Archive | March, 2016

Larks Hovered, Kites Circled, I Drew…

31 Mar

The Cairn 2

Out and about again today with archaeologist Dewi Bowen and film maker Melvyn Williams searching out ancient stone monuments. We had a tough walk up to a late Neolithic stone cairn on Mynydd Bach Trecastell not far from the little village of Trecastle in Powys. To be honest, the cairn wasn’t particularly interesting, I’ve seen better, but it’s site is truly spectacular. We walked about 2 miles to get there, mostly uphill and across, firstly, the Usk tributary Nant Tarw, up and over the mountain and secondly crossed the river Usk, relatively small as we were near its source.

Mynydd Du Fan Brycheinog

In the distance is The Black Mountain, Y Mynydd Du, huge and slab like and covered with snow which stratified into black and white stripes like a 1960s op art painting. This became the focus of my drawing as much as the stones on the small cairn. Fan Brycheiniog is the part facing me here. Despite the snow in the distance, we were pretty warm after our strenuous walk in the clear, bright Spring sunshine. Song larks hovered and sang all around us, groups of soldiers ran past us on manouvres (they looked terribly young) and red kites (barcud in Welsh) circled, eventually landing on the cairn after we left, to see if there were any pickings.


I’m travelling around South West Wales with archaeologist Dewi Bowen who is researching his new book on Neolithic / Bronze Age monuments. His previous book on the standing stones of Ancient Siluria (South East Wales) can be found here. Accompanying us is film maker Melvyn Williams who is recording a documentary about our experiences. Some of Melvyn’s short films can be seen here. I’m working on a series of expressive drawings of ancestral sites and if you want to see some of my other artworks, please click here.

Through Darkness To Light

30 Mar

Drawing ‘The King’s Quoit’ from another angle, I could see underneath the capstone, through the inky darkness below the huge rock into the bright sunlight beyond.

Kings Quoit d

The shape reminded me of being in a cave, looking out through the entrance and it occurred to me that the ancient people who created these monuments might have lived in caves, or at least sought sanctuary and shelter in them and I wonder if they echoed this experience when they built their stone megaliths across the landscape?

Kings Quoit c

The King’s Quoit is situated on the cliff path above the glorious beach at Manorbier on the South Pembrokeshire coast in Wales. It’s a sub-megalithic type, where the back of the capstone rests directly on the ground without an orthostat supporting it. I drew with carbon and white conte crayon onto Fabriano paper that I had prepared in advance with my homemade walnut ink. I had originally done a very large drawing in the ink but didn’t like it so I ripped it down into smaller pieces that would fit onto my portable drawing board. I liked working over an existing image – I don’t like working directly onto white paper, it’s intimidating.

It was chilly and very windy on the cliff – here I am drawing in the short video below….

This drawing is available to buy in my Artfinder gallery here.

The Quoit Of The King

29 Mar

Manorbier dolmen

Husb and I went for a drive on Easter Monday, exploring some of the South Wales coastline that we hadn’t seen before, the lovely beach of Manorbier / Maenorbŷr in South Pembrokeshire. It’s a very ancient settlement with local evidence of flint microliths from the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages and this magnificent dolmen, The King’s Quoit, looking out over the sea from the cliff path. There are Bronze Age burial mounds, an Iron Age enclosure and evidence of Anglo Saxon farming. The imposing castle and parish church are Norman. It has a railway station and can be reached by train on the lovely West Wales line.

Kings Quoit b

Sometimes the Welsh, Maenorbŷr, is translated as Manor of Pŷr, but an alternative meaning I have seen is ‘Holy (or sacred) Stone’, which would make sense, given the magnificence of this Neolithic burial chamber. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and bright and the beach was busy with families enjoying their Easter break. But it was quite cold and blustery up on the cliff where I settled down to draw the dolmen – you can see what it was like in this short video.

I did this drawing in carbon and white conte crayon onto Fabriano Accademica paper that I had prepared with my home-made walnut ink. This is now for sale in my Artfinder gallery, please click here to see more images of it.

Yes? No? Maybe?

28 Mar


I did an initial cut on a square of soft vinyl a couple of days ago, dividing the piece into 9 small squares and now I need to get an idea of whether they’re okay, which ones need more cutting, which to discard. I could ink it up and put it through a press but that’s messy and time consuming so I put a sheet of tissue paper over it and rubbed it with the graphite stick in the photo, like people did with brass rubbings back in the 1970s. That’s enough information for me to decide which to carry on with. Two of the nine will be dumped straight away. One is simply the wrong shape for the square format and the other is too abstracted and I need to give it a rethink. So onto the next stage, most of them need a little bit more cutting, a bit of tidying up.

They’re all based on drawings I did in the field (literally) over the past few weeks of Bronze Age and Neolithic stone monuments across South Wales.

Rain And Racing In The Rhondda

26 Mar

From the outside looking in through a work in progress from Chris Williams

Husb and I had a day off today, a rare thing when you’re self-employed and we went off to The Workers Gallery in Ynyshir for an afternoon of slot-car (Scalextric) racing with our young nephew. It was pouring down outside but we were warm and having a whale of a time inside, surrounded by gorgeous art.


Artists Gayle Rogers and Chris Williams set up this little jewel of a gallery just over a year ago when the village library was closed by ‘austerity’ cutbacks. It’s a fabulous place to visit and so is the Rhondda Valley, where Ynyshir is situated, with spectacular scenery. Gayle has her studio up at one end and the rest is divided into two gallery spaces, one for a rolling programme of contemporary art shows and the other for a permanent collection of the gallery artists.


Cutting The Stones

25 Mar
Vinyl drawn and ready to cut

Vinyl drawn and ready to cut

I do a lot of drawings and many of them become the basis of prints. I’ve selected 9 of my recent drawings of ancient Neolithic stone monuments to develop into linocuts. Well, I’m using soft cut vinyl instead of lino but the final print will look the same. The vinyl is very easy to cut so my cutting tools go through them with little resistance. I started off by dividing my 30 x 30 cms vinyl block into 9 squares and then redrawing my stones in reverse using a white conte crayon.


Vinyl - first cut

Vinyl – first cut

Then I cut into them with my Flexcut tools, using the Flexistrop to keep the tools sharp. I’ve kept the cutting minimal at this stage; I’ll check out the image by taking a rubbing with tissue paper and a block of graphite to check what’s there and cut into them some more if I need to. It’s better to cut too little rather than too much – you can always cut out a bit more, but you can’t put any back.

The Offerings

24 Mar
Arthur's Stone / Maen Ceti

Arthur’s Stone / Maen Ceti

This is the third and final drawing I did at Arthur’s Stone on the Gower Peninsular on Tuesday. It’s the fastest and perhaps the most abstracted of the three. I loved the brushstrokes of the home-made walnut ink so much that I didn’t want to cover them so I kept the linear drawing of the stones very simple to allow the background to show through. There are legends associated with Arthur’s Stone, one of the oddest is that the stone travels over Cefn Bryn at dawn to drink from a local stream. There’s a similar story about the Maen Llia stone near Ystradfellte.

The monument is a Neolithic burial chamber, one of the first sites to be protected under the Ancient Monuments Act (1882) and it’s long association with the dead is reflected in the offerings that are often placed on it or nearby. This week I found a memorial around a small stone on the periphery of the site, simple wooden crosses with regimental badges and some flowers. We found another offering, or maybe a shrine, up at Llyn Fawr in the Cynon Valley a couple of weeks ago. A hoard of ancient votive offerings, including bronze cauldrons and arrow heads, have been found in the lake and it’s a popular place for anglers. Somebody had carefully set up this little chap nearby, perhaps to encourage the local water spirits to look favourably on their fishing. The tradition of acknowledging the importance of these places continues through the millenia ……

Follow The Bear

23 Mar

I circled Arthur’s Stone yesterday, making three drawings of this Neolithic monument. Although the popular English name links it to King Arthur (its Welsh name is Maen Ceti), it is far older than the Arthurian legend, which was written down in the 12th Century C.E. It is thought that the story of Arthur might refer to a warrior king or leader around the 6th Century C.E. when the Britons were fighting the invading Saxons. Either way, the monument is ancient, around 4,500 years and counting.

Arthurs Stone

Arthurs Stone

I did a sparse drawing, trying to tap into the feelings the place inspired in me rather than slavishly copying what was in front of my eyes. I had prepared the paper with washes of my home-made walnut ink and I wanted to keep a lot of it intact – the surface of the ink is thick and satiny, it holds the shapes traced by the brushstrokes beautifully and I didn’t want to lose too much of that because it adds a lushness to the work. Here’s a previous blog on how to make walnut husk ink here.

There’s a theory that the name Arthur comes from the ancient British word ‘arto’ meaning bear (‘arth’ in Welsh) and ‘ursa’, the Latin for bear. The battles between the Britons and Saxons happened in the century or two after the Roman withdrawal from Britain and a mixture of the British and Latin would have been very possible at that time.

The Pebble In Arthur’s Boot

22 Mar
Arthur's Stone, Cefn Bryn

Arthur’s Stone, Cefn Bryn

Today we visited Arthur’s Stone at Cefn Bryn on the Gower Peninsular, a Neolithic tomb about four and a half thousand years old. It’s a very popular destination for primary school day trips in this area and there is always a steady stream of visitors as it’s quite accessible from the road. Legend has it that King Arthur stopped across the estuary and removed a stone from his boot, throwing it right across the river where it landed in its present position and grew to a mighty size. In the late seventeenth century, a large chunk of over 10 tons fell off and still lies where it fell.

I’m still using up the recycled Fabriano Accademica paper that I had previously drawn on with my home-made walnut ink, ripping it into drawing-board sized pieces and drawing with carbon and white conte crayon. I’m keeping the drawing very simple, I don’t want to get into representational detail, I’m trying to get a feeling from the places I’m visiting and putting that down on paper, if that makes sense?

People Watching

21 Mar


I tend to go through phases when I make prints, making a sequence instead of random one-offs. This helps me to focus on subject matter, developing a theme and also lets me explore the technique. I did this series a couple of years back, combining transfer prints with drawing. I have hundreds, maybe thousands of sketches in my sketchbooks and I had been wondering how I might use them. I like all my drawings of ordinary people getting on with their lives, not knowing that I’m recording them for posterity.

elderly dude

The elderly dude

I also have lots of digital photos so I printed some of them onto ordinary printing paper from an inkjet printer and took a transfer print using nail varnish remover to embed the image into Bockingford paper. When each transfer was dry, I drew on top, using my sketchbook scribbles as source material. I spent a lot of time matching up the drawings to the transfer prints, it wasn’t done at random. Each drawing reflected the transfer print in some way. You can read a bit more about the technique here.

These prints are available for sale from my Artfinder site.

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