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!