. The early promise (July) of decent weather came and went almost too fast for the media to go bonkers about 'heatwaves' and for people to start complaining about it being too hot.
Suffice it to say I've spent more time indoors, out of the rain, high winds, cold and general gloom, than I wanted to, It's been an opportunity to get on with more wood engravings but I'd rather have had a proper summer. Sigh.. perhaps it'll arrive in September.
I'd made a few first prints from this block, cleaned it off and left it to dry. A rare shaft of sunlight fell on it and it split down the middle!
Nothing I can do about it so I've abandoned it for now. I did curse... it had taken ages to do!
Something different for Val's birthday print.
It's a small wood engraving measuring
74 x 75 mm.
I started this wood engraving a while ago based on part of a sketch I did years ago and finally finished it after lots of putting back in a drawer and bringing it out again because I wasn't sure how to complete it. I might have another attempt and include the rest of the drawing but only once I've worked out how to engrave running water! (126 x 66mm)
My latest wood engraving. Based on a photo I took on the last trip out with my mother when we visited the Towner Gallery before a slow drive home along the coast, stopping off to admire the views. We laughed at the fact that neither of us wanted to trek up the steep hill to see the lighthouse so Joan told me to take a photo instead - and I did. (116mm x 71mm)
Spring might be here in theory but it's been bloody cold and windy at the allotment! Lack of rain means the ground is rock hard but not a sign of any rain yet. Arctic weather has been forecast so I battled against the elements to cover the tender flowers on my blueberries and strawberries.
When my allotment neighbour, Dave, dons his helmet hat it's a sign that it really is cold and I'm not just being a wimp!
With the weather far too cold for me to venture far from a radiator I've been doing some more wood engravings.
This is the final print which is based on a view that caught my eye while out for a drive around the South Downs.
It's so much easier to create tones on a sketch than on a wood block.. but I'm working on it. I've got a way to go but I liked parts of this print and it's getting easier to work on a darkened wood block too.
The Spring Equinox arrived today at precisely 10.28 am. Hooray! As the forsythia in my garden bursts into life with a splash of bright yellow, signalling that Spring is on its way, the winter blues can be pushed away for another year.
Just waiting for the rain to stop...
Winter blues distractions
Last year I booked myself onto a wood engraving course in February at West Dean College to give myself something to look forward to and help get through winter. It was worth the wait! The college is great, the facilities were excellent and the grounds are lovely. Just a shame it was so cold, windy and grim (I didn't envy the outdoor landscape painting course participants!) but I will go back in better weather to explore the gardens properly. Our course tutor, Chris Daunt was patient, encouraging and really helpful. Watching him engrave with such ease and skill was a revelation. I learnt a lot and hopefully will see this reflected in my work as I continue to practice.
Two prints to start off with.
I've been busy with a few more wood engravings following an afternoon last month spent with Keith Pettit at his studio in East Sussex. I'd organised to have a half day of tuition with him in an effort to move my work on a bit. It was a very interesting afternoon - we didn't do any wood engraving which was a bit disappointing, but we did chat lots and discussed a variety of wood engravers' work and looked at numerous examples. I was very interested to learn how Keith starts on working on a new piece, how he prepares his drawings and how he works on the blocks and finally how he prints. I was surprised that he doesn't make proof prints and just goes for it! It would be great to be that confident. I got to see close up a lot of his work, much of which I really like, and I came away determined to keep going.
Since then I've been working on small practice blocks with the idea of concentrating on specific things. So in the Beach Pebbles piece I wanted to work on stones and water. Some parts work ok and I liked the looseness of the marks I made on the pebbles - it's a start.
This block worked out much better despite being really small. I'm having to work with a magnifying glass and strong light - dodgy eyesight! It's not a recommended way of working and I can definitely see why. It's hard to judge how deep or how close together the cutting marks are as they're magnified with the result that the blocks can print far too dark. However - it's something I'm slowly adapting to.
This block was an exercise in cutting leaves overlapping one another with clearly defined areas of white and black. I drew directly onto the block this time and didn't bother to ink the design either. I liked working this way.
I saw a feather on the lawn and immediate thought I'd have a go at engraving one to practice cutting regularly spaced lines - hit and miss on this but some of it worked out ok.
I'll continue working on the block to try and add some pattern to the feather. I haven't worked how I'll do this yet and could end up ruining the the whole thing but if I won't know until unless I try.
Another small block where I just drew straight onto it with pencil and didn't bother to ink in. I like the looseness of it. The goal was to make marks to show the form of the tree as well as some clear light and shade. It worked better than I thought it would. Next step is to try some different bark textures and to work on achieving a variety of tones... back to practicing working dark to light.
This tried to use the shape of this block to create a sense of movement and distance when I sketched out the initial idea. I like the tree but feel the sky needs clearing better and I might even take much of it out later. But all in all I was pleased with the overall image even if some of the mark making is decidedly iffy.
I'm a designer, teacher and printmaker. I'm also a gardener and allotment holder, so my blog might be a mix of stuff.