Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Early April

A small hello from the beginning of spring, a mug of rich cocoa, a little break.

This is a day of grinding granite skies and brightest yellow flowers blazing, and of fat tulips in glowing white and cool purple on the table. In a turpentine reek, by the open window, a new layer of etching ground is hardening onto a sheet of copper.

While I have have been busy not writing here, I have done a lot of wandering out in the streets, watching the people and the weather, watching the birds moving from branch to branch.

It seems like the spring has been slipping in slowly and quietly for a long time, and now suddenly there are little riots in the branches and nests being built on all the rooftops.

Of course, I have not only been out wandering. I have also been keeping busy learning some new skills in these past weeks. At the moment everything is mostly still caught up in the theoretical, but soon, soon I should have some new things to show you!  

The day we took these photos was maybe the first time I have ever gotten close enough to a magnolia tree to really smell the flowers, as they always seem to be locked away behind someone's fence. How lovely they are, and each tree so different from the others!

I hope wherever you are April is treating you well, whatever you are choosing to do in it!

P.S. Milla's husband is taking over a business which makes tools for traditional wood carving as it is done on the Northwest coast of America. They have a small campaign under way to raise some funds to cover the costs. Go have a look if you can.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Folly at Midwinter

A long time ago it seems now, we went on a winter's walk, looking for a seashell house in some woods not far away.

On the way we passed a small house, freshly and mysteriously made from branches. Only a little further on from there, we came to an old stone bath built into a stream.

Even looking at it in the fleeting-light, frost-in-shadows December woods, this bath is inviting. All it needs is a little cleaning with a rake, doors to trap the water inside, and a nice sunny day in green summer to warm the water. How lovely it would be to bathe in the four-in-the-morning sun, with the woods all empty.

Over the stream, past a tower of mushrooms and moss, and just beyond a huge stone wall, stands the shell house, a low bench, and in the ground between them, a small, perfectly round, reflecting pool.

The outer part of the house is made of moss-covered stone, but at the doorway shells start to spill out from within. And inside, every bit of space is covered in shells of different kinds, arranged into faces and patterns and crests.

On mid-winter days of heavy skies and weak light, it is too dark to photograph the interior of the house without a flash. But that only adds to the sunken-treasure feel of the place.

Crows sit in the branches and talk in wooden voices, and the trees run with accumulations of misty rain. Sometimes a dog passes, followed by a lone, raincoatted person. In winter the sun scrapes and drags itself across the sky just above the horizon. The air is still or whips through the branches overhead. And that is the shell house.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Bird in a Block

The other week I made a very small foray into the world of wood engraving. Above is a little test block with a simple and spontaneous design. The actual printed image is about the size of a large postage stamp. Below you can see the block itself, with my hand for scale.

Wood engraving uses hardwoods such as boxwood and lemonwood, which take some getting used to, as the hardness which makes them wonderfully durable for printing also makes them a little difficult to carve. However, with a bit of practice it becomes easier to make satisfying marks and smooth lines.

This is also a type of printmaking that tends to be very tiny, because of the difficulty of obtaining larger pieces of suitable wood. It has mostly been used for book illustration in the past because it offers the possibility of printing large editions.

I have a few ideas brewing in the back of my mind for this new technique, but first a few more test blocks are in order I think.

Monday, 3 February 2014

East Coast, West Coast

A busy month in wild gales and under grey skies.
And with the new year I have been trying to extend myself a little. A part of that has meant crossing the country once a week to study mezzotint in Glasgow.

The train traces the coast as it moves southward, over sunken fields and swollen rivers, past drowned trees and ruined castles. But my favourite part of the journey happens after we have left the sea and travelled past the swans and hawks and herons that haunt the banks of the River Tay. Then we enter Perth on an elevated track, seeming to fly above the city streets and past the second storey windows of the buildings there.  

In Glasgow I wander the streets and look into the museums and shops. I like to eat lunch in the park if it's not too wet out.

Last week I sheltered from a downpour in the splendid 19th-century botanic gardens.

A girl read a book on a bench. Small children tottered toward tropical green. The domes lent form to the air creating the  impression of a place that was somehow airier and higher than the rainy city skies.

I thought I would spend some time making tonal drawings of the curves and shadows of the plants which would translate into a good practice mezzotint plate, but I was only just choosing where to sit when I was told the gardens would be closing (early because it is winter).

Though, with such beautiful buildings, even exiting the greenhouses was a pleasure.

 In the drizzle outside, I looked with delight at the vegetable tangle that pressed up against the windows of the other glass houses. Since I didn't make it inside to see for myself, I have been able to maintain the impression that those houses are impassable, overrun with specimens grown by botanists who themselves have been dead for more than one hundred years.

And then it was not long before it was time to walk back across the city in the rainy dusk to spend the evening in the print studio, preparing a copperplate and looking at some mezzotints made by other people who have used the studio. I particularly enjoyed looking at New Zealand artist Alexandra Milsom's wonderful prints.

These Glasgow days end with a quick trip though the dark and mostly empty streets to the train station in time for the last train, which takes me back eastward and northward through the night. Even though the travel and bustling about of these days only make busy weeks busier, after the museums, the gardens, the print studio, plenty of reading in the train, and then talking over tea before sleep, these days are followed by dreams that are rich and colourful.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Slowly into January

Happy New Year!

This past weekend we travelled up to the north coast of Scotland to a small fishing village where they bring in the new year with a fire festival every year on the night of the 11th of January (see here and here for previous posts about that). The gentle disjunction of time between the Gregorian calendar, and the Julian calendar, which is still followed in the fishing town with the fire festival, adds a welcome pause to the year.

Slowly I am coming back to routine though. Or making new routines perhaps. I am hoping this year will bring new skills and lots of good painting and prints. I've decided to start sharing photos of works-in-progress over here (though, I'll still be posting on this weblog as normal).

I suppose it is almost a tradition around here to start having photos of the windowsills at this time of year.

We are having a mild winter, punctuated with wind storms and threats of flooding, but all around town, the plum blossom trees have been flowering since mid-December.

A couple of months back, I made a himmeli, which is the geometric mobile you can see in the photos. (I made it from cheap drinking straws and old bits of string by following this.) It is a traditional Finnish Christmas decoration, and so it probably should have been taken down by now, but we've come to enjoy it's incessant whirling and twisting in front of the draughty windows, so I think it will stay up a while longer at least.

I know it's a little late, but thank you for being here in 2013.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Lanterns for Dark Evenings

Back in November, we happened to visit Berlin just in time for Saint Martin's Day. A kind commenter here mentioned the tradition of lantern processions to me just before we left on our trip. I didn't think I would see any lantern parades in the city, but actually we happened to run into a few that weekend!

Most of the time there were just little trickles of people carrying their lanterns...

...but a little after dark on the 11th we ran into a whole street-full of children singing and carrying lanterns, following a Martin on his horse.

We thought it was such a charming way to start the holiday season, that when we came back I set to work to turn what we'd seen into a card to send out this Christmas.

 As in other years (see here: 2009201020112012), this took the form of a lino print.

Seeing the folded cards all piled up together with the image visible along their spines, had such a pleasing quality for me that I have begun to consider making a little hand-printed book sometime in the new year. We'll see!

Wishing that you continue to have a warm and joyful holiday season!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


The other day, hanging noisily, moving slowly eastward in a propeller plane above Scotland, we traced the outlines of mountains that had been entirely white with snow before three too-short days visiting friends in Dublin.

People were lighting bonfires on the hilltops below, and their smoke stretched homeward in long ribbons. Almost home and the day hardly begun, we were surrounded by the blush of an early-afternoon sunset.

As we came closer to landing, we were delayed in the air, circling in the gloaming. The sky was at the windows and on the screens of tablets. The sky was a pink reflection bent across lenses and retinas.

And then winter's slippery sun fell quickly. Glowering out from behind clouds, sometimes our angle as the plane turned made it seem like there were two separate half-suns separated by a writhing, angry patch of sky. By the time we were walking across tarmac it was dark and only fluorescent vests and small, cold lights shone for us.

Home with my head full to brimming with all the things seen in these weeks peppered with little wanderings. Ideas I had at the start of the month worked over and over in mind while walking, while gazing on European medieval masterworks, Indian miniatures, Ancient Greek monsters, surrealist treasures, and brilliantly-executed pochoir prints. Ideas that surfaced again and again while waking and waiting in trains and watching the way a stranger's nose or forehead curved.

There is talk of snow later this week. Only the last few leaves, the ones that will not fall, are left now. I want to settle in for winter, draw the curtains and huddle up close to the tiny warmth of my desk lamp and draw everything out that has been sitting by and waiting for all this time. Though, that is maybe a dream as real as a past holiday. December is always a long month that is short on time.