The Making of… ‘The Brace’

A linocut relief print of a pair of ducks. The duck is resting in front of the drake who is behind her with a slightly quizzical tilt to his head. They are resting in a bed of flowering daisies, grass and plantain leaves.

Inspiration

A highlight of any trip to a place where there is water when you are young is feeding the Ducks… and so it was for me. My favourite park had a large lake and there you could feed the Ducks, Geese, Swans and Gulls whatever delicacy you brought them.

They loved sweetcorn, peas, oats, seeds or rice. These could be thrown into the water for them to squabble over or, if you were very brave, offered on a flat, out-held hand. There is nothing quite like the feel of a wide, flat duck’s beak in your hand as it gobbles up peas!

On one such outing, I learned that ducks use the serrated edges of the beaks—called “pecten”—not only like a comb as they preen oil into their feathers to keep them buoyant, but also to filter food from the water that is squirted out while they are feeding underwater. They have further finer filters inside the beak, but you can only see those if one opens its beak to “Quack” near enough for you to see it!

A pair of Ducks is monogamous, though usually only for a year. The duck does all of the brooding and rearing while the drake moults his handsome iridescent and flight feathers and looks more like a duck until autumn when he moults back out of his “eclipse plumage” and into his breeding finery once again.

Design

This print evolved quite a bit as I worked on it. As always it started with a drawing. This brace of Mallards—the drake in his breeding plumage, his head glossy green, his chest brown with hints of purple—resting in the early daisies have not yet nested.

A linoleum tile with a reversed design traced onto it, showing some cutting of the design on the right hand side.

While I was at University, I studied Old and Middle English and was delighted to learn that name of one of my favourite little flowers, the much petal-plucked and chained “daisy”, comes from the Anglo-Saxon “dæges eage” which means “day’s eye” because the flowers close at night and open again as the sun rises.

Once I transferred the design to the lino, I had to decide how the daisies and grasses in the foreground would interact. All of the daisy petals would be white (of course!) as they are in real life and their stems would be too, while some of the grass would be white and some outlined. Originally the plantain leaf veins were thin and almost dashed like a “lost and found” line in a traditional oil painting.

A linoleum printing plate ready for the first test print.

I remove less rather than more as I cut a design as you can’t put back white space that you’ve carved away. I love this aspect of cutting a design; it adds a frisson on excitement as all could be altered with every pass of the gouge, but it can be nerve wracking, too, when you’re near the end of a design!

A flat wooden spoon being used to burnish the reverse of a piece of paper to transfer the ink from the plate to the paper.

Once I’ve made a test print, I’ll put the print up in the studio and look at it really closely. Sometimes I’ll annotate it with what needs to be changed before taking my gouges to the plate once more to make sure everything looks just right before I print the final edition.

A linoleum printing plate with remedial cut marks in progress before the final edition can br printed.

If you need this lovely pair of loved-up ducks in your life head over to their gallery page as there are only 25 hand-pulled prints in this edition!

Choose your own “Old English” adventure

Oh. My. Goodness…

At University I fell head over heals in love with Old and Middle English.

My supervisor had a map on his wall which was titled thus: “The Dark Ages Good Old Days”. I thought this was the most perfect way to sum up such a fascinating era.

I loved the sounds of the words, the illuminations in the manuscripts, the amazing art objects. All of it just amazed and delighted me.

And in another of those “many worlds colliding” ways, I don’t think I could love this beautifully made “Choose Your Own Adventure” way to translate and solve Old English Riddle 57 any more.

Printing Terms

I love words. I like the way they look and the way they sound. I like to know their history and their definitions, so without further ado, I present to you my Lexicography of Printing Terms. I'll add to this as I come across new and delicious words.

A

Artist’s Proof
Marked “A/P” on the left of a print. This is one of the artist’s test prints to check that the plate, paper and ink are all working as they should. Artist’s Proofs usually make up 10% of the edition. As they are test prints, they can be different colours or experimentally printed when compared to the rest of the edition.

B

Baren
A tool used to rub the back of the paper by hand when it is placed over the inked-up block. The bare helps transfer the ink to the paper. These used to be covered in bamboo leaves in Japan, but these days are just as likely to be a plastic disk filled with many small ball bearings. My baren is a wooden spoon with a completely flat back that came from a Scandinavian shop!
Bed
This is the rigid flat surface of the press that holds the plate during the printing process.
Blanket
Woollen blankets that are placed over the paper as it travels through the rollers in the press. The blankets spread the pressure of the rollers and help transfer the ink from the raised areas of the plate onto the paper.
Block
The material into which a design is carved for relief printmaking. I use linoleum floor tiles.

C

Chine Collé
Areas of thin coloured tissue or rice paper glued to the surface of a print (this is the collé part). Typically made using a press as the ink of the plate glues the thin paper to the substrate as the print is run through the press.

D

Deckled edge
A rough, irregular edge on a piece of printmaking paper. Sometimes torn, sometimes a product of the paper making process.
Drypoint
Lines are scratched into a metal or plastic plate using any sharp instrument with the same freedom as a pencil drawing. The plate is inked and wiped, then passed through the press with paper on top. Drypoint produces distinctive prints as small ridges of metal, the burr, displaced in the drawing process also accept some ink and give the darker ink held in the incised line a soft fuzzy look.

E

Edition
A set of identical prints taken from the same matrix or matrices (printing surfaces). Editions can either be limited or open. Limited editions mean that no more of the same prints will be made.
Emboss
To pass an un-inked plate through the press to create an impression in the paper.
Engraving
Lines are incised into a highly polished metal plate with a burin or graver. This is a sharp-pointed instrument which works by cutting a line into the metal. A stronger line can be made by cutting deeper. The plate is inked and the surface wiped so that the ink remains only in the incised lines which then transfer to the paper in the press.

F

G

Giclée
A digitally printed archival fine art print. Always a reproduction of an original photograph or image.
Gouge
Tool used to carve material out of a block for relief printing. Gouges have V or a U shaped cutting blades that can be very small (I started with a 0.5mm U gouge)—often known as a “veining tool”—or so wide they’re almost flat, which is great for clearing large flat areas of lino that are to remain white when printed.

H

Hand Pulled
Creating a print by hand instead of using a press. Paper is placed over the inked block and rubbed with a hand, baren, wooden spoon or similar to transfer the ink to the paper.
Honing
Maintaining a sharp edge on a cutting tool.

I

Intaglio
The image is incised or etched into a metal plate using a variety of techniques and tools. Ink is wiped or dabbed (or both) onto the recessed areas of the printing plate. The ink transfers to the dampened paper from the incised marks, not the top surface of the plate. However, depending on how the ink was applied, a thin film of ink can be left on the surface to produce a variety of tonal effects.

J

K

Key block
The layer in a print that gives the main detail or outline of an image. Usually printed first or last in a multi-layered print.

L

Light-fast
Exposure to light can cause changes to paper and inks. As a result their lightfastness is an important consideration when making archival quality fine art prints.
Limited Edition
A finite number of identical prints, each numbered as part of the total. A print with 11/40 written on the left-hand side is the eleventh print in an edition of forty identical impressions. The lower the number on the right, the more desirable the print as there are fewer of them in the world!
Lino or Linoleum
Traditionally made of cork dust and linseed oil with a hessian backing, although vinyl is now also available. Carved to create relief prints.
Lithograph
A design drawn or painted with a greasy crayon or ink onto the polished (usually, though the grain can be left for a different effect) flat surface of a limestone. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of acid and gum Arabic. To print the design, the surface is flooded with water which the stone absorbs everywhere except where it’s repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled onto the stone which is in turn repelled by the water-soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. The paper is laid onto the stone and they pass through the press.

M

Matrix
The lino plate from which the image is printed.
Monoprint
A print made using any printmaking technique from which only one print can be made. Monoprints can be made using a single or multiple printmaking techniques and usually is made using some form of matrix.
Monotype
A monotype is a print that is unique. Unlike monoprints, monotypes are not made using a matrix such as a cut block or plate.
Multi-Block
A relief print made using two or more blocks that print on top of one another to create a multi-coloured final print.

N

Noise
Areas of a block that have been carved away can still be just raised enough to pick up ink from the roller. These marks can be left to add character or movement to a print.
Numbers
See "Limited Edition" above.

O

Oil-based
Inks that use oil (usually linseed oil) to bind the pigment to transfer it from the plate to the paper.
Opaque
Refers to inks that do not allow any of the paper colour or previous print layers to show through.
Open Edition
A set of identical prints taken from the same matrix or matrices (printing surfaces). There can be many prints in an open edition which can be printed for as long as the block survives.
Original print
Prints in the medium the artist originally used. This is not the same as a reproduction which is usually digitally printed (see giclée, above).
Over printing
Colours that are printed on top of another.

P

Pigment
The coloured particles in an ink.
Plate
A flat sheet of linoleum used as a matrix for a print.
Platemark
The platemark is the indentation in the paper caused by the plate being pressed into the paper as it is pulled through the press.

Q

R

Rabbet
The recessed hole in a picture frame that holds the glass in place.

Reduction
Reduction printmaking creates a multicoloured print from a single block. As the printmaker cuts, inks and prints the image appears while the block is destroyed. A reduction print can therefore never be reprinted.
Registration
Registration in relief printmaking ensures that the paper is always placed on the inked plate in exactly the same place. This is especially important when using more than one colour so that all the layers are printed precisely on each print.
Relief print
A printmaking process where the areas of a block that should remain white (or unprinted) are carved away. The raised areas of the block are charged with ink (usually using a roller) and printed onto a substrate such as paper or fabric. E.g. linocut and woodcut.

S

Sizing
A water-resistant coating added to paper.

T

U

V

W

Washi
Japanese paper: literally, wa (和) meaning Japanese and shi (紙) meaning paper. Washi contains long fibres, including kozo (mulberry) and mitsumata (both cultivated shrubs), and gampi (from wild plants). These are harvested in winter and the branches are steamed to soften them so the bark can be removed. The dry bark is boiled and any impurities removed before it is beaten by hand to loosen the fibres which are then spread onto a mat. The mat is shaken to bind the fibres together. More bark is added for thicker paper before the water is poured off and the paper is allowed to dry a little. The sheets are given a final press to remove any extra water and brushed to remove any larger textured pieces before being left to dry completely in the sun.

X

Y

Z

The Making of… ‘Red’

A linocut relief print of a red squirrel standing up and facing the viewer with his tail up behind him and his forelegs almost touching on his abdomen.

Inspiration

Alas I have only ever seen a Red Squirrel in a captive breeding population but these plucky little mammals have made a comeback in Scotland thanks to some fantastic conservation projects and an increasing Pine Marten population. It is thought that since Grey Squirrels spend more time on the ground than the native reds they are more likely to come into contact with the martens, with a lower population of greys as a result.

The red squirrel eats seeds, nuts, berries and although they will cache food they are not as good as their grey counterparts at remembering where they put it… so they may also be responsible for planting a good few conifers.

That wonderful bushy tail helps the red squirrel to balance and move around in the branches as well as when jumping from one tree to another. It may also help keep the animal warm while it sleeps.

Red squirrels moult twice a year; a thinner summer coat is replaced by a thicker winter-ready coat in autumn. This is also the time for longer ear tufts, naturally!

Design

Those ear tufts definitely had to feature and that tail was going to be fun to carve!

I alter the design as I work on the plate. The squirrel itself changed the most during the course of making the plate. As you can see, it started out rather dark.

Original graphite drawing of a pheasant

The arrows on the linoleum floor tiles show which side of the tile should be laid facing up (the one without arrows) and they don't affect the prints at all.

The graphite drawing in reverse on a linoleum tile

I decided I wanted the pine to be slightly abstracted, so while I was cutting I decided to outline the needles which would in turn be all white. This creates a gentle juxtaposition between the bold, graphic pine fronds (a throwback to my days illustrating books) and the much more naturalistic cutting of the squirrel.

Lino tile with a pheasant design mid-way through cutting. All the negative space in the grasses has been cut away

Once the squirrel and pine were all outlined and I had established the outside of the tail, it was time to focus on the way the hair on the body falls over muscles and limbs.

It never ceases to amaze me that it is possible to describe a 3D sculpted form in a 2D medium, especially one like relief cutting where you must rely on either the presence or absence of ink... The absences in the tail were a lot of fun to carve!

Finished plate of the red squirrel carved and ready for the test print

And here's the plate before its very first inking for a test print. Typically I am very conservative with how much I carve away before I test a print. Once it’s gone, it’s gone in relief printing, so it can take many test prints removing a hair here or adding some more negative space there until I arrive at a final design for the plate.

If you need this winter-coated, ear-tufted red squirrel in your life, hurry over to its gallery page as there are only 30 hand-pulled prints in this edition!

The Making of… ‘The Prize’

A linocut relief print of a brown trout leaping from stylised water towards a may fly. The trout's mouth is open and splashes and drops show dynamic movement, even in a static print

Inspiration

When I was very young I found a male Pheasant tail feather. This was duly carried home with much care and became one of the most prized parts of my growing collection of nature finds. Every walk in the countryside seemed to be accompanied by the sound of a cock Pheasant crowing to attract more hens to his harem or let other males know he was there and he meant business. “Chuuuur-kuk!”

Their natural fear of humans means it is rare to get close enough to a Pheasant to admire the cock birds’ iridescent blue-green heads, white neck ring and bright red wattles. These, together with the pale coloured hooked beak, ought to make them look somewhat regal, but I find their ear tufts give them a charmingly comical look.

Ours was one of the pockets of the country where Pheasants have naturalised, though with many “escaping” from shoots over the years it is hard to tell which birds were bred for sport and which by wild parents. All the same, one truly memorable day we found a Pheasant nest in last year’s bracken under a hedge. A shallow bowl, not two inches deep, lined with grass and filled with eleven smooth, pale olive green eggs, still warm; the hen wasn’t far away so we retreated to watch and she returned, checked the eggs were as she left them and settled down to brood.

A few weeks later we saw another hen with twelve stripy chicks still in tow. Amazingly they can fly only two weeks after hatching so these flightless little ones were pretty young, still. The hen was hard to make out against the landscape with her mottled plumage and it was only when the chicks moved that we could see them at all.

Design

I liked the idea of a showing a pheasant in the offseason, the summer grasses just starting to go to seed—a prize for the hens in his harem.

In a previous life I was a graphic designer and this sensibility informs my printmaking. The grasses would need to be very bold and graphic, some positive and some negative where they were placed in front of the pheasant. This also meant all the gaps between the grass—the negative space in the design—would need to be cut away.

Original graphite drawing of a pheasant

I alter the design as I work on the plate, so this drawing is a little different from the finished print at the top of the post.

The graphite drawing in reverse on a linoleum tile

Once I transfer the drawing to the lino tile, that helps me see things I didn't see before the drawing was reversed. And so the design evolves: as I cut more material away, I re-draw, and reconsider.

Lino tile with a pheasant design mid-way through cutting. All the negative space in the grasses has been cut away

Here's the design mid-way through cutting. All the negative space in the grasses has been cut away, no mean feat with the 0.5mm U gouge given to me by the friend who started me on my linocutting journey! Though as this was my second print I had bought a set of cheap linocutting tools to clear the material from the outside of the plate. Doing all that with a teeny gouge really would have taken me forever.

I took some of the loose grasses away from the bottom of the plate in a later stage.

Finished plate ready to print

And here's the plate before its very first inking for a test print. I carved more material away, especially on the head but as you can only take material away, it’s good to err on the side of caution.

If you would like to buy one of the hand-pulled prints from this edition of just 30, thank you! Please head over to the gallery page.

The Making of… ‘The Catch’

A linocut relief print of a brown trout leaping from stylised water towards a may fly. The trout's mouth is open and splashes and drops show dynamic movement, even in a static print

Inspiration

When I was very young we lived near a fishery. Some of my favourite walks took us around the big lake which was bordered by a long rhododendron alley on one side and overhanging beeches and willows on the other.

I loved to feel the air change passing through the tunnel of rhododendrons. The air was stiller in the dense shade and cooler, even in the height of summer. Even the smell of the air changed as the tunnel captured the unique scent of the waterlogged soil into which the rhodies pushed their eager roots. The sound changed, too, from the soft muffle of earth-bound steps to the rubbery metallic tang of wellington boots tramping over duckboards with their carpets of chicken-wire to aid grip.

Leaving the tunnel behind and making towards the head of the lake which was fed by a river, the soil changed; its texture became sandy and very satisfying for writing words in with a finger or a stick. Turning, the whole of the lake was visible all the way down to the road bridge over the waterfall leading to the lower lake.

When there was a breeze, the wind would pick at the top of the water, making hundreds of wavelets that ran away towards the fall, but on a still day the water would be mirror-calm, waiting.

One such calm spring day, from the side of the lake overhung with trees, I first saw the spectacle of Brown Trout leaping from the water to catch the bounty of the Mayfly hatch.

A drawing of a brown trout on a lino tile

Design

Originally, I planned to make this print as a testament to those who fished the lake from the banks and boats, as eager to catch a trout, as the trout were to catch the bounty of flies, who in turn were intent on displaying and breeding. The trout would be under the water and the fly attached to a leader.

But, as so often happens (in fishing as in drawing), as I continued sketching, the trout started to jump for the fly and the design for the print took shape.

Lino tile showing arrows

Process

Many printers use battleship grey linoleum. I learnt using an offcut of a linoleum flooring tile and a gouge donated by a friend.

Since then all my prints are cut from the same flooring tile because I have found that it holds even the finest of details and can withstand hours of being rubbed by hand with a baren to create an edition.

Finished plate ready to print

The same friend who donated the gouge and lino offcut also donated ink and a mostly unused pack of Japanese washi paper to the cause. I’m not sure either of us foresaw that this generous gift would lead to me finding a medium that allows me capture how I feel about a subject with lines and gaps and ink and paper, but there isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not glad for lovely friends!

Finished plate ready to print, inking up for the first time is always an exciting moment!

If you would like to buy one of these prints, be quick as there are only 24 in the edition!

The Making of… Louise Barr, Printmaker

Snowdrops growing through a carpet of beech leaves. The flowers are backlit by low hazy sun.

I am an artist printmaker specialising in animals and the natural world. As a child, I spent a lot of time out in the countryside watching the ever-changing cast of characters who appeared as the seasons changed.

Spring meant observing hedgerows very closely: Snowdrops' nodding heads beneath meant Daffodils and longer days were on the way. Once the Blackthorn had flowered on bare branches; next came the Hawthorn, but only once its "cuckoo's bread and cheese" leaves had opened. These ancient hedgerows were soon filled with the cacophony of Sparrows conversing at the top of their voices. Spring also meant the arrival of lambs in the ancient orchard next to the house. One memorable year, a "sock lamb" hand-reared by the farmer took a shine to Louise and would wait for her to arrive home from school. They would solemnly eat a snack of toast and marmalade together while she told him about her day. (She's never been able to eat lamb since...!) Primroses appearing in the ancient hedges on dog walks were cause for great celebration, there's just something about the sight of a Primrose... This celebration was matched only by the joyous sight—and smell—of a Bluebell wood under a blue sky filled with sun and clouds scudding in the wind. The seasons were on the turn.

A close-up of Hawthorn flowers and buds. The flowers are in strong full sun coming from above and the pink pollen-covered anthers are casting shadows on the white petals.

Summer started with birdsong, the arrival of Cuckoos and Chiffchaffs both with their wonderfully easy to remember songs, next came the Dog Roses, the House Martins and finally it was always a magical, heart-filling day when the first "Scree! Scree! Scree!" heralded the arrival of the Swifts returning from their African winter holiday. Swifts meant long summer holidays were nigh! These were largely spent outdoors finding Foxgloves, Butterflies, Moths, Hedgehogs and, if you were really lucky, a mother with her hoglets, trailing behind her in a straggly line in the dusk. Bats feasting in the warmer air were another treat as the evenings stretched ever later and Barn Owls flickered in and out of vision in the gloaming. Picnics reached by tractor, fishing for Minnows with jam jars and watching Bees feast on Teasels.

A willow tree backlit by early morning autumn sun. The tree stands next to a river which reflects the cloudy sunrise through a slight haze over the surface of the water.

Autumn covered the land gently, softly, almost imperceptibly. As the days began to shorten, the Swifts gathered in huge numbers, their agile flight and daredevil insect chases taking on a new urgency, "We must leave, the nights are chilling, the warm winds of Africa are calling us, but we will be back." And just like that, one day they would be gone. The wistful regret at their leaving would soon be forgotten, though, because the Blackberries were ripe and so we joined the birds, Badgers, Foxes and Harvest Mice in their purple-stained annual feast. The Ivy flowers in the hedgerows were abuzz with the insects while the Robins began their songs again to re-establish their winter territories. Conkers, much-prized for playground battles, mixed with beech mast and acorns as the leaves changed colour, turning the world yellow, orange and red. Fields filled with straw bales that threw ever-longer shadows and Fireworks Night meant building a bonfire as the afternoon turned to dark thanks to the clocks going back.

Snowdrops growing through a carpet of beech leaves. The flowers are backlit by low hazy sun.

And soon enough, the land was covered not in autumnal dew, but ground frost that turned the grass into a million tiny diamonds on a crisp sunny morning. Hoare frost was even better, ice-dusting the whole landscape into a wonderland that tinkled in a gentle breeze. Redwings arrived and were confused with Fieldfares, and while they feasted on the Rowan berries and windfall apples, Long-Tailed Tits bustled about in their troupes, peeping their excitement at some exciting find in the garden. Just as winter felt it would go on forever, the evenings started a little later and mornings a little earlier. Starlings flocked together, resident birds joining with winter migrants in ever larger murmurations, their swirling, tumbling, seething mass a bedtime story for birds and little birders alike.

And so the seasons turned again. And again.