Saffron: A start

Saffron: A Start

Last year I attended a lecture about the super exotic spice saffron, given by Sally Francis of the Norfolk Saffron Company. It was completely captivating, from its history, its botany, the worldwide trade, the complex picking and drying procedures and its many and often bizarre uses.

Thanks to Sally, the saffron industry in the East of England is alive and well.

Over the last year I have been sporadically researching and thinking about it all. I now have a big file of documents and a couple of sketchbooks full of ideas. In January I was ready to work on a book project which explores some of these fascinating facts and fictions. If Covid had not come along I would have been finishing it now but I have had to postpone the main body of the work until next year. The extra time I have should mean a better end result .. I am hoping so anyway.

I had made some initial sketches and occasionally made various trial prints and as before with the Colour of Birds book I started looking at the glorious colours of saffron.  Doing the colour studies helps to start me thinking about possibilities and prints etc etc. So here are a few prelim sketches from an actual flower from last Autumn.



And then a booklet I have just completed. It was a simple project to explore the colours a bit more, look at shapes and use my little proofing press to print and overprint a single wooden block to achieve a mix of soft colours in each block.
I added a few of the words specific to the Saffron business which are, in themselves, fascinating, bound that with a simple Japanese stab binding and made a folder to contain it in. Good practice for binding. My greatest achievement with all this was in keeping the back and margins of all the prints clean!


There are 10 colour blocks interleaved with Japanese paper which have cut outs of the shapes relating to the colours.


I made some paper to use as endpaper and an interleaving sheet using the S shape.. (see below)




The last colour is a brilliant yellow with an added “S” shape.  The “S” is the form of the beautiful saffron buns from Sweden. The St Lucia “Lussekatter” saffron buns made traditionally in December. The shape is the curl of a cat’s tail.
I will definitely make some this year.


Should you want some saffron you will have to wait until Sally’s new season, later this year but its so worth waiting for. The quality is very high and the colour of the threads just glorious.  I have cooked buns and various risottos and the flavour and colour the saffron brings is quite unique.


Grain in The Land Magazine

A big thanks to my good friend Gill for this nice little commission for the Land magazine which I completed a few weeks ago.

The illustrations accompany an article on Continuous Grain Cropping by John Letts, heritage grain conservationist and grower. You can read a little about him here at Bakery Bits.

The Land Magazine is ” an occasional magazine about land rights” If you care about the land how it is used and by whom you should have a look. It is full of fascinating stuff.

One full column and three little spots which reflect the top middle and bottom layers of a wheat field. Clover as an undersowing crop. They are scraperboard drawings.

and  a shot of the main illustration in situ.

You can find the Land Magazine online here;

Sketching in the Woods

For a few weeks I have been making a quick sketch on my (almost) daily cycle.

I have sketched around here many times before, but this time, to make it a bit more of a challenge I decided to make them roughly measured sketches. Not much measuring,  just 4 or 5 points in an attempt to get the whole thing I am looking at on the page. Very often I  get carried away with the subject and don’t really pay attention to the proportions.
Of course it doesn’t really matter because each drawing should be your interpretation rather than a slavish copy, but this simple measured drawing makes you observe more closely, look at the relationships of one thing to another and negative spaces etc etc…..which is never a bad thing!

It’s very enjoyable, but mostly because  it’s sheer bliss to be up in the woods, early in the morning, with just the singing birds and swaying trees. I am very lucky.

I take a pen and small sketch book, spend about 15 mins on each sketch and then photograph each sketch in situ. Sometimes not very well, but you will see the idea from the snaps below.


They are simple and quick but full of info and possibilities..

I am not quite sure what will come out of this, if anything,  but I will carry on for a while longer and see what happens.. 🙂


Meanwhile some Grasshoppers

This month I decided to try a couple of different binding forms, but for my first attempt neither the printing or the binding worked. But rather than totally write everything off I made a simple concertina book from the images.

I had found some old lino cuts of grasshoppers which I had never used and thought I could make a quick book form with them.  I am very fond of grasshoppers. They always cheer me up but a “quick book” is something I have never really mastered  and everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Also I had decided to use a different paper which took an age to dry and then every set of prints had at least one mistake. None were really good enough for binding. So I threw away 5 days of work. Sad but really the only thing to do.

A few of the OK prints! Each grasshopper had three printings so the margin for error was high.

But I am nothing if not dogged so I scanned the OK ones, corrected the mistakes in Photoshop and printed them, then teamed them up with some digitally printed text, a little grasshopper poem by e.e.cummings.




I have forgotten why I originally had the grasshoppers playing with letters (which spell “BOING”).. but the cummings poem also plays with letters and word order and jumps about … like its subject. So it was a good match.



Anyway it was an interesting and useful exercise in that it is all digitally printed, cover, prints, text everything. It is the first time I have made a book this way. There were some problems with the inkjets not being waterproof but I just had to be more careful with the binding. I  joined the single sheets with some of the cover paper and managed to keep the backs clean. A concertina may look very simple to make but getting the folds regular and all in line is difficult.

As a bit more practice, I decided to make a cover which contained an aperture. It was horribly tricky to cover with the digitally printed paper. Possibly more patience and care would have helped but by now I was a bit fed up with the whole thing!

However as usual I have learnt more about papers and tricky bits of binding and it’s all good practice. But, for me, because I had to digitally print the images it is not as satisfying as the hand printed ones.

The next one will be a combination of two… I hope.

I also hope you are all well and keeping sane! I am well… sane? Possibly not !:)

The Colour of Birds: Spreads and a few Details:

My last post on “The Colour of Birds ”
To recap: the book features black and white images of 10 of my favourite birds set against backgrounds hand printed with a mixture of feature colours from each bird. I see these lovely birds around the woods and waters near me and love their colours and characters. The format was inspired by the superb natural history artist Ferdinand Bauer’s working methods, who made black and white numbered sketches in the field and then referred back to an elaborate and extensive colour chart to “colour in” his drawings. In its finished form it is about 30 x 25cms. The single sheets open nice and flat without compromising the spine, so the drumleaf binding worked perfectly for me.

The backgrounds are punched with small holes which contain numbers, corresponding to numbers on the birds prints.

I have written a little bit about the process  in posts herehere, and  here !

I wrote about the cover and the construction in the last post .. so here are the interior spreads :

The  book opens to the end papers which are printed with a simple “feathery “pattern on grey /green ingres paper.

Then the title page, printed on Awagami Digital paper is tipped in at the spine.

The contents page lists the birds, has a tiny piece of each print pasted into the box, to indicate the main colour and includes their Latin names and old country names. The layout and text are inspired by Werners’ “Nomenclature of Colour”, another colour system, which has some lovely descriptions of colours relating to the natural world.

The backgrounds start here with some soft egg shapes and mica details.

The black and white bird plates, printed on slightly translucent Japanese paper, are again just tipped in at the spine to keep a feathery light feel.

Blackbird: The first spread is the about an eggs and their related colours.

Moorhen : Then the lovely moorhen with yellow dominating for its astonishing legs with watery green blues.

The mica on this plate takes the form of birdy footprints.

Heron: The heron with its beautiful black crest feathers and watery habitat. There are two fish in his image.

The numbers on both the background and the bird.

Robin: does not really need any explanation..

The Owl: It had to be a full face with glowing eyes and tawny feathers. By accident the background shapes look rather like bats which I thought was quite appropriate!

Numbers, mica and “bats”

The Partridge: a feather in lovely browns and tans

Copper and gold mica highlights.

The Swan: I decided to feature the swans feathery down and emboss the background, then print with just a pale green shadow grey.

Details of the number and the embossing,


The Jay: The beautiful jay, spreading out his wings to show the brilliant blue and black flash.


The Rook: His grey beak  and dark skies. He has a nest twig. Cloud and tree shapes in the background. I am very fond of rooks.

The Green Woodpecker : with his flashes of red, who I see so often on the mossy green margins of the reservoir.

and finally the end with a bit of blurb about the book and the wonderful Mr Bauer.

As I said a couple of posts ago, the feel of the printed surfaces is very important to me and there are many different textures involved, from the very smooth thick Somerset satin paper, to the very slightly rough fine japanese paper, to the calico book cloth and the super smooth leather. There are both matte and shiny elements. And of course it smells inky and divine. 🙂

I won’t be making another as things have moved on but a set of the black and white prints will be mounted and framed with their backgrounds for exhibition in a couple of years time.

Well that’s it for “The Colour of Birds”… but never fear… more birds to come this month!


The Colour of Birds… The Binding

I am still struggling to produce much work and inspiration is lacking.  I understand by talking to some of my other creative friends that this seems very common! But this month I am starting a small project which I hope will be finished in 3 weeks time.

Meanwhile I should conclude the posts about the bird book which was completed last year. So this is a little bit about the binding, a drumleaf binding which allows single spreads to be bound together.

Finishing the Backgrounds

Having basically done the back grounds (see here) … They needed some additions before assembling, some tweaking and finalising.

I wanted to reflect the sheen on the wings of birds by adding small amounts of mica here and there. It is so lovely and adds to the feel and texture of the printed pages.


I punched holes in the prints (ooh a bit nerveracking) to allow for the numbers of the colours which would correspond to the numbers on the bird prints, again relating back to Bauer’s numbering system.


Endpaper and Prelims

Then before the binding I had to consider the endpapers and the prelims. I decided to make the ends quite simple, printing them on some lovely canson paper. ( I was also running out of time).

The text pages were digitally printed on Japanese Awagmi paper. Very nice quality and definition.

Once the block was assembled it was glued along the back and strengthened with Japanese paper.

Book block clamped for gluing… it was hard to keep the spine level which is important to keep the book block straight before trimming with a horizontal plough. 

Then the pages were also glued along the spine edges for extra strength.  I had to make a complete dummy with the correct papers to make sure all this would work and to practice trimming the edges, also nerveracking.

My test block trimmed … nice ! Thank you to Sue Dogget for showing me how to use the plough. 

The Cover

Having the book block assembled OK. I started the cover.
It was designed to be roughly monochrome with just a few highlights of colour. So I decided to feature birds which are predominantly black and white, to keep the theme of the black and white bird images inside the book. Lino cuts were made of the gorgeous spotted woodpecker and a little wagtail and a coal tit and printed in grey on home made calico bookcloth.


I had decided early on in this project to try some leather work  on this book, having done a lovely short course with Ina Baumeister at City Lit which gave me some insight into working with leather. This was probably the most stressful part of the job because the leather is expensive and beautiful and I really didn’t want to ruin it. I inlaid the black leather with the little chips of coloured leather.. phew it was so tricky to keep it all clean! ….


The colours corresponded with the colours I chose for the birds and I joined the cloth to the leather with a strip of red leather 

The spine is constructed to open quite widely to enable the pages inside to lie flat. So it was necessary to attend to the parts that could be seen when it was opened. I lined the back of the spine with thin black leather and the top of the boards with red leather and made a little red leather headband.

There are many aspects of this whole project that might have been done differently (ie better) but I was just so pleased it worked!
In all I am happy with it, especially having put it away for  year. I learnt a huge amount about papers, printmaking, book construction etc etc.

Here is the bound book:

Tomorrow I am going to post the spreads ! Yay!




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!