Saturday, 11 November 2017

Wooden Type

A few weeks ago I went on a course where we used letterpress and wooden type. Last week I went back to the studio and had a go on my own, trying different type and inking.

Not sure what would be the digital equivalent of 'don’t believe everything you read'.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

And the bees still buzz

This is my contribution to Artists Books 3.0(# 19) Nature. As I started looking at small creatures (medieval slugs, then butterflies, then bees) the words “And the bees still buzz” kept going round in my head.

Ryan Willams wrote this poem immediately after the attack at the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017. (Worker bees have been a symbol of Manchester for hundreds of years).
I live in Preston, not Manchester, but it’s nearby. My daughters lived there for a few years. They worked at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. My son works in the city centre. We regularly go to the City and the Whitworth Galleries, the John Ryland Library and the Exchange Theatre, I print in the studio at Hot Bed Press in Salford. It’s part of home.
This book isn’t a comment on the politics of the situation or meant to point fingers of blame at any group. Like the poem I want it to reflect the response, the sorrow, the quiet anger and determination, the unity of a city made up of so many different people in the face of an attack on the way they choose to live and work alongside each other. I want it to reflect on the best of human nature in the face of wanton, senseless violence.
In my book the honey comb has been damaged but the bees are still there, coming together, moving to the damage to repair it. My bees are a uniform size because no one person or group is more important than the other. The differences between people and different groups, the thing that helps make the city interesting and vibrant, are alluded to in the differing sizes of the honeycomb cells
The whole poem reads:
“A grey Tuesday morning, 'neath Lancastrian skies
We wake once again to wipe tears from our eyes.
Forced to wear robes of weakness and pity,
As cowards attack the very heart of our city.

Like always, we'll comfort and hold one another,
A Mancunian family of sisters and brothers.
For a time our strut is reduced to a stagger,
But make no mistake, we'll rekindle our swagger.

We'll learn how to live with another deep scar.
If you think you can beat us, you don't know who we are!

We're Collyhurst, Ancoats, Moston and Sale.
We're Oldham and Bury; Ashton; Rochdale.

We're Pankhurts and Turing, the Gallagher Brothers,
We're Morrissey, Marr and a million others!

We're a city of workers, a city of shirkers.
A city of tracksuits, and bibles and burkas.

Vegetarian, Rastafarian, Athiest, Jew.

100 red! 100% blue!

We're each of us different but never alone.
In the Cosmopolitopia, we get to call 'home'.

So, come at us again, and again if you must.
Time after time we'll rise from the dust.
You'll never prevail - not against us...

This is Manchester, our MANCHESTER
And the bees still buzz!”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Medieval snails

It’s time for the annual 20:20 print exchange at HPB.

I had an image already in mind. It developed out of the research I did while developing my response to the medieval book. I made my plate and went to the studio to print, but the block, which was printing oddly from the start, started to break down before I’d got half way through. I’m not sure what I did differently when making it but something wasn’t right.
 I did manage a few good prints out of it, but I’ll have to give the 20:20 a miss this year.

Saturday, 7 October 2017


I'm way overdue with my contribution to Collaborative Artists Books (# 19 Nature). But I've finaly designed..
 and made the plate..
Normally I wouldn't use die cut pieces, however for this book I wanted the precision that die cutting would give me.

Sunday, 1 October 2017


I finally decided that using gum arabic or cutting text into blocks was all very well but for some projects you just need proper set type. So last weekend I went to another workshop at HBP. Elizabeth Willow was teaching letterpress, wood type and book making (all in 2 days!).

We had to take a word to use. I chose fragmented. I thought it would lend itself well to book structures.

We used the Adana presses to print metal type on bookmark sized paper
  and the Albion presses for wood type.
 I was overjoyed to find that you can move the metal type onto the relief press and combine the two.
We made the prints into several different book structures.
Even with such a fantastic teacher I know two days is nowhere near enough to become proficient but I’m hoping I’ve learned enough to be able to go in to play and work some of it out for myself now.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Whilst we were in France over Easter we drank a lot of tea and I had this bright idea of drying the bags, putting things inside them and making a book. When I tried it the bags weren’t transparent enough but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. Home they came – Yorkshire Teabags that had travelled full to the supermarche in France and then back empty to Lancashire – a lot of air miles.I decided it was time to stop keep moving them out of the way in the workroom and actually use them for something.

I wanted to use text but also to keep it quite simple. So I got out some rubber stamp letters that I’ve had for years and never used and started to play. The first thing I realised was that the words would have to be no longer than 5 letters long to fit onto the bags. This limited the possibilities but I thought “Tea for Two” was quite apt and I wasn’t after deep and meaningful. 

A bit of paint to heighten the contrast with the lettering and .....
Keeping it simple, for the backs I made stamps, a teapot and two cups, out of foam and milk bottle plastic....
I thought putting them in a box was more in keeping than binding them into a book.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Aquatint Workshop

I still can’t lean over or sit at a table to work but last weekend I did manage to get to a workshop run by Kate Desforges at HBP that I’d booked weeks ago - aluminium and zinc etching in copper sulphate. I use copper sulphate with aluminium already because aluminium etches to give tone, but I hadn’t used it with zinc before, and I have wanted to learn how to aquatint for ages.

So by working on the tops of various cupboards and plan chests and using the press whose wheel rotated highest from the floor it was possible without bending too much.

I managed to make sandpaper texture with this very deeply bitten aquatint
My aluminium etchings were better but I was back in my comfort zone for those.
The 20 20 print exchange happens in November. I think I want to explore using aquatinr for that so I'll have to get back to printmaking regularly as soon as possible

Monday, 28 August 2017


Well I can move better but I still don’t bend or stretch easily. In terms of studio work this means I can stand at the drawing table and scribble, if I don’t over reach, and I can use the computer.

The materials and bits for the medieval book are stacked on the side waiting. I refuse to put them away otherwise they’ll get sidetracked and I’m determined to finish it.

In the meantime I’ve scanned the completed pages for the literature and games sections of the book, arranged them into layout order and saved them as a pdf (the nearest I could get to actually making a book). If you would like to see them please click on the image (they are at the bottom of the page)

I’m also having to rethink my contribution to the CollaborativeArtists' Books book swop #14(Nature). I was going to make multi coloured offset prints from a single collagraph plate but the roller at HBP I need for the this size of  book is rather large so I think it will be too heavy and too much of a stretch for now.

I’m considering snails instead at the moment.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Man Plans.....

And God laughs. Every now and again this proverb seems apposite.
Last week I had it all worked out.  I could finish painting the book section I was working on which would give me two sections to print on the Friday. Then this week I could paint the last section and left over bits which I could print on Thursday (today). And that would gave me a week while they were drying to work out how to treat the covers and to make the two end sections which are more ‘things’ than ‘books’. And finally a week to stitch it together, photograph it and get it uploaded onto the entry site.  Wildly optimistic, especially given that the whole thing is an experiment anyway, but doable, probably.
Last Friday I woke up and couldn’t get up. Moving was agony. Too much time spent bending over a worktable and not enough changing position and doing other things.  I can now stand (which means I can use the computer at the drafting table), lie flat and sit bolt upright, though none for very long and the transition between them is a bit tricky.
This morning I caught myself looking at the calendar thinking if I miss out a couple of sections and......

 I think it’s time to get real. I will finish it but slowly.
 On the plus side it does mean I can spend time getting it right rather than just OK. And the research and experiments I’ve done so far have given me a whole set of ideas I want to explore further.

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Sample

These are a few of the prints for the literature section of the book structure. So far I have planned, painted and printed four sections and have painted another one.
There are three more sections to paint. One of which I have planned out. To finish this book by the deadline I’ll need to have finished the painting and printing stage by the middle of the month. Tight but just about doable (I hope)

Thursday, 20 July 2017

First set of pages

Here are some of the first real set of pages in progress. They are for the scientific section of the book.

Since these photos I’ve managed to varnish them (both sides, to stop the pages sticking together- a disadvantage of acrylic paints) cut them and print the texts.  At the moment they are drying so I don’t want to risk putting them on the scanner.

That’s 15 down only another 105 to go. 

Did I mention the deadline. The book needs to be finished by the end of August. I may be off line for a while!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Decisions, decisions

I’ve been making final decisions about the scale, colour scheme and papers for the book
Considering the colour scheme I think I’ll keep it quite simple. I want to reference the colours in the original manuscripts so I’ll use a blue, red, yellow and probably a green but I’ll try to keep to the same one of each of these throughout the book. I’ll also use white and the earth colours as these have been in common usage for centuries. But although we often think of manuscripts books as having dark mottled crinkled pages I want to avoid the look of deliberately aged ‘tea stained’ papers.
The scale needs to be handleable. Referencing handheld devices means the book itself needs to have small scale dimensions. The mock up was 7 x 7 cm simply because I could get 3 pages out of each page of hardback book. But it did mean that in practical terms it was stable with three lines of stitching and I could do the centre line without the need for a curved needle.I’m going to keep these dimensions. They feel right in the hand
I’ve been trying out torn edges verses cut edges. The problem with torn edges is each small page has to be painted separately to avoid white tear marks and the paint can get underneath and mark the reverse side. Whereas if I cut the edges I can paint 3 pages at a time on taped down sheets of paper and cut them out when both sides are finished. It just takes a bit of planning.  Fortunately when I put several torn pages together I decided that rather than giving a tactile element to the book it just looked messy in comparison to the cleaner cut edges of the other papers which means foe once the easier route is the better one.
Having decided to use acrylic paint I have been exploring different types of paper. Partly because the art shop in town has closed down and I haven’t enough of any one type to do all the pages. Before I go down the mail order route I want to be sure I’m getting the right stuff. I’ve been vacillating between cartridge paper and 300 gsm watercolour paper and I’ve made sample after sample.
The cartridge stays folded better but I like the more tactile paint effects I can get with the slightly textured watercolour paper. Having finally put a set of each of them together with samples of the cover boards I have made two decisions. The first is that the book needs the heavier feel of the watercolour paper to balance the thickness of the covers, and the second is that I need about 50 % more pages to each section. I’m now looking at producing 120 pages (120 double spreads and 240 singles).

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Considering technique

Initially I thought if I made the pages using a mixture of techniques it would give variety and could also have the appearance of ‘notes’ being collected from different sources.

 I started with acrylic painting, monoprinting, collagraph and adding text with gum arabic transfer
Having put the examples side by side I think using multiple techniques would lack cohesion. Also I didn’t like the ‘feel’ of the heavily inked monoprints and for a book I think the feel is important.

So now I’m thinking of mainly using acrylics and adding the text and some details  with gum arabic transfer. Using modern materials works with the concept of the book, and, considering the number of pages I’ll need to do, the drying times compared with multiple layers of oil based inks seems like a good option.
 I can incorporate both painting and monoprint with this. I can also add an element of mixed media into the images if it seems right.