Meanwhile….. some escape sketches

I have not felt very creative recently, but have been mulling over some ideas, wondering why some things are not quite working and how to solve the problems.
Fortunately I have managed to find an escape route to my favourite little spinney and problem solving location, just to make some sketches and have some soul restoring time with the trees.

These are nothing much but making these sketches sparks more ideas and possibilities.
I made pen and ink sketches up at the wood and then a few ink and colour  ideas back here.





It doesn’t matter if nothing comes of them, but something may filter through into a print for a series of drawings. In fact I find myself getting interested in all things mossy and thinking of making a moss area in the garden.

I brought some moss back to draw.


Hmmm possibilities.. 🙂

More mossy somethings to come this week I hope:)



The Bee Charm Booklet.. completed.


Hurrahhhh, I completed the first, possibly only, version of Wid Ymbe  last week. I posted the beginning of the project here

In short it is a front opening, double sided booklet containing the Anglo Saxon text of the wonderful charm and a translation.  When fully open it reveals an original print.

The cover and inside print are printed from woodcuts and the text blocks are digitally printed.

Making the Booklet:

For something which looks so simple it was very tricky to make. Just getting the cover to meet neatly in the middle with the face properly in line was one thing. The slight movement of the text pages as you open and close the flaps is lovely but again tricky to make work perfectly.

The cover is made with 1.5 mm greyboard, the front and back are covered with images hand printed on paper, I decided to use paper rather than cloth for the cover this time. Cloth was just too heavy in both look and feel for this slight thing and not as sympathetic to the subject. I like that it looks “papery”… the down side is that it marks almost instantly.

The 2 exterior “spines” are made with strips of calico backed with Japanese tissue.

Inside, the two digitally printed text blocks are sewn onto calico strips which cover the joints. Hand printed paper covered the reverse of the flaps.

The main print is tipped into its Japanese paper protective cover.


Some Details:

The booklet is specifically designed in two halves to reflect the dual aspects of the original text and translation, and the two aspects of the charm. The action and the speaking.

The cover opens to one of the talking heads and the Anglo Saxon text. I love the mystery of this text which is why I wanted this to feature on opening.

Opening these two pages reveals the other head, the translation and the illustrations which relate to the texts ie: the foot, the woods, the speaker  the scull, the hand and the earth.

Speaking a charm was very powerful and if said with conviction would summon some heavyweight help. The speaking heads had to have some power. The boldness of woodcut was better for this than the lino. The closed and gentle eye on the final print indicates the charm is done and the bees are returning home. There is a small bee near the mouth of the head. I dithered about which way to face it. But a gathering-in of the bee just seemed more appropriate than a leaving.

The colours changed in the making, I had started with reds and russets but again they were too heavy and as bees tend to swarm in the spring the mossy spring green worked out much better. The main prints inside varied in colour as I always like to experiment with colours and papers etc.
I am not really not too interested in making perfectly precise editions of anything. I honestly don’t think it really sits well with my personality. 🙂

Proofing the print

Before I could make the booklet I had to make various thickness tests  to make sure the flaps would fold properly. Then there were paper and colour tests for the prints and the digitally printed pages.


Many tests

The digital paper had to print on both sides, be thick enough not to have bleed through of the dark images and be sympathetic in colour and texture to the book. In the end I chose a Bockinford digital. It is lovely and printed beautifully and folded OK.

The paper I printed the cover on is a cream simili paper. I have worked with this before for bookbinding and it is thin enough to fold over and make corners but thick enough to take a good print.

The digital bit…

The whole faffing about with the digital element was extremely stressful.
The images for the text blocks were first handprinted from the woodblocks then scanned and the pages assembled in InDesign, each then printed as an individual booklet. I am pretty slow with Photoshop and InDesign but eventually got it all just right.

However the printing was a huge headache as my A3 Canon printer ( temperamental and expensive) won’t print a borderless custom size print  .. Why….%$*(&^% ing … ! not? So I had to print on larger paper and trim. Not a brilliant idea but had to be done. Then the colour on the screen is never the same when printed, the printer eats cartridges and the Bockingford too expensive to waste. I did endless trials and tests. I managed to get two sets printed… only then to find a spelling mistake .. Aghhh.

At last… correct text blocks!

Why the booklet?

I sometimes wonder why I make it so difficult .. why not just make a print?  That is hard enough ..god knows.

However I really like “a thing”. With this booklet, the printed cover and inside print are there to touch and, yes,… smell. ( am slightly addicted to the smell of ink).

Lovely ink plate

The prints are not hidden behind glass. You can turn the booklet around,  open and shut it, stand it up.  There is so much more engagement than with just a print.

To be able to touch handprinted work is a delight. The slick surface of the inked parts, the matt surface of the unprinted paper, the slight indentation of the block.

Those surfaces contrasted with the fineness of the Japanese guard tissue etc etc.
Nothing of this can be experienced from a screen.

A bee on the guard tissue drying in the sun

I will have to put it away for a while before I can look at it without seeing the mistakes or could-do-better bits, but in general I like it .. and I am very glad to have completed something!

All the woodcuts will printed separately and then framed up together with the texts… something I still have to sort out. That is one of this months jobs.

The Start of the Bee Charm Booklet

In this lockdown I have decided to impose some deadlines on myself to keep me on track and away from the delights of the fridge. It’s not a very onerous task on the face of it, just two exhibit-able works per month. But that implies “finished” which is one of my problem areas.

Number one this month is the Bee Charm booklet:

Since January I have been re-exploring the wonderful Anglo Saxon Bee Charm “Wid Ymbe“.  I had first played with this lovely text back in my Masters Degree days. I made some prints and small dummy booklets but nothing was finalised then and it’s been one of those projects which has kept coming back into my mind.

The Bee Charm is one of the fabulous Anglo Saxon metrical charms which were, as Wiki rather nicely puts it:

“sets of instructions generally written to magically resolve a situation or disease. Usually, these charms involve some sort of physical action, including making a medical potion, repeating a certain set of words, or writing a specific set of words on an object.”

The charms it seems were mostly written in the margins of manuscripts.  They are varied and wonderful and seem to have remedies for many ills! There are charms to help you on your journey, to prevent theft of cattle, to help against sudden pains and most delightfully against “water elf disease” and elvish things in general.
There is so much to read about these charms and I have only skimmed the surface. I have also been wondering if I could successfully adapt one for the current problems.

This particular version of the bee charm was inserted into the margin of the “Old English Bede” manuscript 41, held at  Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, around the early eleventh century. See the image below where the white marker shows the start of the text.

You can see more of the manuscript here:

The Charm is to be said when the bees swarm. This is an approximate translation:

Against a swarm take earth, throw it with your right hand
under your right foot, and quoth:

Take I under my foot, found I it,
How Earth avails against every kind of wight
And against hatred  and envy and
against the mickle  man’s tongue.

And whither cast over the grit, when they swarm, and quoth:

Sit ye victory-wives,  sink to earth
Never be ye so wild, to woods flee.
Be ye so minded , toward my good.
as beeth every man, of food and home.

First thoughts back in 2016
I had explored various ways of working with the text and settled on the dual aspects of the instruction, followed by spoken charm. The speaking aspect is important so I decided to use speaking heads.

The initial version was designed as a book with 6 spreads and the early prints were trials and experiments in cutting text and reduction lino. The Anglo Saxon is a lovely text to work with. In the end I ran out of time to finish the whole thing, but seeing this again I might continue with the set of prints at least.

Rough drawing… the text was a challenge!

Proof of the first part of the charm,  2 colour reduction print


Proof of the second part of the charm. 3 Colour reduction print. The bee keepers are in the background of the images. This was my particular favourite. 

Another possibility for a booklet which I went back to for the current project. 

They all had possibilities and I may look again at the book form.

Current work

When I came to reconsider it this year I decided to keep the speaking heads but to use wood as a perhaps more sympathetic medium and a more robust personality for the head. I looked at ancient stone heads for my inspiration particularly the 3 faced Corleck Head. You can read more about it at : 

I designed a sort of folder to hold one print and the text still using the  talking heads for the cover and inserts,
And started cutting the blocks.

First proofs.

I have almost finished the booklet now … I have 2 more days…


Hortus in “Pressing Matters”

There are so many, very serious, pressing matters right now and I am inclined to feel that art is not one of them. However, a big thankyou to John from the lovely print magazine “Pressing Matters”  for his inclusion of a piece about the odd little “Hortus Medicus” pamphlet I printed at LetterpressAmsterdam with master printer Thomas Gravemaker.

It was made with a very satisfying mix of traditional and digital methods and would not have been possible without Thomas’ expert help and ingenious solutions for some of the very tricky problems. We made it in 4 days.


This little snippet from the article explains:

In essence it is a folded 6 page pamphlet describing the uses of 7 “Janus” medicinal herbs; herbs that may kill or cure. 

The main spread displays 7 apothecary bottles with spiraling fumes.

Each bottle contains text from classic herbals (Gerard and Culpeper) detailing the “positive” properties of the herbs.The fumes contain the names of the herbs and, in a warning red, some of the not-so-positive attributes.

The second spread opens to perforated “seed sticks” complete with real seeds to enable you to start your own dangerous garden. They are rooted with the letter “S” into a soil bed of wavy brass rule.  

Should you scroll down on the homepage of Pressing Matters you will come to my hands as a background to the text. I was positioning the paper on the press. It made me laugh because, despite what the text says, it was a rare occasion when my hands were actually clean.  Because of course I was handling beautiful and expensive printmaking paper!

I have written about the work on this piece before here: Hortus Medicus Seed Book. It was a fascinating experience and one where we had to think quickly and creatively to produce this quite complicated project in such a limited time.

In the original post I had not included the roughs, but it is interesting in retrospect to look at what I had in mind and how it eventually turned out.

Below are some of the many calculations and planning stages  involved in making even a simple thing like this!


First rough design and proof of the gablestone design.


Text positioning and markups for the apothecary bottle shapes and proofing the text which makes up the “fumes”.

And a couple of shots from one of the final versions.


You can buy the magazine in either paper or digital form. Here:
Thanks again and good on you all at Pressing Matters for getting this mag produced and distributed in these difficult times!

Busy Mason Bees

The lovely weather has brought out so many flowers and blossoms in the garden and the mason bees, Osmia rufa, from the wonderful bee house have started to appear.  I had placed the cocoons in the “release” chamber  at the bottom of the box and had been lucky enough to see one of them struggle to bite his way free, it was quite something!


Empty mason bee cocoons and a newly emerged little male.

So far there must be at least 12 empty cases now. The first to emerge are the males from their smaller cocoons. Then the females follow on.


One female has started to build already, 2 cells in construction. And they love forget-me-nots. 

By the way, mason bees do not destroy walls.. they are called mason bees because they build! The females collect the mud to make the separate sections in the nest.

All this wildlife and new growth brings a little bit of joy to  the present gloom. I do hope you are all keeping well!

The Colour of Birds Book: The Backgrounds

Just continuing my series on the Bird book, while waiting for creativity to return!  I am sure it will.
The book was completed last year and in all, I think, took 3 months. Based loosely on the wonderful Ferdinand Bauer’s colouring system.

The Backgrounds:

I had roughly planned a set of 10 prints, just slightly bigger than A3 which would form the main pages for each bird.  They would be folded, glued at the spine and foredge to form a double page spread. Each back ground would highlight a chosen colour from each bird. For example with the robin it just had to be the splendid red breast with hints of the blue grey feathers.

Robin as seen with his background in the bound book. The birds are printed on fine feathery Japanese paper so that the backgrounds can be glimpsed through the black and white images and tipped in at the spine.

This was a very experimental process for me and because of the slightly random nature of the printing I decided to use card plates, mainly for economy. To chop up so much wood or lino only to find things didn’t quite work would have been just tooooo expensive!

The card plates are OK, but they do have to be treated carefully. and sometimes the inks were patchy on the slick surface. All a bit hit and miss. The paper was Somerset Satin 250gsm. Lovely paper, again not cheap so I did have to use some care.

A pile of a the card plates… lots and lots.

Sometimes I used the same shapes on various prints which gave a rather nice continuity to the project.

A set of trial prints .. (yes my drying rack is a washing line in the conservatory. )

A set of thumbnail snaps of some of the ten prints. I think I must have made 3 or 4  of each. I needed a rough set to make up the prototype book. It seems so much work to make just one book…. Hmmm but in retrospect I think it was worth it. I have a set of back grounds which will be framed with their birds for my exhibition next year.

Heron and Green Woodpecker

Jay and Blackbird Egg

Robin and Owl

Coot and Feather


Rook and a set of prints.

Next thrilling installment:  Final printings and assembly of the book….




Bees, A Sadly Missed Course and Catching up with Jobs

I am trying very hard not to be in the depths of gloom about the current situation. Having to stay at home now seems a terrible imposition when normally I would love a week or so without having to go anywhere. I am really hoping to shake off this sense of unease and throw myself into something creative soon.

But I have been busy with a book jacket for a local author and the today the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the delightful Hairy Footed Flower bee males are zooming around the garden. They are also using the bee box as their overnight accommodation. There were three in residence yesterday, sheltering from a cold early morning wind. They are just waiting for the females to emerge so whiling away the hours sipping nectar, patrolling their patches of comfrey and pulmonaria and resting.

The little white nose of a HHFB peeping out from his overnight shelter.

This is a short clip of an early mining bee having a spruce up. I had found her on the path and moved her to safer ground.

Meanwhile because of the virus Chris and I decided not to attend a couple of courses last weekend in London. His writing and mine a Japanese woodcut course at City Lit which I had been really looking forward to..oh sad sad..
But in a spirit of solidarity I tried one at home following some guidelines from some old notes I had. Lots of problems and wrong turns, including poor cutting and inking and blobby prints but if you can get it right it is a beautiful technique.
Soft colours and water based.
I hesitate to post these rather poor blocks and prints but it does show I have not just been twiddling my thumbs.


Trial of 4 colour woodblock print 

Then there are lots of jobs I could do in the house and garden….. I suppose… But all I want to do is GO OUT. 🙂

I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and no doubt putting me to shame by using your time wisely and productively!

More about the bird book in the next post ….

The Colour of Birds : Drumleaf Book : Part 2

Having decided on the size of the book and making sure I could actually make it, I started on the artwork for the birds.

The birds will be printed on Japanese tissue, which will be tipped into the colour spreads.

A thumbnail design of how it will work in my sketchbook .

The birds I see around the reservoir here are a constant delight and wonder. But how to choose? Eventually I settled on: Swan, Rook, Jay, Owl, Green woodpecker, Moorhen, Heron, Robin, Pheasant and Blackbird.

I dithered a bit further about how to portray the birds. Should it be the conventional way of showing them in their entirety? Nice but a bit predictable and the title of the project is the “colour” of the birds. So I after a couple of trials I decided to zoom in on various parts of the bird where the particular colour I wanted to feature was located. To add some variety, for two spreads I took the birds away and replaced them with a feather and an egg. Beautiful colours in both cases.

I make a few sketches first, then work on the lino with a white pencil to get the rough idea of the design


Sketches on tracing paper and jay lino block. Approx A4 

Then ink in a bit for some better guidelines…

Heron, swan,owl, moorhen,and egg blocks

Then I cut the blocks.

Rook, heron, feather,woodpecker and robin blocks.

This is not the best way to work as it can be a muddle, normally because I am impatient to get on.  But also I don’t want the cutting to be tooooo neat and perfect because it loses energy.  Also the constant re-drawing, quite apart from being a bit tedious, sometimes misses the feel of the original sketches. It’s also a handy attitude to have if you are prone to mistakes!

Then proofing. This is heron, I made a few notes of the alterations needed


First proofs of some of the others… 

Proofs of moorhen, feather, robin, swan and owl drying in the conservatory. 

Moorhen proof … one of my favourites. They have wonderful large yellow feet. 


Looking after Wild Bees

Despite the awful weather the wild spring bees will soon be emerging. The bird cherry tree in the garden is in full and exuberant bloom, just waiting for them.


The bird cherry in full bloom

Last year I bought a small but beautiful solitary bee house from George Pilkington  at Nurturing Nature.His site is FULL of info about bees and really fascinating.
I have had bee/insect houses before which have been filled enthusiastically but this small beautifully made structure not only has apertures the right size for the bees, but allows you to see what is happening through removable sides. The internal nest box unit is removable which enables you to extract the cells and overwinter them indoors to protect them from pests.

The bee house now cleaned up and re-positioned ready for spring

In one short season mason bees, lots and  lots of leafcutters and joy of joys a couple of woolcarders made use of it.

The removable nest section.

I am endlessly admiring of the diligence, care and expertise these bees demonstrate in making safe homes for their offspring. Each cell so beautifully built, provisioned with bee bread for the lava to eat and carefully sealed before the next one is made.

Leafcutter nests, furry woolcarder cocoons and mason bee cells.

The mason bees’ mud walled sections are very strong ( we have heavy clay here). Now filled with small brown cocoons.

The leafcutters make extra seals at the beginning and the end of each row with tiny circles and folds of leaves. I had watched them in the summer coming backwards and forwards with the leaves neatly folded and pushing them into the tubes.


An extra leaf seal from the exit to the tube, and the tiny leafy debris left after cleaning the unit.

The woolcarder makes a ball of hairs from the stachys (lambs ear) plants for each egg.  The female chews the hairs from the leaves and rolls them into a ball which she carries back to the nest. The stachys leaves look as though they have been rather badly shaved with a tiny razor.

Leafcutter tube at the top, woolcarder cocoons and two mason bee cocoons at the bottom

My little colony of wild bees, having been very gently removed and cleaned, are now ready to be placed in the release chamber.

Soon, soon spring will come !

The Colour Of Birds : Making a Drumleaf Book : Part 1

One of the projects I worked on last year, that never quite made it to the blog, was a series of prints bound into a book form, called the The Colour of Birds”.

The book is, in a way, an appreciation of the work of Ferdinand Bauer, (1760-1826) the artist naturalist who traveled on Matthew Flinders’ expedition to Australia and recorded many different species in exquisite drawings. I have always admired his work so much and the idea for the bird book came from re-reading a slender little book I have had for many years. It was published in 1989 by the Natural History Museum, titled “Ferdinand Bauer. The Australian Natural History Drawings”.

What was rather special about his work was that he drew the specimens in pencil and then “coloured” them in when he returned to England using an astonishing colour chart system. Recently there has been more work published about his drawings and colour system which I’ll write more about later.


My colour trial swatches for the “colour” of the birds.

The book is comprised of 10 black and white prints of some of my favourite local birds, with 10 corresponding colour backgrounds. They are bound together by pasting the foredges and spine of the folded sheets in a “drumleaf”  form.  It lays fairly flat and has no stitching as the sheets are pasted together.

Complicated? .. well not really in terms of structure, but there was just a small matter of making all the artwork.

Dummy Books

To start with I had to make sure the book form would work, decide which birds to feature and chose the poses colours etc and most crucially decide on the size.

Dummy books to test the binding method

I made lots of scruffy but very useful trials and the basic form of the book worked well. The binding has to allow the book to open fully which is a bit tricky but worth it!

The Swatch Book for 10 Birds

To think about the colours I was going to use I made many swatches and then decided to make them into a small book. Good binding practice and a very nice bit of displacement activity which avoided, for a while, the difficult task of making the prints.

I used some old prints from my Oak book for the cover.. I found a bird and a nest which was quite handy! 

I made one spread for each bird to work out some of the colours I might use.

Swatches for Robin

Swatch Book for 10 birds… nice !