7/12/2015

Mind your P's and Q's.

     
Around this time forty years ago, I graduated from art college. I had studied textile design at The Manchester School of Art and Design- now Manchester Metropolitan University. I met up with my fellow graduate friend Pam and had a lovely day reminiscing about our student days, our hopes and dreams all those years ago. We enjoyed exploring old haunts and discovering the more recent additions to the city.


When we were students The John Rylands Library was something of a mystery to us, in fact I don’t really remember it ever being accessible to the public until fairly recently. It is now one of Manchester’s tourist attractions and welcomes visitors with open arms. It also has a more modern extension with exhibition areas, cloakrooms, a cafĂ© and a shop.


Like many of Manchester’s buildings the library was designed in the Neo-Gothic style so loved by the Victorians. It has many splendid features, beautiful stained glass, hidden balconies, amazing ceilings and books of course! It also hosts exhibitions and houses several printing presses and we both wished we had the space and funds to own at least one of those presses.

Although an Albion style press is far too large and difficult to accommodate, the Adana is much more suited to home use. So, when my blog friend Gretel told me she had one in need of a good home, how could I refuse?

Adana 8 by 5 without rollers
Those of you who are familiar with Gretel will be pleased to know that she is doing well, busy as ever and enjoying life in rural “Middle of Nowhere”. She made us some scrumptious scones and a lovely day was had by all. I returned with this- An Adana 8 by 5.

I hope to someday use the press to print my wood engravings, small lino prints and maybe even some type. In order to learn more about the press and how to restore and use it, I decided to take myself off to this amazing place- The St Bride Foundation, which offers classes in printmaking and typography. It is situated just off Fleet Street in London and is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.


Learning about typography is fascinating. If you have ever used a word processor or computer application you will be familiar with font sizes and types. It all fits into place when you realise that a point is an actual measurement- an inch divide into 72.

Next time you select a 12-point font think of it as a measurement, 12 over 72 is one sixth of an inch also known as a pica. My head is in a spin.

The other thing you have to be very careful of is minding your P’s and Q’s. When you select a letter it appears back to front. As you can see I made a mistake, can you spot it? Spelling was never my strong point; as for back to front spelling- no chance!




6/11/2015

June Flowers.

From "An Illustrated Address Book"
My garden is looking more like a jungle at the moment; every possible place is crammed with plants, many of which are self-seeded varieties from the wild. I have Jacob's Ladder, Woodruff, Buttercups, Grandmother’s Bonnets, Poppies, Cranesbill and Dandelions - weeds to many but I like to think of them as welcome guests although I have to be a little bit ruthless when they threaten to take over too much space.


Jacob's Ladder growing in my garden


another wild and weedy corner

I think I prefer our native woodland plants to the highly cultivated specimens and have always enjoyed drawing them. I love learning about their common names and reading about their history, so when I saw a copy of “Woodland Plants” for sale, of course I had to buy it!


I adore the art of Robin Tanner and the writings of his wife Heather. Together they created several masterpieces; “Woodland Plants” was the result of forty years of observation and drawing. It is a celebration of the commonplace made remarkable by the design skills and technical ability of the artist. 


Each plant is reproduced to its actual life size, when you look at the illustrations you enter a timeless world. They never fail to inspire and delight, I particularly admire the many different tones he achieves with his pen and the detail he includes in the backgrounds.


 Whilst I was shopping I saw this Country Alphabet too and I couldn't just leave it there could I?
I love that pattern too, don't you?

   
June is a month of gardens and flower shows, on a recent visit to Manchester I was both delighted and pleasantly surprised to find that my little “Herb Garden” book was included in an exhibition called “Flower Show” at MMU. You can read a little about it here-


5/17/2015

Trial and error.



A multitude of packages arriving on my doorstep recently, each one containing art materials. I decided it was high time to replenish my stocks and took the opportunity to try out some things new.

I loved working on a cool assortment or if you prefer "Couleurs Froides" pastel paper by Daler Rowney. I liked the way the paper takes coloured pencils and gouache and I managed to produce a little collection of images to give to my agent for the upcoming Surtex exhibition In New York. 




I needed to buy some new pens as my old ones were showing signs of wear, especially after dropping one of them on the floor nib first. I have been trying out making tiny patterns and hope to incorporate some of these in a new book illustration project- more of that to follow. These small scale patterns were inspired by calico quilts.




The new book project needed a new palette, the client wanted rich colours and so I spent a happy day mixing and matching colours to fit the brief. These paints are gouache which goes on nice and thick, like evaporated milk... do you remember "evap" or are you too young? Unlike watercolour, these paints are opaque but can be layered and stippled with a dry brush to give shaded effects. I hope to show you more soon.



I was fortunate enough to attend a wonderful Society of Bookbinders workshop by the most amazing teacher and bookbinder. Maureen Duke is highly respected the world over with a wealth of knowledge gained over a lifetime and it was a real privilege to be part of her class on "Cuir Cisele"- a method of decorating leather by cutting and stamping areas so that the pattern stands out in relief. We each made a miniature book and tried our hands at this ancient method of decoration. Maureen had made it easy for us by preparing the book block and pairing the leather and cutting the boards so we were able to complete the entire book in a one day session.

The design was first dawn onto thin paper and transferred onto the leather. A sharp pointed bone folder helped to outline the shapes and the little hammer was used to press the handmade tool into the dampened leather. The tool was no more than a very narrow tube of metal inside a wooden dowel, a simple but effective way to create a decorative effect. We also cut the design with a scalpel to create lines and later dyed the leather in order to enhance the design; the dye took to the impressions and made them more prominent. We also learned a little about the history of the technique which dates back to the 15the century. In later years it was replaced by gold tooling but I rather like the simplicity and humility of this method. It is certainly less daunting than gold tooling and one which a beginner could try. 



Of course my book turned out a little skew-wif, the corners were not quite square. I had trimmed the leather far too close to the corners and so on, nevertheless I learned so much and felt that I had gleaned enough knowledge to be able to make more books at home.






The weather has been tempting us outdoors, gardens are lush and overflowing with new growth. The lure of the outdoors proved irresistible and we decided to make an impromptu visit to Pembrokeshire in nearby Wales. It was so lovely to see the sea again and to hear the waves crashing on the beach. 




I won't bore you all with my myriad of holiday shots, needless to say I took my camera. I now have a fresh supply of coastal plant images for future reference. You never know when you might need them!




Walking in the fresh air and breathing in those salty breezes proved to be just the tonic we needed and we returned refreshed and inspired. 

3/30/2015

Spring Forward


On Saturday we put the clocks forward, "Spring forward, fall back" is how we remember it. We have had a few days of spring sunshine but for the most part it has been cold and wet. All the more reason to get on with the frenzy of spring cleaning. This year I was determined to clear out my studio/dining room, no easy task but I am now rewarded with a place for everything and everything in its place. Calm and order prevail, where there was chaos now there is peace! I can't tell you how happy I was painting this little miniature, listening to radio 3 in my freshly painted and decorated room.



I am ridiculously pleased with my new purchase, a funny little oak cupboard found in a junk shop in Leek. It now houses my paints and arty stuff and I wonder why I have never before thought of such a thing.


We had a trip to London to visit our son and his partner. This time we went on a jazz cruise on the Thames. It was an evening affair with live music, sparkling wine and a three course meal below deck. In the background you can see the Globe theatre. I have never lost my delight in visiting our capital city, every time we find something new.


Thankfully we found time to visit this exhibition of illustrated books and prints at Manchester MMU Library, Special Collections, albeit on the very last day. As a textile designer/illustrator I was especially attracted to the works of Enid Marx. If you missed it you can view it online here-

"An exhibition of prints and illustrated books from the collection of Julian Francis and including work by Edward Ardizzone, John Farleigh, Barnett Freedman, Lucian Freud, Eric Gill, Enid Marx, Agnes Miller Parker, John and Paul Nash, John O'Connor, and Eric Ravilious."

3/01/2015

Galanthus and other Gallivantings


Earlier in February we visited The John Rylands Library in Manchester to see The Tregaskis Collection- a unique collection of beautiful bindings. The collection forms two parts - the first comprises of 73 copies of the Kelmscott Press’s Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane (1893). The books were bound by the most important binders of the day from all around the world and were commissioned by the booksellers James and Mary Lee Tregaskis. We were shown around the library by John Hodgson who is the keeper of manuscripts and archives at the library. We were allowed to pick up the books and inspect the contents and to take photographs.


With so many exquisite bindings to choose from, it is hard to know where to start. I was immediately drawn to the embroidered bindings. Walter Crane designed one of the bindings, which was embroidered by his wife. 


We marveled at the tiny stitches in this silk embroidery on the Japanese binding.



The second part of the collection was a centenary celebration of bookbindings commissioned by The Designer Bookbinders. This time over eighty copies of The Folio Society edition of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden and Other Poems illustrated by Harry Brockway was the chosen book. I particularly loved the tiny wood engravings and marveled at the artistry of both the illustrator and the binders.



Some of our party are fellows of The Designer Bookbinders and had bound some of the books on display. The photograph shows Paul Delrue holding the copy he bound; he had incorporated small strips of marbled paper in the binding in order to allow the book to open flat, see above. Paul has a website here- 


It was also very poignant to see the work of David Sellars on show. David had been a member of our group and had recently died. He left an amazing legacy of work and so his spirit will live on in his bindings. You can see more of his work here-

We also had the opportunity to see The Anthony Dowd Collection of modern British bookbinding’s. A book of patterned papers fascinated me, especially the decorative papers by Ravilious.


Later in the month I had a special little helper join my “studio” (a.k.a. dining room)
Our grandson was on half term and came for a visit. We enjoyed showing him nearby Little Moreton Hall, I think he enjoyed running around the garden best of all.

We also celebrated the first birthday of our granddaughter, how time flies.


I managed to do a little work in the midst of all this gallivanting, some Christmas themed commissions for greeting cards and also I made a start on some new prints.
The tiny wood engraving has yet to be printed. I am frustrated by my lack of engraving skills and can never manage to achieve what is in my head.



 The green vinyl is an alternative to lino, it cuts nicely; this is my first attempt which was inspired by one of the illustrations I did for “Can it be True?” I am still waiting for the opportunity to print it.


  Later in the month a very dear friend came to visit and we went to Rode Hall to see the Snowdrop Walk. This private house was once host to Walter Crane who often stayed as a guest. Whilst there he painted the family pets and the lake. Rode Hall is close to the potteries and I believe Walter Crane was introduced to important ceramic manufacturers resulting in his designs being used in their decoration. Apart from the wonderful gardens Rode Hall has an important collection of art, books and ceramics.


Before we returned home we bought some snowdrops to plant and some kitchen garden produce - six new laid eggs in such pretty colours it was a shame to eat them. The sky blue one was a treat!


2/09/2015

New Miniature Painting.


I have finished a new miniature painting, it measures three inches across.

It was a joy to paint!

2/02/2015

Moving on.

January proved to be a very difficult month, fraught with ill health, bereavement and ill fortune. I would never want to wish my life away but I have to say that I am glad to move forward into February. The slight increase in daylight hours, the sound of a blackbird singing, the possibility of catching sight of a kingfisher, sunlight on snow, all have the effect of lifting the spirits and quickening the step.

There has been some very encouraging news regarding the sales of "Can it be True?", you can read about it here in The Bookseller. There may also be new opportunities for those of you who write for the seven to eleven age group, read more in the article.


You may have been aware of the controversy surrounding Oxford University Press who have decided to drop nature words like acorn and buttercup in favour of app and blog. In fact around 50 nature words are to be axed as they are considered to be no longer relevant to today's children. You can read more about it here-
I believe that nature will always be important but technology is too. Why not teach your children about acorns on an app or buttercups on your blog? In "Down the Lane" I have attempted to do both. I will always love actual books but I also enjoy sharing stories and pictures on my iPad. I am sure this has done my grandson no harm whatsoever as I overheard him saying that he wants to be an author/illustrator when he grows up!
You can see for yourself what advantages there are in a book made interactive here.
and all for less than the price of a cup of tea!