Last of the Summer Wine.

The recent unexpected sunshine has brought with it the temptation to walk rather than work; it seems a shame to sit at a desk when the weather is so mild and the winter months and darker days are only weeks away. We visited the nearby Victorian garden at Biddulph Grange and came away with a young Monkey Puzzle tree: no doubt a great mistake as they can grow huge and our garden is miniscule. The gardens at Biddulph have many themes, my favourite is the Japanese garden which has a lovely lake surrounded by ornamental trees. Ever since I was a child I have longed to visit Japan, maybe one day..... If my six numbers ever come up!

I took this photograph of a nearby lake, a favourite with dog walkers and fishermen alike. Although access is restricted you can walk around part of the lake and into the nearby woods. Our little dog used to love this walk, so much so we scattered his ashes nearby. I like to think his spirit is happy here, I am sure it is. We made so many friends walking our dog in these woods, so many people from different walks of life, all united by their love of dogs. In fact, we have kept in touch with many of them and because most of them are in the autumn of their years I am often reminded of the TV series "Last of the Summer Wine".

When I was not walking I was painting, this time more miniatures. My subject matter has been linked to lakes and water so it was a special treat to listen to Radio 3 whilst I worked. One piece of music has lodged in my mind; Sibelius 5th Symphony, a song for swans inspired by the sight of sixteen swans circling above a lake near the composer's home.

My garden has been full of butterflies this year, so it would be unreasonable of me to object to the many caterpillars that have been happily munching their way through my nasturtiums, I think they are cabbage white? It was fascinating to watch tremendous battles between wasps and caterpillars. The larger ones seemed capable of thwacking the wasps with their bodies as they flicked them away into the path of smaller, less able ones. The wasps made short shrift of the younger caterpillars and gobbled them up greedily. I checked back today and they have all disappeared and the plants seem to have survived ok. I have collected lots of seed for next year just in case.


Barn Owl painting and Intaglio printing.

August over half way through already! I am sure by now all my readers will have deserted me in my absence but for anyone still out there be assured that I have been visiting your blogs, not always commenting but appreciating your worlds.

Since my last post I have been struggling to finish a second book commission for Long Barn Books. If you are not familiar with this company it is owned by the writer Susan Hill famous for her “Woman in Black”. Susan has recently started a new venture and has added Little Barn Books to her fold. She has a brand new website with lots of news about her latest creation for children named Billy Bigheart.

I found the time to work on another miniature, this time a barn owl for the gallery “Art of the Imagination”. I was delighted to find a lovely old-fashioned frame to put it in and was rather reluctant to parcel it up for the postman.

It hasn’t been all work; we had a family birthday celebration for a youngest son James who celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Getting the house and garden ready for thirty guests was challenging to say the least. Fortune shone on us by sending a day of sunshine for the event. It was a lovely day and I think my lawn may recover at some point?

We enjoyed watching the film "Woman in Gold", have you seen it? I love the paintings of Gustav Klimt, they are so decorative and full of pattern and colour. 

Finally, I have got around to listing a new print in my Etsy shop. I have been trying out intaglio printing, a very old method of printmaking, which involves drawing directly onto a metal plate with a stylus. You can read more about the method used here-

I hope you have all had a good summer and I promise not to stay away for quite so long next time. x


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!


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-


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. 


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."


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!