Eels .. a start.

I am completely fascinated by these slippery, mysterious creatures and their extraordinary life cycle. They are one of the subjects in my very long, 2015, to-do list. I have drawn some eels before, long ago to illustrate Philip Gross’ poem “Sargasso”. I had been thinking about another interpretation of the poem for a small book.

eels Sargasso

But meanwhile I am playing with all sorts of printing methods and wanted to make a simple concertina book for a bit more simple bookbinding practice.

I started with some sketches:




They do have teeth… awesome!

Then made a couple of simple plates cut from card. I had made some card plates for the moon project but they were not terribly successful. Now I have made up some of my own shellac which I think will help.


Sketch and plates


Trials with different weights of ink


A first folded print Then I made a small simple case for the book. I say simple but it is tricky to get everything square, to stop the ink smudging and to keep everything clean. I printed some foliage for a quick cover, wrestled with some old wood type for the title and printed the back of the eel to tidy that aspect up a bit before pasting the print to the front cover.


The case cover


The back

Opened book There are a million things wrong with this but it is a small triumph for me and number two small book form for this year. I am trying to make one a week.   Last week I used an old frog print, folded it and made two separate boards.

frog booklet 1

The folded book

front and back

The front and back boards

open frog

The opened out print.

I have to consider this an experiment .. but good practice. See more here.

A Quick Woodcut: Chris the Frog

On Friday my Easton group had a great day tackling a woodblock print. Their results were excellent, some even managing two colours which is some going for just a few hours.
As a demo I had prepared a simple two colour print of a frog. Frogs are very much on my mind as they are all over the Garden at the moment.

Roughs and Colour notes:

frog-sket-bg frog-sketches-1-bg

Some thumbnail compositional sketches


A decision..


Colour roughs

The Print I had printed up a few variations of the Frog using the same very basic materials we would be using in the class, a spoon, a baren, computer paper, tissue paper, some cheap Japanese rice paper and basic acrylic printing inks.

frog plate

The woodcut plate, cut for the first colour


The first colour proofed on thin rice paper.


Various combinations of paper and inking with the second colour added.


“Chris the Frog”: Woodcut on Japanese rice paper: Image A4

The frog is called Chris because I realised I had unwittingly cut a rather nice letter C in one of the spots.. it seemed fitting..


In the garden there are still many tiny froglets around the pond fringes Mowing is a nightmare and very very slow.
I have to carefully pat the grass to alert them and help the very tiniest ones to get to safety.
The long grass must seem mountainous to them.. I rather know how they feel.


Here is one on the very tip of my grubby fingers.. I am wondering how they will survive the winter.
Summer seems to be rushing by, the days are shorter, evenings and mornings darker and I am very busy..:).. Busy is always good!

Life at Last: Bees, birds and frogs

It was actually warm on Saturday ..yes warm! There was real sun and there were real shadows and at last… Hurrahhh … bees. I was beginning to wonder if any of my local bees had made it through.  First a huge Buff Tailed Bumble Bee queen finding what she could in the bare garden. I have a few crocus but not much else for such a big bee. I hope she is finding more elsewhere. Then in the conservatory window my first little solitary bee. My bee guru Alan has said possibly Andrena bicolor or  Andrena nigroaenea. Whatever he was, I was very pleased to see him.

The Wild Bird Cherry is in blossom and I am sure that’s where he was heading.

bird cherry

Yes real blue sky! Then in the pond, amazingly, 4 frogs who serenaded us all day.

These are our first ever spring frogs. Last year we created the pond, which we populated with tadpoles from my sister’s pond in Lincoln. Then we had many tiny froglets and now the returning adults. How delightful!

Lincolnshire frogs doing well in Cambs…
There is also some very VERY pretty singing from the blackbirds.
You might almost believe that Spring has arrived!

Leaf of the Day: More Mr Catesby

The essay is just about finished but, of course, I keep finding more fascinating bits of information. When you think about what he achieved in the times he lived in, you really have to admire him.

His massive work “The Natural History of Carolina Florida and the Bahamas.” had 220 plates of birds, plants, trees insects, snakes and mammals with accompanying written observations. It took approximately 20 years to create and was finished in 1747. Being very concerned that his drawings and paintings were translated accurately into print, and to save money too, Catesby went to the trouble of learning the highly skilled art of engraving his own copper plates, from which the black and white prints would be taken. These were then hand coloured, which accounts for the variation in the images you may see on the Internet, although Catesby took great pains to ensure that the colouring was accurate.

It is hard to conceive of such a project now being so carefully and slowly produced. The work was issued in sections of 20 prints which were produced every 4 months and sold by subscription which was a common way to finance a large project in those days. It would be almost impossible now to publish a “scientific” book over a period of 20 years without the information becoming obsolete, even within just a few months, such is the speed, not only of change and discovery but also of the dissemination of information.

This is a first edition copy. “It has the signature on the first title leaf of John Custis of Williamsburg, with whom Catesby stayed briefly while doing the field work on which the book is based, and from whom the book passed to Martha Custis Washington. Bound (or perhaps rebound) at Georgetown College in full calf in the mid-19th century. Gift of George Washington Parke Custis on the occasion of his addressing a Georgetown College commencement, July 4, 1833.”
from the Lauinger Library Collection, Georgetown. here

However, despite some mealy mouthed critics, Catesby’s great work was rightly acclaimed. With its big colourful plates and lively text it remained the most important illustrated record of the fauna and flora of North America until Audubon came along a century later. It was the sole reference for 38 of the 100 entries for North American birds detailed by Linnaeus in his 1748 edition of Systema Naturae. In 1790 Richard Poulteney the 18th Century biographer of botanists thought it “the most splendid of its kind that England ever produced.” The more of Catesby’s work I see, and the more I read about this engaging man, the more I enjoy and appreciate his work. His fondness, delight and wonder for all he saw shines out from every beautiful and fascinating plate and text. I am sure I will be returning, his observations about snakes are particularly interesting, meanwhile here is one complete entry from the book for the Ladies Slipper and the Bullfrog, which was renamed in his honour in 1810. It is now known as Rana catesbeiana. It is a long entry but is lovely example of his writing and observation.

Rana maxima Americana Aquatica: The Bull Frog.
The Figure here exhibited is smaller than many of these Frogs I have seen: The Eyes were oval, very large and prominent, the Pupils having yellow Circles round them: The Irides of a dusky red, encompassed with a yellow Circle behind, and a little below the Eyes appear the Ears, of a circular Form, and covered with a thin transparent Membrane, which is the Membrana Tympani itself, which in this Species of Animals lies quite bare, and exposed, being even with the Surface of the rest of the Skin, having no Meatus Auditorius, or Passage leading to it, nor any Thing like an outward Ear to guard it.
The Colour of the upper Part of this Frog, was dusky brown, thick set with large irregular limped Spot, of a dark brown Colour, the whole being blended with a yellowish Green, particularly the fore-part of the Head and Chaps; the Belly dusky white, with a Mixture of Yellow, and faintly spotted.

These Frogs are less numerous than any other of the Frog kind, and frequent Springs, only, which in Virginia abound in the Sides of every little Hill, where by the continual running of the Water, a small Pond or Hole is usually made before the Mouth of the Spring, which is rarely without being possessed by a Pair of these Frogs: They are usually sitting on the Verge of the Hole, and when surprized, with a long Leap or two enter the Mouth of the Spring, where they are secure. It is the general Belief of the People in Virginia, that they keep the Springs clean, and purify the Water, wherefore they never kill, or molest then, but superstitiously believe it bode them ill so to do.

The Noise they make has caused their Name; for at a few Yards Distance their Bellowing sounds very much like that of a Bull a quarter of a Mile off, and what adds to the Force of the Sound, is their sitting within the hollow Mouth of the Spring. Tho’ the imaginary Usefulness of these Frogs is frequently a Means of their Preservation, yet their voracious Appetites often causes their Destruction, they being great Devourers of young Ducks and Goslins, which they swallow whole; this provokes the good Wives to destroy them, but as they are not very numerous, this Mischief is the easier prevented.

Helleborine: The Lady’s Slipper of Pensilvania.
This Plant from a fiberous Root rises with two or three single Stems, to the Height of ten or twelve Inches, with long ribbed Leaves, growing alternately, the Flower as it is longer resembles more a Slipper than any other of this Tribe that I have seen: It differs also from others of this Kind, in having a Slit from the Top to the Bottom of the Slipper; over the Hollow of which is fixed two small oval Bodies or Knobs, over which hangs a thin Membrane or Lappet, of a pale Red or Rose Colour, and under these Knobs is another Membrane of the like Form, but of a green Colour: The Four exterior Petals that compleat the Flower are placed cross-ways, and are of a yellowish Green, ribbed and stained with Red. The Slipper is of a greenish Yellow, with a Tincture of Red. This curious Helleborine was sent from Pensilvania by Mr. John Bertram, who by his Industry and Inclination to the Searches into Nature, has discovered and sent over a great many new Productions both Animal and Vegetable. This Plant flowered in Mr. Collinson’s Garden in April, 1738.

A film has been made about Catesby, which in today’s terms took almost as long as his book to produce and needed sponsors too. It was started in 2005 and premiered in 2008, to very good reviews. It is due for some TV showings and there is a DVD credit card is by my side! Read more from the Catesby Trust here. .

Leaf of the Day: Frog disturbed nights and the Acalypha Fire Dragon

I have been to Leu today and to my delight have found a Ginkgo tree… leaf to follow soon. Also I took a photo of a beautiful large green/brown frog which was by the pond in the Arid Garden, one of many, whose friends and relations are disturbing the gentile peace of Winter Park these hot and humid nights.

My photo from this am, variety not known yet.

Because, with the now daily and torrential rain, has come the astonishingly loud nightly croaking of the local frogs. There are 32 species of frogs and toads in Florida and I think they are all right here at our apartment block. There must have been a My Space invitation for some midnight revelries at Killarney Bay. Even Florida locals, tired of the raucous partying ring up the council to see if anything can be done.

Gary Morse, spokesman for the Lakeland office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission explains;

“The nocturnal symphony,” he said, “is one of the many quirky aspects of living in a state that has alligators, urban coyotes, sharks, hurricanes, lightning and sinkholes. The rain will pass before too long, he said, and so too, will the frog noise. Until then, try to endure”, he counseled.
“The more damp it is at night, the happier they are and the louder they croak,” Morse said. “Loud frogs are part of the price you pay to live in a place like Florida.”
More from the Tampa Bay Chronicle here

But frogs are delightful, and here they are extremely useful as they eat mosquito lava. The ones that make the noise are most likely to be various species of tree frogs.The Cuban variety probably the main culprit .. big latino party animal this. They are the biggest and noisiest with voracious appetites, hoovering up almost anything they can overpower and according to Wiki, they are also believed to cause power outages by sitting on transformers on electrical poles.

image from here
I miss my small froggy UK pond, I hope my frogs are thriving..

My leaf today is a gorgeous leaf, blousey and ruffled like a harlequin’s collar, and is one of the many varieties of Acalypha wilkesiana whose leaves are decorative and multicoloured. They vary widely in leaf shape, size and colour and are known by many different names, Joesph’s coat, Match me if you can, and Copperleaf. They are from the extensive spurge family Euphorbiaceae . To me, like the croton, its leaf is more interesting in isolation and away from the colourful muddle of the whole plant. To see the real beauty of the structure you need to see the leaves in isolation.

The drawing is actually of 1 leaf and 1 flower spike. The flowers are tiny and are held protected by the curl of the smaller part of the leaf, which itself nestles close into the larger leaf blade. The little leaf is a lopsided shape as well and curves in the opposite direction to the larger leaf. The veins are red.
I made a few scans of the drawing as I went along. It’s interesting to see how it develops. I had to keep the leaf in the fridge overnight which it seemed to enjoy, but if I continue on to a colour version I will have to get another one. But I have so many other things to do ..


Acalypha Fire dragon