Limping along with some Ceramics

This year I really want to get to grips with ceramics. I have made simple things in the past and got lucky here and there but it would be nice to be able to fire things with more confidence. But it’s an art where each and every step of the way is fraught with STRESS.

A low stress level activity and a useful one is to make colour swatches and simple firing tests of various clays which I have dutifully done.

I am well aware that these basic colours can change in the kiln ( stress alert) for many reasons but it’s a start.

When it comes to making things, years ago when I first tried ceramics, I found that I loved handbuilding. And I made the pigs a few years ago which were delightful to do, if very time consuming.

I am not so keen on using the wheel but can see it has its uses for combining with hand-building, so I have tried again. Wrestling with unruly clay that you have spent ages wedging into the perfect consistency, only to end up with absolutely zero pieces, and that same clay back in recycle bucket, is another major stress factor. Do I really have time to do this?
My small successes are a few jugs and bowls. I had some expert help and advice from my friend Gay and from Zoe at Ko Ceramics who were kind and encouraging and although I really don’t want to make tableware, if I can get the hang of it all, some big jugs might be tempting.

Some small jugs ..with handles even… and one bowl that didn’t collapse.

Over the years I have made lots of moulds, for various creative techniques, press moulds, slump molds, slip casting molds and sprig molds and this is something I love doing. It’s always so pleasing when they work, even if it’s a very very messy process. None of mine are perfect but do the job.

Lovely moulds waiting for me to do something with them.

Model and mould.

I have hand-built some strange things, most of which go back into the recycle bucket before even getting to a bisque firing. I made a small rough maquette of a figure for a future project, literally with clay just shoved together, and of course, frustratingly, it stayed absolutely Ok in the kiln unlike my poor creatures from the last post.

Odd handbuilt things which generally go into recycle and the scruffy but unharmed figure. 

I have tried painting with oxides which I have almost enjoyed but again have scrapped more than I have kept. I have no idea yet what will come out of the kiln ..more stress… I just need a lot more experience, knowledge and a lot more practice.

In order to understand more about all this I have been watching some online videos on handbuilding to help iron out some problems and have followed a few step by step tutorials which are great ways to learn. I won’t post those results or keep them as they won’t be my work, and they go back into the recycle bucket too. It’s a very full bucket.

I am still constantly amazed at how undervalued ceramics are. A huge amount of work, time and knowledge goes into even a simple piece and you have to make the wretched thing before you can decorate it, it’s like having to make your own paper before making a drawing. Then there is kiln trauma. (massive stress levels) After weeks, months, of work will it all be in a heap of shards when you open it up?
I know bought-in bisque is an option but where is the fun in that? Hmmm.

Anyway I am persevering because I just love the “doing” of it and there are various things wrapped up in plastic on the shelf. They are like strange little chrysalises full of hopes and dreams, potential transformations of simple clay into something truly wonderful. (Yes indeed! Hope has not been abandoned just yet.)

The chrysalises of hope.

So it’s a struggle. If I thought the outcomes of printmaking were uncertain and part of its attraction, then ceramics is like a deep, mostly incomprehensible mystery with many many ghastly, unattractive and really awful outcomes and the odd little triumph. And of course it’s those tiny rays of light that keep you going :).


The Foot Problem

“A Study of a Foot” Theodore Gericault 1825 From Surreyfinearts 

My halting ceramics progress is matched by my halting foot operation progress. About 12 years ago I had the same operation but on the other foot and wrote about it on the blog in a rather cheery way. But this time nearly 6 weeks on it’s excruciatingly painful, and there is not much cheer yet, but I am ever hopeful.

Perhaps I should have used it as a study subject as Gericault did ? I can stagger around but that just adds to the general frustration.  I mention it here as last time I seemed able to discipline myself to make useful daily watercolour sketches and had hoped to repeat that exercise and post wonderful little gems on the blog, but this time no such luck.
Instead, trying to take my mind off the mad dog chewing my foot, I’ve been making colour swatches of lots and lots and LOTS of my paints and colour supplies!! In fact anything I could get my hands on has been swatched… That way lies madness I think ! 🙂


Back soon…

The first of May, May Day, Workers day, it seems the very best day to make a good resolution to resurrect the blog. I am, if nothing else, a worker.
During the past year I took time away from the blog to try some new things, learn more about ceramics (complicated) and embroidery (new to me) a bit of digital work (very slow) and generally push a few projects along (also slow).
This year I hope some will be resolved.
Most of the experiments really were not worth putting on the blog and most of my ceramic trials went back into the recycle bucket which is one of the beauties of clay.

Meanwhile an experiment which almost worked, a couple of lovely creatures inspired by wonderful asian ceramics. Unfortunately I had made some sort of mistake with the glaze,  better luck next time!


The Delight of Returning Frogs

As always at this time of year we wait for the joyful return of the frogs and after a seemingly endless dreary winter they arrived, about 2 weeks ago.

I like to mark this time each year somehow, last year it was a trial woodblock here. That was late Feb. The year before I resurrected my “Chris the frog” woodcut and added a some lunch for him.

That was March 30th. I have noticed the times are quite different from year to year I think dependant on the warmth of the water.

This year I am making a ceramic frog. It’s only in clay form at the moment and so won’t be ready to show properly for a few weeks. So I am posting a fabulous painting by the prolific Japanese painter,  Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎

“Sketch. Animals and insects with autumn fruits and leaves. Ink and colours on paper”

British Museum:  Museum number1881,1210,0.1871 

There are many wonderful  Kyosai natural history drawings, so full of life and affection for all the strange small creatures, who in this painting are actually celebrating autumn. I chose this one from his many frog paintings as it also contains some other favourites of mine, bats, lizards, grasshoppers, bugs and a mantis.

But there is so much more to this wonderful painter/printmaker. He was a political comentator at a time when western influences were starting to make changes to Japan and its culture. He was known for having a [articular fondness for sake,  partaking in drunken shogakai calligraphy parties. It’s something I haven’t tried yet but I am wondering if it might be hugely beneficial to my work. It’s defintitely worth a try.
Read more about him in an article in Art News about a recent UK exhibition at the RA. I would very much like to have seen it.

The frog in Japanese culture is considered lucky and I have read that the word for frog “kaeru” is pronounced in the same way as “return”. Travellers would carry a frog amulet with them to ensure a safe homeward journey. How lovely! I shall have to make some small frogs as well.

I made a few prelim sketches knowing I wanted a sitting frog. It’s how we often see them in the summer. Sitting by the small ponds in the sun.


Welcome February!… and a few Comets

How wonderful to see February and also to learn of the timely arrival of an ancient “green” comet, to be seen in the night skies over the next few days.

A small wood engraving homage to today’s Green Comet

Timely because I am just in the final stages of my small comet project. A set of wood engravings, a lino print and hopefully 3 ceramic pieces all together in a box. I rather lost my momentum with this due to the debilitating effect of January on anything creative I ever attempt. But I am hoping to finish it all later this week. Here are a few images of work in progress.

Proofs of the woodengravings and some trial pages.


A part of the dummy book showing the long print which will fold out from the back.

A proof of the print.

Box making in progress and a trial assembly with paper hinges.


At this stage nothing seems to hang together but hopefully I will be able to post the final thing soon along with some fascinating comet facts and fictions.


But a Green Comet!

Starry background with fuzzy green object in the center and streamers going off it in different directions.

Wonderful photo from Abhijit Patil taken in the  Pinnacles National Park, California. He describes it as a “green marvel” and explains the optical illusion which appears to show a third tail. Read more here on

This particular Comet is  C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and first passed by approx 50,000 years ago, think wooly mammoths and sabre toothed tigers roaming the earth. There is such an evocative magic about these wandering chilly entites, originating it is thought in the icy Oort Cloud.

“Its nucleus is thought to be about a mile (1.6 kilometers) across, with tails extending millions of miles (kilometers).”

Why green? “Comets flare green when they carry diatomic carbon—two-atom carbon molecules—which reacts with the sun’s outgassing particles, the solar wind. Many comets possess diatomic carbon, but few also approach the sun as closely as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), meaning they show their color less vividly.” Time Magazine

Read more about it with links to how and where you can see C/2022 on 

Even if I don’t see the comet, just knowing it’s there is a truely wonder-full way to start February and a new creative year. 🙂

Optimism Returning

It has been a while I know! This quick post is to celebrate, as usual the Turn of the Year.

I have been trying to improve my beginner wood engraving skills but, an autumn of feeling much less than 100%, has meant slow progress. However the slow return of light is such a lovely thought and today I definitely feel more optimistic. So I am sharing one of the small recent wood engravings.

I am hoping to make a small book “thing” about comets which will involve some prints and possibly a few 3D pieces.
This is the most wintery of them… a comet appearing to the Arctic polar bears. I love a comet. To me they are heralds of wonder and good fortune, rather than portents of doom. I like to think the polar bears might just have reason to be optimistic in 2023, I do hope so.

An Optimistic Sighting. Wood engraving 50 x 70mm

Happy Solstice to all !

Back to Sketching in the Wood

It’s time to get back to the Wood and the Garden for more daily sketching but I’m not going to post them on the blog every time I make some. They tend to be quite similar and I think a bit boring for the viewer, instead I’m going to post them on Instagram as it’s quite nice to keep a record.  You can find that much neglected Instagram account here. 

As I have said many times before, I really get so much from these modest sketches. If you are dithering about going sketching just take one pen and some paper and be in the environment for a little while. Don’t forget, it’s not so much about the drawing as about being there; what you see, smell, feel, etc etc. I am normally drawing for about 20 mins at the very most. It is one of the most rewarding things in life that I do.  I look back at the sketches and the occasional notes and very often can remember the day.

Some back and white thumbnails in situ.

and a few further sketches, some worked in colour.

I am trying to be a bit more focused with the sketching this time, taking some into colour which I fully intend to make into wonderful organised reference sketchbooks. It has never happened before but I think I can do it! YES I can!… yes you can Val !

They can make for a great library, comprised of entirely your own work, to then be used for other projects.
Hmmm …

I am trying to get the Book/Box thing photographed and will post next exciting part 2 very soon!




The Book/Box Thing: Part 1.The Maquette

I have been working on a few projects in tandem recently. One is coming to a conclusion, I can never quite say finished.

I have mentioned before that every year I attend the excellent City Lit course “Artists Books” run by Sue Doggett. This year was my 6th. I wish I could say that I always produce a finished book but I don’t. Sometimes it’s enough to try some ideas and be with some inspiring like-minded company for a few weeks.
(Find my first post from the course about the “moth book”, based on Thomas Hardy’s lovely poem “August Midnight” here .. I still have it and still like it. And yes I did make a maquette for it.)


This year I wanted to try to make a reasonable box with folding lids to contain some prints and something else. The first stage was to make a trial maquette.

The Maquette:

A maquette is a thing of joy; of expectation and promise. It holds hopes and dreams. Very often my work does not get past the maquette stage. The crippling disappointment of all that early promise being dashed by my own incompetence haunts me. I have many maquettes.

But making one starts to give the “thing”  life and potential. Here you can iron out possible problems, see how to construct it and how to assemble it.

Basically this box is a tray, with a partition, on a base, with flaps which fold over to create the lids which, of course, will meet beautifully in the middle? This is a half size model of the final box.

The most exciting stage is when you pick it up and hold it and examine it from all and every direction and see the possibilities it holds.

Oh happy days!


A Wild Thing for The Solstice

I finished this piece of tapestry early this morning. Quite apt for the day I thought, this little wild thing could have stepped out of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. A good omen for the coming half year.

And I’m only a week away from the deadline for my book/print/box project…This is a small part of it :).
I had to hone some practically non-existent needlework skills but I am sure it will make sense when I put the whole thing together. I really hope so.

I’ll be writing about it very soon. The what, why and how and the ups and downs of it….

Until then happy Midsummer’s Day to you all.

The Neglected Easel…

I’ve been really busy for the last few weeks with some commercial work and now two lovely courses which have both come at the same time. The first one is my normal ” Book Arts” course at City Lit in London with expert bookbinder Sue Doggett.. and lots of other very nice people. This will be my 5th year now and I am going to try to actually get something finished, which means trying not to get too complicated. ( I’m failing so far!)

My second is a way-out-of-my-comfort-zone course in Plein Air painting. I was having a bit of a sort out and found an easel I bought 11 years ago which had never been out of its box. The Ugly Bungalow is bulging at the seams now and so I have decided if there are things I don’t use this year they must go. But before selling it, I thought I would give it a go.

Plein Air… a start

6 x 6 inches oil of the wate rtower.

I had thought when we moved here I might go out painting and try  “plein air”in oils. I love the buttery colours of oils and the possibility of lovely brushwork. But I would not really describe myself as “a painter” as such and found many excuses for not starting to learn this tricky method of painting. It all seems a bit too difficult.
I am intimidated by not knowing much about oils. I am intimidated by the easel and I am especially intimidated by the thought of a blank canvas and paints I don’t know my way around and all the “stuff” you need.
My almost daily sketching involves nothing more than a pen and a sketchbook.

But for many years I have followed the work of the wonderful Roos Schuring  whose fabulous small and expressive paintings are so inspiring. The opportunity came up to take part in a challenge with her, (which didn’t involve going to the Netherlands), so I signed up for “50 days of painting plein air” with 4 or 5 feedback sessions and loads of hints and tips. See #50dayspleinair on Instagram.

So for the last two weeks I have been trying to paint, in some sort of way, outside, with brushes and either gouache or oil. It is way, way out of my comfort zone but think it will be good for me. I am hoping it will expand my understanding of colour and colour mixing, I don’t see myself ever making this my go-to technique but it is so good to have a challenge.

I am not going to bore you with all of my attempts but here are a few. Canvas boards are no bigger than 8 x10 inches.

Oil with colour notes .. Mixing oils is so very different from watercolours! 

The tower on a breezy day

Gouache sketch by the reservoir

Garden oil sketch with colour mix notes

A4 gouache sketch while location searching

Starting a small oil at the woodyard

Two gouache sketches from the wood.

Some sprouting broccoli from the allotment gone to seed..

And today a quick oil with bigger brushes and simpler shapes. 

So I don’t think I will be blogging much for the next few weeks but if you do want to see what I am doing with this new venture I am putting them all on Instagram at  @workingdrawings.

Back soon with more printy stuff. 🙂

Starting Wood-engraving: First Cuts

When I planned this exploration of the history of the woodcut I had decided not to include the very fine art of wood engraving. It’s different in so many ways from the woodcut, the wood is different, the tools are different and the skill is different.. and I certainly don’t have that skill.

But it is very a beautiful printmaking technique and so I thought I should really give it a try, just to increase my understanding if nothing else.
To quickly make a simple comparison a “wood-engraving” is carved on fine endgrain wood. A “wood-cut” is mostly made on the side grain or plank.

Thomas Bewick: Master of the Woodengraving

A past master of the engraving technique who most people will recognise was Thomas Bewick whose delightful vignettes decorate many books about birds and the countryside.

This image is from an article about the printing of some of the original blocks here

It gives a very good idea of the tiny block…. (Oh dear.. that is so small!)

I have been extremely fond of his work for many years but what I think I love most are the little glimpses of 18th century English life. Could this be his wife Isobella hanging out the washing?

Many books use his work but often are very badly printed or printed much too large (?doh?) completely missing the point and misrepresenting the beauty and skill of the cutting. I really hate the sloppy use and abuse of “convenient” historic images which have come into the public domain often without reference often to whose work it was, size medium, etc. To learn more about the real thing see this lovely little 4 minute film from the Bell Museum which shows the blocks and the prints and explains a little about Bewick’s contribution to Natural History. Watch here.

The whole history of wood-engraving is fascinating and as I started my career as a black and white illustrator it was something I always admired. I once owned many books illustrated by various wood-engraving artists, including Clare Leighton, Robert Gibbings, Peter Reddick, Gertrude Hermes, Agnes Miller-Parker, G F Tunnicliffe and on and on.

There are also many wonderful wood-engravers working today and you can find many of them at the “Society of Wood-engravers”

Making a Start

I don’t have a favourite artist but have always really liked the stylish work of John Farleigh so I turned to his little Dryad Handcraft book for some advice on starting. I bought some tiny practice blocks from Chris Daunt which arrived beautifully wrapped and prepared type high so I will be able to use them with type if I ever make anything worth pursuing. I have had them for some time, being reluctant to start. They are very intimidating because they are so perfect.. defacing them with clumsy amateur scratchings seems just wrong.


John Fareigh’s Book and first pieces of advice to just print the block. The block is maple and is only 4 x 6cm

Put simply, you start by printing the block without any marks at all, just to get used to the correct inking. Then you divide the tiny block into sections and gradually fill in the sections with hatching to created gradated tones, printing the various stages.

This were my results from Block 1.

On Block 2 you try curved lines and a couple of different tools. I only have 3 gravers but I think it’s enough to start with.

Block 2 cut with curved lines

There was a long gap between the two trials but I think I am getting the hang of how to cut the blocks. Printing is tricky! Paper/ink/pressure etc all make such a difference.

I ended up with lots of proofs so decided to make a small booklet to record the halting progress.

I made a scraperboard image of the graver and added some type and printed that digitally. Then made a concertina form with windows to house the proofs and a bit of blurb about John Farleigh.

It’s been a bit of a dry run for a small booklet I am designing to help me explore more about wood-engraving and hopefully make some progress.

Regular “Weekly Woodcuts” returning soon.. delay due to dithering because of too many wonderful choices!