Archive | November, 2012

Freezing Mitts And Yellow Grass

30 Nov

yellow grass

As we travelled around Iceland, Husb and I noticed that the grass that thinly covers the black lava landscape is an unusual yellowy-orange colour. I think it might be Leymus Arenarius (Lyme grass) but I’m not sure. Before I went, I prepared different drawing media, including a 20cm square sketchbook of handmade Khadi paper. I randomly coated the pages with either a thin grey wash made from Indian ink or one from sepia. This is scribbled onto one of the grey washes using compressed charcoal, chalky pastels and white oil bar. I sketched this quickly from the moving bus – it was about 9.30 am and the sun was only just coming up over the lava mountains, turning the grass quite a vivid rusty orange.

Here’s a photo Husb took of the grass on the black beach at Vik.

yellow grass

And one of me, freezing my mitts off, drawing the trolls in between snow showers.

freezing mitts

Frozen Trolls And Black Sand

28 Nov


Now that I’ve had a bit of sleep, I’ve been looking through the drawings I did in Iceland. I prefer to draw when I’m travelling because the memories are more vivid than when I’ve just taken photos. Olaf  The Guide and Otto The Driver (on a sabbatical from Springfield, obviously) took us to a lovely little town, Vik on the South coast.  As Iceland is basically a great big load of volcanoes, the sand is pounded lava and it’s black. It’s beautiful. So dramatic. Off the coast is a stack formation known as the Trolls. Legend has it that two trolls were trying to tug a ship back to their cave when the sun rose. As everyone knows, sunlight turns trolls to stone. So there they stand, frozen forever.

I prepared a selection of drawing materials before I went because I didn’t know what the climate was going to be like. Here’s a piece of A4 hand-made paper that I bought from the Tate gallery. I coated it with two layers of acrylic gesso and taped a piece of acid-free tissue over it, so that it wouldn’t smudge during the journey. I did the drawing (very quickly – it was freezing) in black and white oil bars but I wasn’t particularly happy with it so I smoothed the tissue over and left it in my bag. When I looked at it later, the tissue had stuck and it looked much better. So I left it on and redrew the outlines with compressed charcoal.The sea is actually paler than the velvety black sand.

Here’s a photo of the black beach and the Trolls taken by Husb.


Volcanos, Glaciers and Freezing Fingers

27 Nov


I’ve been to Iceland! That’s the country, not the shop! It was amazing. I took sketchbooks, paper and card with me and loads of different drawing materials because I wasn’t sure what would work in that climate – my fingers as it turned out. It was freezing – 3 days of torrential snow taught me the meaning of suffering for my art. I whipped my fleecy gloves off every chance I got but even with my miser mittens on underneath, I couldn’t manage to draw outside in that climate for more than about 3 minutes. Then I cried a bit as my poor, raw, red fingers warmed up painfully.

But you’ll have to wait for my sketches and photos of Iceland because first of all I had to endure the journey. Five hours of torture by bus to the airport, fighting travel sickness all the way, then trial by boredom at Heathrow, waiting around for hours because you never know if the security queues are going to be huge (they weren’t). So I did a couple of scribbles of fellow queuers. I noticed different sorts of people queueing for different countries. The people in the posh clothes, high heels, immaculate hair, nails and co-ordinated luggage were on their way to New York, Barcelona and Paris. The people waiting for the Iceland flight were mostly rugged outdoor types, like the one above, dressed in sensible hiking gear and sturdy boots, carrying rucksacks and flashing emergency supplies of Kendal’s Mint Cake. My sort of people.

I took a different angle on this one. I started drawing the Kindle reader, but got bored and drew Husb’s severely foreshortened arms instead. He’s got hairy ones. We had a good flight – it was quick, only about two and a half hours and came into Keflavik airport just as the sun was setting over the most extraordinary volcanic landscape; dark solidified lava jutting into a dark sea splashed with the red of a bloody sunset. Marvellous.

Anyway, over the next few days I’m going to blog my sketches, warts and all, and some photos to show you what it was really like. But now I’m getting an early night because we didn’t get back until two o’clock this morning and I need some zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s 🙂

I’m No Twitcher

21 Nov


Just a quickie as I was walking past a lampost this morning and I saw this crow thingy on top. He wanted to fly down and eat some discarded food on the road but I was too close. He made his views known by making squawking noises at me and moving his body and head up and down. I’m no twitcher so I don’t know what sort of crow thingy it was. Just managed a few scribbles before he flew off in disgust.
I’ll be offline for a few days but when I come back I hope to have some new work to show. See you next week. 🙂



Getting Butch

20 Nov


Sometimes I draw in white ink into a rather lovely black sketchbook by Paperchase. But it ain’t half difficult! Funny thing is, if I draw onto paper that I’ve coloured with a wash, I really enjoy it. Maybe it’s because the commercial one is so evenly coated and perfect, it’s like drawing straight onto a perfect sheet of fine white paper – inhibiting. When I draw nudes onto black, I like mapping a grid over the surface of the body. It’s gives a three dimensional look and it also looks a bit science fictiony. I think I’ll have to be more assertive with the sketchbook and not let it intimidate me – maybe attack it with white oil bars or white conte instead of using a fine line pen. That’s it – I’ll get all butch!

The Proofing Dilemma

19 Nov


Here’s a dilemma. I’ve done enough hacking on my new woodcut to try a first proof. But I really like the piece as it is, with the colour of the natural wood contrasting with the creamy whiteness of the carved areas and the grey/black of the bits I’ve coloured with ink and wash; done to help make the cutting easier. Once I get the black ink onto it, the brown and grey tones will be lost forever. Still, it’s a woodcut. It’s destiny is to be printed.

A Work Of Sadness

18 Nov


I don’t normally draw landscapes but I always take a sketchbook with me when I’m travelling. Here’s a sketch I made from the window of my bedroom at the hostel in Bisham, Pakistan. It was my first sight of the Karakoram mountain range – spectacular. More people should think about holidaying in Pakistan – the Northern Territories are fairly safe and the scenery is out of this world. The people are also incredibly friendly and it’s so cheap. We were en route to the Hunza Valley, high up near the border with China.

When I came home, I produced this unique monotype using the 3-colour reduction technique I learned from Indian/American artist Vinita Voogd.

Bisham was unfortunately affected by the dreadful earthquake of 2005 that left almost 80,000 people dead in Pakistan. We arrived in Bisham when it was dark but when we woke up and strolled around the village we were horrified to see much of it still under many feet of rubble, two years on, knowing that people still lay beneath the earth. It reminded me of a local tragedy in my childhood, when a tip in the nearby village of Aberfan collapsed onto a local school, killing most of the children and teachers. Despite the bright colours, when I look at the monotype, I am overcome with sadness.

Block Block Block

17 Nov


Someone asked me about the difference in the final prints made by blocks in different materials so here are three I did earlier :). This top one is hacked from a piece of plywood. It’s very rough and choppy because the wood splinters when you attack it with the cutting tools and it also tends to split along the grain. Solid areas also show the grain when they’re inked up so it’s hard to get a solid black. Some expert printmakers, however, scratch the surface of the wood instead of cutting and gouging. This gives a very refined and delicate tonal quality – here’s a link to an accomplished Chinese printmaker, Xiang Sl, who does amazing huge portraits in this technique.

The next block print is one I did with PVC foamboard, used by signwriters. In Britain, it’s called Foamex. Signwriters usually give away their offcuts, so it’s free and recycled. Bargain. It doesn’t like being cut and blunts tools after a couple of gouges, but it loves being incised with the point of a nail or screw, the tip of a screwdriver or even a ballpoint pen, pressed hard. The solid white areas in this print are cut with conventional cutting tools, the fine lines incised with the point of a 4inch screw held against a steel rule and the dots were made with a crosshead screwdriver jabbed into the surface. It gets rid of a lot of stress. It gives very good blacks and you can do very fine linear detail, much more so than with softwood or lino.

Finally, here’s a reduction print in lino. I find it’s the easiest of the three to cut and the tools love it – they take ages to blunt. It’s great for getting lovely flowing lines, it’s like drawing with blades and you can be very free when you’re cutting into it, especially if you warm it gently before you start. Hhowever, you can’t get the very fine detail possible with PVC foamboard, because it squishes slightly in the printing press and finely cut lines can close up under the pressure.

Phew – that’s very geeky 😀

ps block printing is also known as relief printing.


16 Nov


I’m carrying on with woodcuts for a while, hacking away at lumps of plywood all day at the studio. It’s important to keep my cutting tools sharp; if I keep hacking when they get blunt, it hurts my wrist. I use a leather slipstrop and a bar of waxy abrasive to keep them sharp. I rub the abrasive wax onto the surface of the strop and then stroke the tools across it a few times to keep them sharp. I generally do it after a dozen or so cuts on plywood, more often for PVC board and less for lino.

There’s a way of stroking the blade across the strop; the gouges have to be rotated across the surface of the strop to make sure that the sharpening is even. The V and flat blades are pulled straight across. It’s much easier to do this instead of having to re-sharpen blunt tools, which needs to be done with a sharpening wheel.

It’s quite a big piece so it’s taking me ages to hack it. I’ve got this far. I’m giving my wrist the weekend off.

Shady Lady

15 Nov


Just got back from life drawing at the most excellent Swansea Print Workshop and I’m cream-crackered. Here’s my shady lady, our retired biology teacher who also happens to be heavily tattooed with flies, spiders, lizards and carnivorous plants. I love drawing older models, so much character in their bodies. I drew with a dip pen and Indian ink, using a square cut sable brush to apply the wash, into an A3 spiral bound sketchbook.  Now I’m going to catch up with the first episode of the new series of The Big Bang Theory and then to bed. Goodnight gentle readers …….. 🙂

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