Cherry blossom in relief

A lino tile with a cherry blossom design carved into it. The pencil drawn outlines remain dark against the pale interior of the lino tile where it has been carved away. Although the tile is a mere 2.5mm deep, the ridges and furrows of the cut marks are catching the raking light that is falling on to the lino plate from the left hand side. As the light is low, the contrast between the light and dark sections is more obvious than it would be earlier in the day.

There’s a reason they call it relief printing. This blossom in raking light looks almost sculptural.

It’s also the reason I’ve been a bit quiet: the blossom is just a section of a new print that I’m working on.

Still a few days of fiddly, meditative carving left to go.

‘Alert’ – Limited Edition Relief Print

A black and white relief print of a male starling. He’s standing on some old, weathered wood. His wings are tucked but he is alert, and his head feathers are raised. Whatever he is looking at is out of the image and he is facing right to look at it. Perhaps he’s spotted a chunk of fat ball another bird has missed, or another starling has decided to join his feast.

Inspiration

I’ve spent a long time this spring watching the starlings picking through the lawn looking for invertebrates. They’re so gregarious and gently quarrelsome.

I love the iridescent colours of their feathers and the tawny coloured arrowheads at the tips.

It’s sad that although still relatively common in gardens, these glorious little birds have declined so much elsewhere that they are Red Listed.

The UK Red List for birds keeps track of how different species are doing, and any birds that are rated red are in need of urgent action. Shockingly, one in four of our birds is now on that list, 67 species in total.

Source: RSPB website

Design

Here’s the drawing transferred to the block (in reverse), ready for me to start cutting.

The drawing transferred (in reverse) to the linoleum block, ready to start cutting

Here’s the block inked up for the first time, ready for me to pull a proof and see what more I need to do to the block to make it print just so.

A black and white relief printing block which has been inked up for the first time. The block is of a male starling. He’s standing on some old, weathered wood. His wings are tucked but he is alert, and his head feathers are raised.

I’m not sure if the paper I use will take any kind of water based colour but once the prints are dry I might have a bit of a play with the test prints to see whether I can get away with it!

A black and white relief print of a male starling. He’s standing on some old, weathered wood. His wings are tucked but he is alert, and his head feathers are raised. Whatever he is looking at is out of the image and he is facing right to look at it. Perhaps he’s spotted a chunk of fat ball another bird has missed, or another starling has decided to join his feast.

If you would like to buy one of these prints, be quick as there are only 30 in the edition!

A close-up look at the texture of a relief printing block

The texture created in the surface of a relief printing block. The cut away parts are stained dark grey while the surface has become almost the colours of brass.

Would you look at that texture!

Usually a plate looks pretty bad once it’s been cleaned a few times but the plate for ‘The Listening Post’ looks like oxidised metal on a bronze sculpture.

This zoomed in photo of the block gives you a good idea of the marks I used to make the barn owl’s feathers in this print. Most of them are tiny and this close up they look pretty abstract but zoom out a bit and you have an owl!

The Listening Post (close up view two)

‘The Listening Post’ is available to purchase, but it is an edition of just 40, so when they’re gone, they’re gone!

The Listening Post

Jazz Hands! (Or how I keep your prints oil-free)

These are my print handling gloves. They’re simple white cotton gloves and they stop any oil from my hands transferring to the prints while I’m handling them.

This post is brought to you through the medium of expressive mime...

These are my print handling gloves. They’re simple white cotton gloves and they stop any oil from my hands transferring to the prints while I’m handling them.

It’s all part of making my work as archival and lasting as possible; give it a few years and your investment still won’t have any sticky paw prints on it.

And yes, once they are donned it is almost impossible to resist doing a fake tap dance and making “jazz hands”! 😂

Do you ever use colour?

A very small pastel painting of bluebells carpeting the ground beneath three copper beech trees sporting their dark red new leaves. In the back ground are flowering shrubs and trees.

‘Bluebells, Coles’
2.5 x 3.5in (ACEO size)
Soft pastel on UArt paper

The weather is cold and grey today but it won’t be long before the bluebells are carpeting the beech woods with wave after floral wave of delicately scented colour.

This is a teeny, tiny pastel painting I did on UArt paper with the most delicious soft pastel set made by Sennelier.

You thought there was no colour in my art, right?! Well, part of the joy of linocutting my way is the challenge of representing a world filled with colour and tone using just one colour and making a variety of marks to suggest tone. When colour is removed the viewer focuses on the textures, shapes and subject matter instead.

The measure of productivity

A black and white photo of a small shallow ceramic dish full of lino cuttings. These are like carrot or potato peelings, but on a much smaller scale since many were made with tools under 1mm across

A day’s productivity pile before /\
.
.
.
... and after \/

A black and white photo of a small shallow ceramic dish that is now emptied and contains no lino cuttings so the rake fired pattern on the inside is now satisfyingly visible

I must confess that I don’t always manage to corral my lino cuttings into a small shallow ceramic dish.

Usually, I’m so focussed on cutting that bits can be found all over the bench (and me... and the floor... several rooms away)!

But stopping to put them into a dish means less mess, and I get to empty it at the end of the day and enjoy the raku fired pattern on the inside of the now satisfyingly empty dish.

Best Ever Testimonial

Handwritten note from my youngest collector that reads, "Thank you for the lovely otter picter [sic]. It is so adorable I also really [pen colour changes] liked the card it was so funny (I have changed pen) do you like my — [drawing of a cetacean with "whale" written inside it] or dolphin [nineteen X for kisses] Loads of love frome [sic]"

There was a thread over on Twitter about best ever feedback or testimonial.

For me, it has to be this one, which is from my youngest collector who is nine years old and had just received an otter print.

You, too, can own an otter print that I hope will bring you as much joy as it for a budding art collector!

The ‘Instruments of Hope’ Series of Relief Prints

A linocut relief print of a retro chrome microphone gleaming under studio lights.

...And now for something a little bit different!

My other half is an ardent gig-goer. In ordinary times, he is out at gigs two, three or sometimes even more times a week.

He really missed seeing new and familiar artists at his favourite venues in 2020 and we know many of those grassroots music venues were already struggling before the virus threw a massive spanner in the works.

So, for his birthday, I made him this print. I told him he could either a) own the only print ever, and I would destroy the plate afterwards (yes, I love him that much!) or...

b) he could have a print and I would sell the rest as an open edition with £5 from every sale going to his favourite music venue(s).

“Better than that,” he said, “could it go to the Music Venue Trust?”

Music Venue Trust logo in black and white
Save Our Venues - The Red List is a national initiative launched by the MVT to prevent the permanent closure of music venues most at risk due to the Covid crisis.

During the last 8 months, Music Venue Trust and Crowdfunder have worked together to prevent the closure of hundreds of grassroots music venues. With no end to the crisis in sight, we are now refocusing that work to spotlight those venues under most imminent threat of permanent closure. The #SaveOurVenues Red List highlights the grassroots music venues at most risk.

We’ve checked all the available funding, financial support, furlough schemes, business support for these venues, and what is on offer is not enough to prevent them being lost. These 30 venues are on the Critical List and need your help.

These grassroots venues play a crucial role in the development of British music, nurturing local talent, providing a platform for artists to build their careers and develop their music and their performance skills. These venues also play a vital role in the cultural and economic vibrancy of any village, town or city.

Once I'd realised the scale of the task the MVT was facing, one print became two prints and soon enough I'd put a whole band of prints together! We want to make sure that when everyone can get out gigging again, there are places to do it, so we hope that the 'Instruments of Hope' prints series will help the MVT support grassroots music venues.

Do head on over to the gallery page if you’d like to buy one the prints in the series and help keep grass roots music venues open.

Please Note: Donations to the Music Venue Trust will be made privately by me as an individual from sales of this print.

A suggested arrangement of black and white relief prints of a retro microphone, a black semi-acoustic guitar, a keyboard, a bass guitar, and a snare drum with brushes. Each print is A5 in size and has a narrow black border. They are in slightly wider black “frames” the size of the paper (A4). They are arranged in the same manner as the five dots on a dice; two at the top (mic, portrait; keys, landscape), one in the middle (guitar, portrait), and two at the bottom (drum, landscape; bass headstock, portrait).

‘Six Geese NOT Laying’ – Two Colour Relief Print Christmas Card Design

A printed reproduction of six geese standing up to their ankles in snow. Some are wearing a red scarf, some wear hats, some are wearing both. One goose has her beak open to speak and her text is in red above. It reads "We don't care what the song says, it's too cold."

Inspiration

I have a friend who is a cattle farmer. She also has some very cheeky geese who send one goose to distract the humans while the others get up to mischief like scrumping apples in the autumn!

I’d had the idea for this card for a little while but decided to use Canada geese as they seem even more cantankerous than all the others and you wouldn’t want to mess with them if they refused to lay...

Design

Unusually for me, this was a two colour print, meaning I’d need to create one plate for the red bits (the hats, scarves and text) and another for the black bits (the geese and the snow).

So that they would line up when I printed the black over the red, I traced the design twice and set to work.

Here’s the image traced onto the Lino ready to cut.

The original sketch for Six Geese NOT Laying traced and back to front on the lino ready for cutting

My goodness, it would have been much easier to just drop the text into the card design when I sent it to the printer, because text is much harder to cut than feathers, fins or fur, but where’s the fun in that? Besides, I do like a challenge...

So, here’s how the red bits looked when I printed them. Ghostly garments awaiting their geese.

Come on, ink, dry so I can print the black layer!

The red bits for Six Geese NOT Laying printed and ready for the black layer

This is the proof of the black bits. Definitely ready to be printed over the top of the red layer and with that, we were done!

The black bits for Six Geese NOT Laying printed and ready to be printed over the top of the red layer

[Edited December 31, 2020]

While I was printing this card, I was sad to learn that many of the food parcels that were distributed in 2020 by the UK’s Food Banks were given to families with children.

Christmas is supposed to be magical for kids and the thought of little ones going hungry on such a big day for them was hard to bear... So I decided I would make the Trussell Trust (Food Bank) my chosen charity of 2020.

It seemed that many of you wanted to help, too and bought many packs of Six Geese NOT Laying cards.

Your generosity meant I was able to make a hefty donation to the Food Bank. Thank you.

‘The Brace’ – Limited Edition Relief Print

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!