Oak … Book 1

Back in December I made some woodcuts of the Oak trees in the spinney.
This is a collection of the woodcuts, very simply printed and bound into a wordless book.
Yes, there are mistakes but it is a bit of an advance.
The plates are hand printed, the cover is printed from hand cut type and it’s bound by hand. There are two 6 page sections, 10 images printed on Fabriano 300gsm with red endpapers and it is a satisfying 24cm square.
The biggest book I have attempted so far.

“Oak…Book 1”  24 x 24cms



Oak, spread.

Early proofs.

I am calling it “Book 1” as I am hoping that “Oak ..Book 2”  will have some text and be bound a little better!

The Branch Book

One characteristic of the big old oaks in the Spinney are the long long twisting branches that seem to defy gravity. Last year in December I needed to make some quick prints to make a small book to bind as part of a great 2 day course with bookbinder Ina Baumeister. On the course we were making a simple book but more importantly making our own bookcloth which was a complete eye opener.

For the book I made a very quick set of 8 sequential collagraph plates based on a long branch, printed to make a ten page codex book. (Good practise to get pagination right). This is the result.

branch-1-c     branch-1-bth


Branch Book 200 x 130mm, approx 8 x 5 inches

I have returned to this to develop it more, to get more practise with both printing and binding. One of my aims this year is to get more books made and although it’s a slow process it is very satisfying… when it goes right. Today I printed 3 more sets on different papers to compare how they print, some thin, some thick…and hope to bind them slightly differently

branch-codex-book-pages    branch-plates

Yes, it’s very slow, it took me all day to print them but another good resolution this year is to try and do things properly, ie: take time to cut the paper correctly, make printing guides and TRY to keep my grubby fingers off the paper. This I managed, just, but only after quite a few reprints. Of course if I had made the plates all the same size exactly in the first place it would have helped!
It’s a learning thing…

Proofing prints

I’m working on a series of small prints to develop some ideas from the Savages Spinney oak sketches. Every time I cycle up through the woods there are changes, fewer leaves, more or less wildlife, longer shadows, still  or swaying tree tops. It’s a lovely place.


I am also learning more about cutting wood.I am learning how much it chips when you really don’t want it to and how deep the tools can embed themselves in my fingers. It’s a learning thing. I am sure that the more I learn the less damage I will do to myself and the wood. Also as the leaves disappear the mosses and lichens on the trees become more apparent.

A few colour notes.

Lovely colours and curious structures.

In The Woods. Some Useful Sketches

The ancient oaks in Savages Spinney are just beginning to lose their leaves and they are looking magnificent. Their turning leaves are gleaming copper in the low sun, their long black branches twisting and snaking away from their massive trunks.

IMG_5187         IMG_5349

I often think about these branches. Their gestures are those of reaching out, of continually seeking something that lies away from their centre. They grow out and out until gravity defeats them, leaving rips, cracks and fissures.  Sometimes contorted dead branches remain silhouetted against the sky, sinister in their way.
But the Tree itself carries on despite these catastrophes.
I have to admit to having tree envy.

tree2    tree1    tree-3

tree4    tree5    tree-6

tree-7     tree8     tree9
Oaks in Savages Spinney: A3 Ink sketches
Oaks fascinate me, they did in Florida.
A little Live Oak leaf was my first Leaf of the Day back in 2008.
So when I walked up through the Spinney it seemed time to return to the woods for some drawing and sketches. They will be useful. Definitely some prints, maybe a book.
Don’t think you are escaping pigs though.. there are more to come. And of course they like acorns 🙂

The White of Blackthorn

Things are beginning to blossom. White magnolia in the garden, white wild cherry blossom and in the hedges the white splashes of Blackthorn. It has to be one of the most beautiful sights of English spring country lanes. Dark leafless hedges decorated with a froth of white blossom. The leaves will come later. I walked by the reservoir today and along with pussy willows and first green shoots was a patch of blackthorn, one ball of white flowers against dark spiny branches.


Monday …White blackthorn flowers.. Watercolour 6” x 6”

Further along the track is a big oak tree.. leafless so far but lovely in its skeletal form. There is a large nest box. I have yet to find out what it is for!


And back in the Empty Garden good wildlife news, the hedgehog has reappeared, along with 4 different butterflies, yellow, white, a peacock and a comma, more  redtailed bees and the lovely black female hairyfooted flower bee.

Leaf of the Day: Oaks, more Oaks and Herbaria

I have to admit I am a bit of a cataloguer. I love arranging things, labelling things, sorting things, and putting things in boxes. I was an inveterate cotton reel arranger and button box sorter for my mother. The button box sorting was just that, sorting and arranging of things into categories, shape, size, design, material, colour etc which took some time as we were a thrifty family and all buttons were saved. But, having carefully laid them out, examined them, admired their variety and colours and patterns, I would just tip them all back into the box again. What exactly was the point? I have never delved into the deep psychological meaning of this delightful pastime but I know many others have done it too. It was the perfect rainy day occupation.

So, while the weather has been bad, I have been indulging in some equivalent leaf sorting. Same thing, all the leaves out of their boxes, sorted, admired and put back again. This included many oak leaves now mostly dried up or under the mattress .. yes I press them as well… I do like pressed leaves. There are, unbeknownst to Chris, many many leaves and even the odd flower under the mattress. :). He is obviously not very finely bred as I haven’t had any “princess and the pea” complaints. They are there because I was hoping to get round to making a book, “a herbarium” to be correct.

A herbarium (Lat herba, “herb,” formerly any medicinal plant) is a collection of dried specimens of plants mounted on sheets of heavy paper and stored in cabinets or bound in book form, as well as the building that houses such a collection. The term replaced (Lat) Hortus siccus, “dried garden”, which was used until the late 1700s.

Below , some oak leaves and a general view of Kew’s massive herbarium which since April 2008 has been open to the public.

images from the Guardian here

I started drying and preserving the leaves from Leu from early last year but only when time allowed, so it is not really a good record and it’s very time consuming.

“The first person to consider mounting dried specimens onto paper is thought to have been Luca Ghini (c1490–1556) of Bologna. His pupil, Gherardo Cibo, in about 1532, prepared a collection which was perhaps a means of instructing students in the use of herbal treatments. Most of these early collections were bound into books and many are still beautifully preserved. The oldest herbarium is in Germany, established in 1570, and the largest is in Paris, containing nearly 9 million specimens.
from the Royal Horticultural Society here

This little specimen of Quercus pendunculata may not look very special until you realise it is from the great Linnean herbarium, held at the Department of Phanerogamic Botany, Swedish Museum of Natural History here

To say I am a cataloguer might infer that I am tidy and have a system but unfortunately that is not true and my oak leaf collecting was particularly haphazard. I would return from the Gardens with ten leaves from different oaks and not a clue which was which, so I started taking labels to the gardens and attaching them to the leaves as I picked them.
So far I have:
Quercus laeta, which seems to be a Mexican Oak
Quercus polymorpha, the Monterrey Oak
Quercus laevis, Turkey Oak
Quercus sillae, Saddle, Mountain Oak
Quercus glaucoides, Lacey oak
Quercus pungens, Sandpaper Oak
Quercus pagodifolia, Cherry Bark Oak,
Quercus shumardii, Shumard Oak
Quercus austrina, Bluff oak
Quercus michauxii, Swamp chestnut oak
Quercus myrtifolia, Myrtle Oak
Quercus laurifolia, Laurel Oak
Quercus durandii, Durand oak
Quercus virginiana, Southern Live oak
Quercus glauca, Ring-cup oak
Quercus phellos, Willow Oak
Quercus nigra, Water Oak
Quercus myrsinaefolia, Asian evergreen oak

This below is the preserved Quercus laeta collected by Bacon, J. 1751, Durango,Mexico: from Chicago’s Field Museum here

I have drawn some, but not all as I was really waiting for acorns, but very few of them have had acorns. Maybe this is because some of the trees are only young.
This sketch of the Quercus Laeta is a little bit different as it is done on tinted pastel paper. I had put these two dried and curled up leaves on the desk, complete with label and liked their faded pale colours, so drew them just as they were. I will return to the various and fascinating ways of preserving plants and their history tomorrow.


Quercus Laeta

Leaf of the Day: Water Oak, John Muir and Spanish Bayonet

The Water Oak, Quercus nigra, is another tree I saw on the railway track walk on Sunday that was conveniently labelled. It’s too early for the acorns to be developed to any degree but they are still a lovely shape. The other names for the Water Oak are Possom Oak, Duck Oak, Punk Oak. ( I am not entirely sure of the reason for these names, except in the duck oak case, the leaf is said to resemble a ducks foot..a bit.) It is a beautiful tree and would have provided firewood, building timber and shelter to native Americans and early settlers alike.

The railway line from Cedar Key Island ran across to the mainland and all that remains now are the broken stumps of the pilings.

We were the only ones on this little track and amongst several different species of oaks, laurels, the black mangroves and 5 million mosquitoes there was the Spanish Bayonet. A ferocious Yucca, (Yucca aloifolia) with long spiked leaves this just adds to my current run of armed and dangerous plants that can be a hazard to the careless walker in Florida.
John Muir the writer and early conservationist had time to contemplate this plant too. In 1868 he spent 3 months at Cedar Key recovering from a bad bout of malaria which had caused him to break his walk from Indiana to South America. In his account of that journey ” A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf” he gives a grim description of malaria, but also tells of the kindness with which he was nursed at Cedar Key. Having now had a close encounter with a Spanish Bayonet I know his description is accurate.

“One of the characteristic plants of these keys is the Spanish bayonet, a species of yucca, about eight or ten feet in height, and with a trunk three or four inches in diameter when full grown. It belongs to the lily family and develops palmlike from terminal buds. The stout leaves are very rigid, sharp-pointed and bayonet-like. By one of these leaves a man might be as seriously stabbed as by an army bayonet, and woe to the luckless wanderer who dares to urge his way through these armed gardens after dark. Vegetable cats of many species will rob him of his clothes and claw his flesh, while dwarf palmettos will saw his bones, and the bayonets will glide to his joints and marrow without the smallest consideration for Lord Man.

This lovely old photo of the Spanish Bayonet from a very interesting webpage about Texas plants here

Muir goes on to describe the beauty and the birds too

“During my long sojourn here as a convalescent I used to lie on my back for whole days beneath the ample arms of these great trees, listening to the winds and the birds. There is an extensive shallow on the coast, close by, which the receding tide exposes daily. This is the feeding-ground of thousands of waders of all sizes, plumage, and language, and they make a lively picture and noise when they gather at the great family board to eat their daily bread, so bountifully provided for them.
Their leisure in time of high tide they spend in various ways and places. Some go in large flocks to reedy margins about the islands and wade and stand about quarrelling or making sport, occasionally finding a stray mouthful to eat. Some stand on the mangroves of the solitary shore, now and then plunging into the water after a fish. Some go long journeys in-land, up creeks and inlets.

A few lonely old herons of solemn look and wing retire to favorite oaks. It was my delight to watch those old white sages of immaculate feather as they stood erect drowsing away the dull hours between tides, curtained by long skeins of tillandsia. White-bearded hermits gazing dreamily from dark caves could not appear more solemn or more becomingly shrouded from the rest of their fellow beings. “

We found it still much the same…


Water Oak

Leaf of the Day: Spiky Chinkapin Oak Burs, and an early life in Missouri.

A couple of studies of the spiky, very sharp burs of the Chinkapin Oak Quercus muehlenbergii
The curious name really applies to the chestnut tree which is known as the Chincapin, Chinkapin or Chinquapin. According to the dictionaries it is probably a modification of the Algonquian word “chechinquamin meaning chinquapin nut ? Hmm that seems to take me round in circles.
The muehlenbergii part of its Latin name comes from Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg 1753-1815 who was an American clergyman and botanist, and while being, no doubt a worthy pastor, he is best-known as a botanist. A genus of well known ornamental grasses the Muhlenbergia, was named in his honor.

The studies, one in watercolour and one in gouache show what remains of the flower spike and the young burs. The flowers which were small and yellowish, clustered into the spike-like catkin have shrivelled up and the fruit, coated with slender, hairy, 1/2-inch spines forms the protective nut bur. It is quite a deterrent. When ripe the burs split to release a brown, single, solitary, round, glossy delicious nut.
These are very palatable to a variety of animals, including us and are useful as a friendly food source for urban wildlife.

In the archives of Springfield Library Archives, Missouri, I came across this touching account of the life of a country man Jim Chastain, he is recalling his early life. and eating chinkapin nuts amongst many other things. I make no apology for quoting this long passage.

” I was never was born. The buzzards laid me on a stump and the sun hatched me! I’m eighty-three years old and I spent the most of my life in Laclede County. I was born in 1897 on December 15 in the Hazel-dell District. They told me that there was five or six inches of snow, ice and sleet on the ground that morning. Our family made a living by going out to the fields with a double shovel and a single shovel and plowing the ground up with a turning plow. We planted corn, oats, wheat, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, parsnips and all of that kind of stuff.
We had peach, apple and pear trees, and we took the fruit off them. We also had seedless peaches in every corner of the fence. My mother made peach butter, apple butter and wild blackberry preserves. We dried the peaches and apples out on the slope of the house or on two trestles. We picked persimmons and my mother cooked them, took the seeds out of them and mashed them through a culler, took the peeling off of them and made persimmon preserves. We went out in the woods and gathered grapes and made grape butter, jelly and canned grapes.
We got our water from a spring. It never even once dried up. You couldn’t take a scoop shovel and dry it up, either. Now they don’t even want to drink out of a spring or anything. That’s the purest water on earth. We kept lard, milk and butter in a spring branch in a box, the water running through that spring.
We butchered our own hogs so we had meat. We had meat in the smokehouse smoked with hickory wood and a little sassafras.
We had always put out a cane patch and my daddy made molasses every fall for other people. We had a fifty gallon barrel of sorghum, or molasses, whichever one you wanted to call it. We had a fifty gallon barrel of kraut and a fifty gallon barrel of cucumber pickles.
We ate hickory nuts and walnuts, black walnuts. A lot of people calls them butternuts and then the black walnuts. We ate them and then we got chinquapin acorns. We got that and parched it on the stove hearth and eat it like popcorn. You put a little bit of ashes in the bottom of a stove hearth, and you put them acorns in there and a little bit of ashes over them just enough to cover them. Then you rake live coals out on them and let them cook. You take that outer burr off, but let the shell stay on. After they’re roasted, they tasted awful good to a kid in them days. Might not want to eat one of them now.
Also, you could take that burr acorn, and if you knew how, you would take a knife and you could make the most beautiful basket that you ever saw in your life. You turn the acorn upside down and leave that fuzzy hull down here. It has a little hull around the top of it. Cut down on each side and cull it out and dig that out of there, and you’ve got one of the most beautiful baskets you ever saw in your life. “

The article is fascinating. Go and read more here

These lovely trees are also host to the Gray Hairstreak butterfly, a really beautiful low key butterfly .

a great picture and more from Duke University here

Sometimes botanical language makes me laugh. I read somewhere it is regarded as a “precocious” tree.. meaning it produces nuts early in its life cycle, somehow the idea of a tree being precocious is endearing. I made the first sketch 2 days ago and in that time the colour changed and it started to dry out, so the second sketch is different and in gouache just for a change!

Chinquapin Oak Burs

Leaf of the Day: Two White Oak Leaves and The Bowthorpe Oak

We humans are slight things in comparison to oaks. It is humbling to stand by an old oak. Their life span may be as much as seven or eight hundred years and I find it interesting that they are not particularly a northern tree as we Brits tend to think, with our great symbolic oak forests and our heart- of-oak fighting ships and the supports of our great cathedrals. In fact the majority of them live between only 15 degrees and 30 degrees north. That is Mexico, Central America and Yunnan.

There is however one splendid oak not far from my home in Linconshire, the Bowthorpe Oak. Its age is not really known but was recorded in 1768 to have been ” in the same state of decay since the memory of the older inhabitants and their ancestors. ” The great trunk was hollowed out so that the Squire of Bowthorpe could sit down to dine with 20 friends,

The Bowthorpe Oak. Photo from the Ancient Tree Hunt site here

I am discovering so many lovely oak trees here in Orlando. Some with leaves that are similar to the English oak to the small narrow leathery leaves of the Live oak. Here are two leaves that I collected the other day, one from the Chinquapin Oak Quercus muhlenbergii and the other from the Durand Oak Quercus durandii. The Chinquapin is a confusing tree as it has spiny pods more like a chestnut, and leaves that look more like beech than oak… Sometimes the tags in the garden get moved around, misplaced or faded but this one is clear, it is definitely an oak.
I am in the middle of making a study of the Chinquapin Oak’s spiny pod which I gathered at some personal injury. These are in fact both white oaks which are distinguished from red oaks in that the leaf veins in red oaks extend outwards to form bristles on the ends of the leaf lobes. White oaks generally produce larger acorns than red oaks, some quite sweet and used as important food stuff by the indigenous Indians. I am waiting for the Chinquapin nuts to mature and then, first purchasing some armoured gloves to try to get at the nut, will give them a try.

And here is another interesting botanical term tyloses, this is another distinguishing factor of White Oaks over Red.
Tyloses are bubble-like tissues from adjacent wood cells that invade and block the large pores in the wood and so block water and air. The presence of tyloses in white oaks makes the wood watertight, which is why it is preferred for barrels used to store wine and whiskey and shipbuilding, to red oak, which lacks tyloses and does not hold water.


White Oak Leaves

Leaf of the Day: Another oak.. but which ?

This is from a little treelet that is growing hidden behind the aircon outlet just by the steps which I fell down at New Year. It’s small, only maybe 4ft high so I am not sure if its leaves are really representative of the full grown tree. They are a very rich green and leathery with very sharp points. I am sure it is an oak. I have tried to identify it but it could be one of many. I am thinking it might be a White Oak. Any help gratefully received.

The White Oak