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 ! 


Welcome.. and a Spring Crocus

Here I am again, at the new location! Welcome to Pencil and Leaf’s new home.


If you would like to continue receiving updates from me there is nothing you need to do (but you can always unsubscribe at any time using the link at the bottom.)

I should get more time to blog now, as it will be easier … I hope… on this platform.

But let’s get on with Spring, which despite the weather is definitely on its way. In the garden, snowdrops, aconites, winter honeysuckle and the sweet little crocus are blooming. The yellow ones have a dark red stripe on the back of their petals before they open. Lovely!

I made a bunch of quick prints to celebrate their arrival.

A nice little experimental piece to try some new papers and a few new inks.


Morning Crocus.

A4 lino reduction print. 

……and not only are the flowers in bloom but the frogs have arrived… 🙂 happy happy days!!

Beautiful Boxes

This is the first post of my relocated blog.

Welcome if you have just found me here rather than my old home at Blogger!!

I think all the old posts going back to 2008 are still intact. You can find them by scrolling down this page or via that nifty dropdown in the sidebar on the right “Lots of lovely posts from the past”. Even I think there is some very interesting stuff there!

So to start this new phase of blogging, I am celebrating my modest success in making some lovely book boxes, which I did mention in the my last post on Blogger.


I wish I could take all the credit but all I did was follow some very precise instructions from master box maker Clare Bryan on her excellent Box Making course at City Lit.
The boxes are delightful. A slipcase, a clamshell, a japanese box and a card folder.

They all fit into each other.. how nice is that! Then I made some inserts for the slip case and experimented with making a box with compartments. Much more to learn and improve but a wonderful spring board for so many ideas!

The cutting is very very precise, but the result is well worth the care.

This excellent course  brightened up the darkening days of November and made me address my glue problems. I will get tidierI will work cleanerI will not get glue all over everything! 

See Clare’s beautiful work here:

And of course more excellent bookbinding courses ( and many other things ) at City Lit here:

A Glimpse into a Small World

As is usual these days, the year has rushed by too fast. This autumn I have been busy learning some new skills and researching in preparation for a couple of new projects for next year.
There is also an exhibition to be planned for in spring 2021 which seems an age away and yet, in terms of work time is so very close.

In October I was lucky to attend a short course with master model maker David Neat. I am interested in incorporating some models into next years projects and wanted to understand more about basic modelling methods and modern materials and of course it was totally fascinating. I have made rough models before, sometimes to help with illustration work but nothing which might be considered finished or accurate. But the addition of a third dimensions in my work and the simulation of life in the round is very appealing.


…texture samples,  a model and casts of a hand and a tiny chair.

David has a huge amount of experience in all kinds of modelmaking and is fantastically generous with his knowledge.
He makes accurate scale models for all sorts of clients and has particular interest in theatrical set design  It was a whole new world for me. We worked mainly to 1:25 scale… hmmm… tiny!
We experimented with plastics, foams, wire, card resin and I came away with a huge admiration for set designers and in fact anyone who has to work accurately to scale.
My results were not brilliant but my understanding of materials has increased 100%.


I’m not quite sure how I will utilise this new found knowledge.. but I surely will….

Growing Tips: 2

The word “Tip” has several meanings. The tip of something, advice in small chunks and to incline. So I decided, on the reverse of the lino plant tips, to make some small illustrated “tips” about how both humans and plants might flourish. We need very similar things really, plants and us; light, water, care, space, nourishment etc etc.


In any garden there are also pests and helpers.. as there are in human life too! So these had to be added. 🙂








The reverse side illustrations were done on scraperboard and scanned and printed alongside the type. It was very simple in one way but the construction was not so easy. I tried different card weights and stocks, printing on different papers and trying adhesives until I had a compromise which worked well.

The text for the first page of the tips is from the wonderful Gardeners Labyrinth by Thomas Hill 1653. A very favourite old gardening text book of mine.

“What care and diligence is required of every gardener: To these what increase and commoditie a well laboured earth yeildeth”

How very true...A little TLC goes such a long way with both plants and people.

I printed the linos on 300 gsm watercolour paper and the text and illustrations on a medium weight photo quality computer paper. Then laminated these onto the lino tips which gave them enough strength to enable them to stand up once the small stand slots were cut in the base.

Growing Tips

I printed lots of papers to cover the box. The trickiest bit was getting the points of the cover to meet nicely at the top of the triangle. But it closes fine and quite neatly, allowing the title to be seen through the front aperture. The inside of the box is yellow…. nice!

Here is a gallery of the tips and their “tips” 🙂








One project resolved…. about 50 more to go. The list of projects I want to do gets longer as the time I have gets shorter ! Oh so MUCH to do!

Again I have to thank Sue Doggett at City Lit boookbinding for advice and encouragement! She did say that a triangular box would be tricky.. she was right!



Growing Tips: Part 1

Over the summer I worked on two projects which I haven’t yet had time to write about.
This first one was something I had been wanting to do for a couple of years.
I am trying to make better boxes and am rather fond of the shapes of the tips of growing plants.
So I made a triangular box to contain the work.  Well in fact I made two. One to see how it would work and then the one which would house these ” Growing Tips”

Roughs and first go at the box…. Yes, its not simple to make a triangular box that works nicely!


It was an exercise in combining printmaking. (Lino and collagraph) with some scanned digital work.
In my mind there would be a small field of emerging plants and on the back of each plant a tip about how to encourage growth in both plants and people.

First I designed and cut the blocks for the tips and proofed them:

I wanted them to stand up so made lots of paper trials to try to find a stiff paper that would laminate and print well as well as stand up. I eventually chose some 300gm watercolour paper. I could have used a thin card mill board but then there was the problem of cutting a tab… there is always an issue. And it seems to me that lots of time is spent trying to solve these incidental problems than actually doing the creative work.

I decided to make a small background shape to add to each design, to add some more colour and made a registration sheet to try to get the designs in registration. Trying not to waste paper I jigsaw cut the paper to fit in as many triangles as possible. I have three different sizes of triangles.


Printing was interesting but rather time consuming. I tried a few different techniques including rainbow rolls.. some worked and some didn’t and the watercolour surface sometimes poses a challenge to print, getting the ink consistency and pressures right were a bit tricky.
In the end I had 26 images good enough to use.

I had printed some papers to cover the boxes … nice!


more to come 🙂

Countdown to P-Day

It’s only a few days now before the Autumn Country Market At Easton this Sunday, where we will be showing our completed “Salute the Pig” book.
I have spent the last few months getting just 10 of the 25 books bound, prints made, some accompanying ceramics prepared and all the bits of faffing around that go along with having a stall.
It has been very, very time consuming.. But we will be ready for Sunday!!!

The Books:
I am not a bookbinder as such, so the most nerve racking aspect of all this has been trying to bind the main letterpress printed books.  There are only so many beautifully printed sheets to work with, and I cannot afford to make any serious mistakes.

Covers and endpapers were handprinted. Books sewn and glued then all assembled and the original lino print plates tipped in and stamped. Phew..It’s adhering the endpapers to the covers that I have found most difficult… but it is good to try and get things right. All I can say is, I have made them the very best I can at this stage of my bookbinding ability!

Chris’s accompanying recipe booklet was digitally printed and so we designed it in InDesign echoing the type style of the main book. I converted my piggy sketches to monchrome red and dropped them into the text. The books are finished with a binding of … what else but… stripy butcher’s string!

The Well Fed Pig:

We are selling a few prints from the book seperately and I worked on a large two colour combined lino/woodcut of the Well Fed Pig. I had already explored this theme of the pig tattooed with its favourite food in some earlier experimental ceramics and it has developed nicely into the print. The original image is A3 and I am selling these, plus a smaller digital A3 version.

Three Little Pigs 

I liked some of the sketches from the recipe book so much that I decided to have some cards printed of the piglets. More may follow!

The Ceramics

I like to make ceramics occasionally but I could never say I am a ceramicist. However over the last year I have played with some ideas which I thought might work for the pigs.  My ceramics are a bit like my bookbinding.. rather experimental, so sometimes ideas worked, but very often not, due to my own inexperience and/or firing issues, which rather dampened my initial enthusiasm.
But eventually I have enough good ones to be able to add them to the Pig Box and offer a small number for sale….and for me to consider continuing….many thanks to Gay and Julie for dragging me out of the slough of despond!


I am making a page on the blog about this project… I wonder if it will ever be finished 🙂

Catching up

The year is rushing by just toooo fast but with lots of interesting print experiments, more
bookbinding and some great workshops and now I’m very busy planning for
the “launch” of our Pig Book in September. Hurahh!
I also have a series of posts to come about my labour of love in
getting my book project The Colour Of Birds together and there will be updates on Salute the Pig progress.

Meanwhile a few simple little hoverflies seen in the Botanical Garden in Cambridge
last week.
This was my first ever screenprinting on fabric experience at a fab workshop
taken by Ricki Outis.
OOh I rather like this!

Bees Back at Easton

Last week on a beautiful Spring afternoon we had the private view for the “Plants and Pollinators” show at Easton Walled Gardens. This week has been snowdrop week and the Gardens have brimmed over with sunshine and visitors. There are 19 of the bees on show with their explanatory labels, notes about bees, my technique and prints and postcards for sale.

The gorgeous black form of the Large Garden Bumblebee.. one of my all time favourites especially as I had first seen it in my father’s garden.

It has been a while since I have shown the bees and it was so SO lovely to see them back on the walls of the Coach House which was our Easton painting workshop home. It was also particularly lovely to see some of the old painting group! Thank you all for coming along.

The show will continue into March and  I shall be there on some of those days, talking about my lovely bees, what to grow to encourage them and how I go about painting and drawing them.
The new bee, the Tree Bumblebee was finished and framed in time and I now feel I want to continue filling in the gaps of my set of British bee paintings. I had seen a couple of bees in my garden last year that I have not yet painted..only about 230 species to go Val!

I am sharing the space with botanical artist  Dawn Wright whose beautiful painting of lilac was featured on the private view invite.

Big thanks to Ursula Cholmeley and her team of gardeners and organisers who have made it all possible!
The show continues until 17th March and I will be there on Thursday 7th. Thursday 14th and Sunday 21st.
Do come along to say hello if you are in the area.

Prints of the Buzz Paintings and sets of cards are available to buy from me. You can see the selection here at  you can see more about each bee by clicking on the image.

Snowdrops at Easton taken yesterday morning… beautiful!

Progress on the Tree Bee

The bee is coming along. I decided to break out a bit and paint this one slightly larger than the Buzz set. It’s been a couple of years since I painted a bee but, as I still have a habit of collecting dead bees I found I had 6 very good little Tree Bumblebees in a pot. It is very helpful to have a specimen to work with.

The tree bumblebee is by nature quite feisty and will sting when it thinks its nest is under threat. I first saw one of these very attractive ginger black and white bees at Easton Walled Gardens back in 2011. It was foraging amongst the glorious blossom of a cherry tree. A few years later,again at Easton, they had made a nest in one of the lovely old stone walls which surround the Gardens. Most recently, apart from seeing them every year in my garden, a colony has set up home in a tree stump in the Spinney. Unfortunately the stump was also the home to a geocache box, so whoever wanted to record their presence would have to contend with some rather angry bumblebees. They have a reputation for taking over old birdboxes and are definitely a bee that likes to site its home up and off the ground.


The rough tracing of the cherry, which I changed in the end to simplify the pencil work.


About 3/4 finished… and on the right preparing to paint the wings… always a bit tricky!

Am I pleased so far???  Hmmm, normally I have to put things away for a year at least to be able to answer that. 🙂