Blog 2017


week of Heatwave & WHoBids.



uite a rush on to get the pictures to The Burton for the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society hand-in on time; Suzi manages to slip the Orioles into their frame with the final inking not yet quite dry, and we make it with a minute to spare.

   I stay on to help with the selection process, which seems a little 'unpredictable' this year. We end up with 8 selectors, which leads to a lot of stand-offs. It's very interesting to see how much opinions differ, even about the basics. Having a glimpse inside the selection process helps one cultivate a thick skin. I think we are all doing our best to apply considered  artistic criteria, and yet there remains an essentially subjective, and sometimes seemingly random, aspect to the task. Talking afterwards, we agree on the idea of a 'wild card', so that each selector may put forward just one piece of work which doesn't win majority support. This year, I would have championed a small, naive seascape painting, which I thought was all heart.


olden Orioles' is my first colour reduction woodcut. We are using Calligo Safewash oil-based inks, and Ternes-Burton registration pins.

   After cutting away all the 'white', the block was printed all over in golden -yellow. Then all the yellow areas were removed, and the next darkest colour - the background 'sage' of the foliage - was inked. Finally, everything was cut away except the darkest areas of purple.

   We used the 'process' colours- magenta, process yellow, and cyan, together with black and white. In theory we should be able to make almost any colour from these inks in combination. Black and white are opaque, and so mask any colours they overprint. 'Extenders' dilute the pigment, so would be helpful if one wanted the underprinted colours to show through.

   The drying time was two or three days for each colour printing. We should have bought some 'dryers'!

   The Ternes-Burton registration pins worked a treat, as did the drying line we had to rig up in the living room in a the block is destroyed in the reduction printing process the whole edition must be pressed at once, which is a bit of a problem if space is tight. Reduction printing is also known as 'the suicide method'; there is no going back!




e had a last-minute dash to Exeter to pick up the framed prints in time for the Burton Summer Show in Bideford. Duncan at 'Devon Picture Framers' did a lovely job at very short notice - especially with 'The Cranes', which is float-mounted in an oak frame, and looks quite fine...

   On the way home we visited the Devon Crafts Guild at Bovey Tracey, and caught a beautful, gentle exhibition of prints and paintings inspired by an ancient Dartmoor garden - 'Hortus', by Jude Freeman.

   We've hatched the first ducklings of the year - a very cute little bundle of Silver Appleyards. There have been three large , slow-flying bats flapping past me in the gloaming as I put all the birds away - Horseshoes, I think, though how does one tell?




he big task this week has been putting up the print exhibition on the Artist's Wall at The Plough, in Torrington. It was very good to meet Peter Stiles, a painter of wonderful 'abstract landscapes', who did a grand job of the hanging for us. Upstairs is an exciting exhibition of paintings and ceramics by Michael Storrs. Art plus cake...check it out!

   My 'twitcher's highlight of the week' was seeing a Nuthatch in the garden, beautiful and busy.


"craft must always be the same while art must always be different"

                                                                                            Gore Vidals


t's been a busy week of choosing and framing prints for the exhibition at The Plough in Torrington. Also, we're still on a quest to hand-print a really good 'Cranes', to which end Susanne spent an inspiring afternoon in Hartland with Merlyn Chesterman, who responded so kindly to our plea for assistance. 

   The main technical problem hand-printing on this scale seems to be that the water-based inks are simply drying too fast, causing the block to adhere to the paper and lift some of the surface fibres. We will need to try different paper, and perhaps switch over to oil-based inks. All one big learning curve!

   Our days are punctuated by the staccato ellipsis of the Green Woodpecker as he signals his territory or calls to his mate, and today I saw the first Orange-tip butterfly of the year.

''I don't care about politics except how it will have an impact on ecology. It seems to me that more and more people in positions of power have decided they won't concern themselves with it; that global warming is inconvenient and so they won't talk about it.People with kids, I'm surprised they aren't armed. I cannot understand the passivity of people in the face of this...I get agitated.''

                                                                                        Donna Leon


t last a really successful handprinting of 'Cranes', thanks to Suzi's perseverence and Marvin's muscle power! I turned a baren out of hawthorn, and it worked pretty well for them until it got a nasty case of the shrinkage cracks. Must try again, with a drier piece of wood.

   On Tuesday we visited The Plough Arts Centre in Torrington. I've been invited to exhibit my prints on the Artists' Wall through the month of May. Art, coffee and cakes - what a combo!

   In the gallery upstairs was an exhibition of the woodcuts of Merlyn Chesterman and the Pine Feroda collective. These prints are truly beautiful; wonderful evocations of the Hartland coastline, magnificent in scale and technical compass. Merlyn and Pine Feroda are an inspiration to other woodcut printmakers, and are truly significant in the evolution of the art form.

   We carried on to The Burton Gallery in Bideford for another lovely exhibition, of prints by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. I loved her early work, especially the drawings and etchings with their incredible economy and lucidity of line. But the highlight of the show is the explosion of colour, passion and energy in the screen prints W. B-G produced in her last years. She had not enjoyed good health, and knew that now every day was a bonus to be absolutely lived to the full. These prints are a glorious testament to her success.

   And then we find out about the 'snap election', and all the colour of our day is overlayed with post-war grey...this is the election in which people who voted to lead Britain over an economic and attitudinal cliff and back to the 50's will be able to feel vindicated because there are lots of others just like 'em.

   I finished reading 'The Lacuna' by Barbara Kingsolver. I am missing her humanity and wisdom at my side.


e have had beautiful weather for the Easter Holidays, and Lee Valley is at its loveliest. The clifftops are swathed in wild flowers, and the gorse is full of golden blossom and redolent of warm, wild honey.

      We've seen the first swallows and martins of the year, flying above Sandy Cove - more than enough to make a summer. And, in the garden where I've been hard a-digging, the first Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies have given good excuse to stop and lean on the shovel. The charm of Goldfinches are fairly constant companions - they really seem to be thriving this year. Walking on Bull Point we had the luck to come across a very industrious parcel of Linnets, and saw the male Stonechats heartily carving out their territories with song.

   Susanne has hand-printed the first good proof print of the 'Cranes' woodcut. It took her an hour and a half of solid rubbing with the shiny old wooden spoon. She is exhausted, and I am very grateful, and promise to dig faster in return...



usanne gave me a wonderful Gransfors Wildlife Hatchet for my birthday  - was there a subliminal message, or does she just feel I was born with too many fingers? Anyway, it's just what I have always wanted; light, razor sharp, and perfectly balanced. I've christened it cutting greenwood spoon blanks of Apple, Sycamore and Lime, and have decided the way forwards is woodchip production.


have finished cutting 'The Cranes' woodcut. Now we have to find some paper big enough to print it on. I'll be in suspense until I see the finished picture. And then we'll have to think about the framing...

   The rest of the week's been spent wrestling with the chipper/shredder, trying to avoid a re-enactment of that dreadful scene from 'Fargo'.


have managed to spend the whole week working on the 'Cranes' woodcut. Slowly they are coming to life....I wonder how the composition will work when it's reversed during printing. I've sneaked a couple looks in the mirror, but it's very hard to assess, especially hovvering beneath my beardy mug.

   There have been goldfinches, goldcrests and chiffchaffs in the garden.


uite how it happened, I'm not sure, but after the Curlews flew away from me, the Cranes arrived. My composition is based on a scribbled sketch I made soon after we saw five Cranes fly high overhead before Christmas.

   This print will be the biggest I've ever cut, as I've stuck two boards together. Thus it will be twice as big as our press can print - a wooden spoon job.  Still, I won't have to worry about all the logistical printing problems for  a while; Common Cranes probably have around 25,000 feathers each, so I've got my work cut out!

   On Saturday, Susanne, Anna and I went to the Opening of the Folio Printing Studio in Ilfracombe, run by Helen Tranckle. It's a wonderfully equipped work space for a range of different printmaking techniques, and it's really good to see such a serious artistic endeavour taking off in Ilfracombe. Good luck Helen!

   I've just finished a novel I bought entirely for its title - 'The Bird Artist', by Howard Norman. It was very good, but I hope I don't have too much in common with the main character, who turned out to be a murderer as well as a painter of birds.

   Happy Birthday Sonja!



ometimes one finds oneself 'in the zone', and the physical effort and immediacy of working on a woodcut can begin to feel like performing some  abstruse and  minimal dance.  This week it has seemed far more akin to being on the losing side in a bout of Sumo wrestling - the harder I try, the less I like the results. I have been working on 'Curlews' but they have flown away from me, and I have nothing to show for it but Maple splinters all over the kitchen floor.

   I did have a jolly spiffing birthday though, marred only slightly by my compulsory dunk in the freezing Atlantic, and topped off with a delicious goosegog pie! 

   Happy Birthday Anna!



ays are the subject of my latest woodcut. I intend it to be another colour reduction print. We have ordered some Calligo Safe-wash oil- based inks for these prints. Quite exciting, as we haven't used oil-based inks before.

   Our early Sunday evening calm was disrupted by an unearthly squalling beyond the back door. I went out just in time to see a Peregrine Falcon hop under the neighbours' gate and flap off over the valley. While I was looking after it in amazement, another one came across. He was big and broad and beautiful in barred gun-metal grey, and he stared at - or through -  me for several seconds from only a few yards away, before unhurriedly taking off after his mate.  I very much doubt I will ever have such a meeting with the Peregrines again.


fter my feathered marathon, I've picked up the paintbrush again; small beginnings, and mostly ignominious endings.Goldfinches and Long-tailed Tits are keeping us sweet company in the garden.

   One afternoon I emerged shivvering from my dip to find a young seal watching me from close inshore, with a mixture of curiosity and pity.

   Happy Valentine's Day, Beloved One!


ack to woodcuts! I've started cutting a reduction block - 'Golden Orioles'.  The reduction method is also known as the 'suicide method' as more of the block is removed with each colour printing - there's no going back. I imagine I'm in for a steep roller-coaster of a learning curve. Accurate registration will be all...

   I've used my 'Flexcut Slipstrop' for the first time to hone the woodcutting gouges. It seems to work well. It is basically just a softwood form with a selection of gouge profiles, a flat leather area, and honing compound.

   We see a Canada goose looking very lonely bobbing up and down in the Bay alongside a couple herring gulls. It probably got blown off-course and lost in these wild winds.


he 'Bornean Crested Fire-back Pheasants' painting is finished, and I am pleased. There were a lot of crumpled sheets of paper on the way...

   My week's been punctuated by a few icy swims. The fulmars are back on the cliffs, and one  day we saw a lone egret seeking its supper on the foreshore. There have been goldfinches in the garden, and I've spotted the tiny goldcrest again.

   Happy Birthday Marvin & Dad!

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