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
This was my first ever screenprinting on fabric experience at a fab workshop
taken by Ricki Outis.
OOh I rather like this!
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
https://buzzbooknprints.blogspot.com/ you can see more about each bee by clicking on the image.
Snowdrops at Easton taken yesterday morning… beautiful!
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. 🙂
There is so much going on right now, but in between the prints and drawings and learning a bit more bookbinding, I am working on the pigs. More 3D ceramics ones this time. I had experimented with some 3D shapes over a year ago and have been wondering how to decorate them. On my recent trips to the Fitzwilliam Museum I had looked at the wonderful old English decorated and sprigged saltware, which at last sparked some ideas.
My skills don’t quite run to sprigging yet, so my first pigs ( of what will hopefully be a series, called “The Well-Fed Pigs”) are just black and white scraffito. I thought it would be rather nice to pattern them with all their favourite foods, “well fed”, in both quality and volume. More, many more perhaps, to come!
Sketches and notes for “The Well Fed Pigs” and a couple of trial pieces. I like them!
This autumn I decided to try to bring more ideas and experiments to some sort of resolution. I find it impossible to say “finished” but at least something other than files and folders of random sheets.So I made a small folder (good bookbinding practise) for the Florence prints and mounted them on folded sheets. It is a much nicer way of storing these colour woodcut experiments and they looked much improved for a bit of care and attention
I took the little Florence sketch from the Staffordshire figurine in the Fitzwilliam and made 3 woodblocks to correspond with the 3 main tones and printed them… many times, just as an experiment.
The results were very interesting. Nothing wonderful but enough to make me think this is a good way to work.
Some of the overprinted details are lovely and unexpected.The different colours and weights of colour change both the atmosphere of the image and her “look”.I also made a little watercolour of the figure, just to get to know her better. I have a weakness for china figurines. Strange smooth shiny little people, often “idealised” versions of real people or classical figures, in pastel colours often with painted features that do not quite follow the contours of the model. Nice! More character and much more real in a way. Sometimes, people whose makeup has gone askew, look just like this!
I had a look at the real Florence Nightingale, who looked nothing like her china portrayal. The moon faced ideal of gentle Victorian beauty she was not, but a handsome, and uncompromising looking lady.
It’s been a while since I have painted a bee but, in February 2019, I am delighted to say “Buzz” the Bee paintings will be returning to Easton Walled Gardens. They will be part of a “Plants and Pollinators” exhibition. My work will be alongside the lovely botanical paintings of Dawn Wright see her website here. https://www.dawnat29.com/.It’s a few years since I painted a bee..in fact nearly 4 years. The last one was the lovely B ruderatus .https://pencilandleaf.blogspot.com/2011/05/black-queen-beautiful-bombus-ruderatus.htmlThis bee and another favourite, the female woolcarder bee, have never been made into prints and for this show I will be making a few prints of these for sale, as well as a new watercolour. I have chosen the Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, as Easton was the first place I saw this feisty little bee, collecting pollen from an early flowering espaliered cherry tree, in the spring of 2011. Back then it was relative newcomer and so had not made it into my original British Bee exhibition. I have decided the painting will be of the little bee perching amongst the cherry blossom just as I had first seen her.
As usual my working method is this: Thumbnail sketch to think about layout: then build the body shape of the bee, then “flesh” it out.
First thumbnail rough for B hypnorum
Construction of the bee form.
Filling out the body.Then some colour notes:
I am looking forward to making detailed painting again..I just hope I can do it!
In the last two weeks I have been taking some time to reassess work and winter projects. Three weeks away is quite disruptive but perhaps in a good way. Some things that seemed a great idea before Japan now seem not so interesting and I also had a good studio sort out which has made me see some old work with new eyes. I mean really old work, going back some 16 to 30 years. Having some distance has been really useful.
What do I want to do?
As a commercial artist you generally do as you are told. Teaching generally involves looking at the talents, aptitudes and desires of your students and guiding them to fulfil their potential. But what about me? I am really happy to be working on the bees and the pigs and the careful observed drawing, all of which tend to be crowd-pleasers, so instant ego gratification! But when I look back at my casual sketchbooks and exploratory drawing from many years ago there is an energy which can get lost in carefully rendered and necessarily designed work. There are also subjects that I want to explore but never felt I had skills in the right medium. Learning printmaking over the last few years has definitely helped but now it’s time to really see what I can do. It may also be that the years are ticking by!!
How to do it?
Sometimes the answer to problems is blindingly obvious. In my case it is “just draw with a different tool”. So I am temporarily banning pencils and just working with brushes and felt tips.
A couple of brush sketches for Diana the huntress from 2000I found some small sketchbooks from about 8 years ago where I was looking at “notan”. I was making Small sketches from paintings or the garden, with just 3 felt tip pens. It was mainly for teaching puroses. But looking again they are so full of possibilities that I have decided to go back to this simple sketching form.. alongside the commercial work on the pigs, the books and the bees and the careful drawings.
The tiny sketchbook notes. The books are only 4 inches square.So that’s what I will be exploring… 🙂
I have been mulling over my experiences in Japan; the everchanging land and cityscapes, the daily kaleidoscope of unfamiliar foods, sounds and customs, visual delights of every sort, and the kindness of strangers.
Sitting at home in the rural quiet of a grey English October and letting some of those things find me again, its interesting to see which experiences stay with you or pester you with a creative itch that will have to be dealt with fairly swiftly. While I saw less in the way of Japanese prints than I thought I might, the prints I did see were inspirational.
One unexpected find was a little museum in Osaka, Kamigata, http://kamigata.jp/kmgt/english/. “This museum exhibits ukiyo-e paintings produced in Osaka in the Edo period. Most of the ukiyo-e paintings made in Osaka were portraits of kabuki actors.” The exhibitions change but when we visited the prints explored how light and dark are portrayed. It was fascinating to learn more of the conventions of the depiction of light and dark both in the prints and the theatre and how they inform each other, the many different sorts of light, candles, lamps and fires and the concept of black as being “invisible”.
“By emphasizing the light, the darkness is described”
The museum is small and quite dark to preserve the prints but they will issue you with a LED torch which enables you to get very close and see the gorgeous details and the quality of the surface. Here the beam of light brightens the colours rather than bleaches them out.
The embossing of parts of the prints, almost impossible to see without a raking light, gives an added dimension to the print and the use the “light”.
My, not very good, photo taken with the aid of the torch. As I said, inspiring!
It’s been quite a while since I posted and not least because I was lucky enough to have a three week trip to Japan. Chris and I traveled around from Tokyo to Onomichi, across the Inland Sea to the Island of Shikoku, back to Kobe, we sat out typhoon in Osaka, on to Kyoto and then back to Tokyo.
One of the nicest things was to be able to catch up with my lovely artist friend Azusa Sato, (see her beautiful delicate work here http://www.s-azusa.com/ ). We met up in Tokyo at the beginning and the end of our trip and on both occasions she gave me lovely gifts. They were so thoughtfully chosen. A box of little pressed birds in origami packaging.
A box of charming Owl biscuits … all different. I have no idea how they are made.
A Kintsugi gold mended dish which she had made for me. I love this respectful repairing of broken pottery and am so pleased to have this mended by a friend, which makes it more special.
And, most exquisite, a tiny hand made book she had made which opens into a series of individual little faces; happy, sad, singing? and sleepy. The envelope is sealed with a tiny handmade bird.
It is so beautiful and I am very very lucky.Thank you Azusa!!It was a fascinating trip. I am just trying to process all the images and experiences..my work may change a bit as a result of experiencing, first hand, some of the fabulous design, printmaking and craftwork. I rather hope so! And the garden may sprout a small temple and some large rocks … well in my dreams.