Thursday 11 October 2018

Printing Conkers

A lino block of conkers.
Warning: heavy autumnal themes and sighing.

You might guess that I would be making autumnal images. You probably share my enthusiasm for the flame colours, gauzy mists, bracing chills and mellow sunlight.

The season results in all sorts of eye-catching things lying about. You won't get many I-Spy points for the cuboids and cylinders of straw arranged in every other field or stacked like castles. You might get more for the occasional field striped orange with pumpkin production.

If you're a habitual collector, the natural world's annual, gentle shake-up will keep you busy. Leaves rattle at the roadside, acorns and pinecones pepper the woodland floor. Dry sticks clatter alarmingly and the hedges are sprinkled liberally with berries.

On a trip across or around any park, I'm preoccupied with looking out for conkers. They might be in their full shell; they might be gleaming unshelled in the grass. They might be perfectly round, dried and wrinkly or dome-shaped with a flat base. The empty shells might still be bright white on the inside or turning to a leather brown.

My conkers pattern.
Collecting is one thing but then there's the game. It combines careful selection and preparation with chaotic whacking and smashing.

I've covered this in a post two years ago and got a bit lost in methods of boiling and varnishing. Shortly afterwards, at the last outdoor party of the year, I put it all to the test. Really, there was no scientific conclusion. The ricochets, the shards and the perfecting of knots took over and it was all good fun.

So I may not be an expert but I'm not far from the people who are. This Sunday the World Conker Championships will take place near Peterborough.

I revisited some drawings and made a lino block. It's fine on its own (see above) but it was intended for repetition (see left). In recent years I haven't done as much relief printing as drawing, so this was a good return to the form, along with another pattern that I might show before long.

Edward Bawden's famous wallpaper designs had an influence. I hope that it has a complexity that breaks the chequerboard grid up a bit.

Printing a lino block with a fade multiple times on a page is a skill that I have not attained. The pattern is made from several individual prints with slight variations in texture.

Now I need to get outside before the rain shows Autumn's other face. Have some squashes to finish.

Bonus pumpkins!

Saturday 6 October 2018

Ten National Parks

The UK has fifteen national parks:  two in Scotland, three in Wales and ten in England. Today I'm bringing you two thirds of the set.

My friends, clients and, later today, married couple, Jon and Hannah, asked me to come up with illustrations for their wedding reception table plan. They've had happy holidays working through the list of national parks, coming from the New Forest themselves.  Here is their selection for ten tables.

Ten of the United Kingdom's national parks.

It's an ideal project for me - making lists, sketching and then filling a circle. There's wildlife, human structures, wide views and close-ups, lots of weather and a few references to the experience of visiting the elemental edifices of the British Sublime, from lunchboxes to lost gloves.

Dartmoor, The Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, the Brecon Beacons and the Cairngorms are left out for now but here we have Exmoor, Snowdonia, the Pembrokeshire Coast, the Lake District, the Peak District, the South Downs, the Norfolk Broads, the New Forest, Northumberland and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

I've been to most of them myself, although some may have been in early childhood. I've drifted on the Broads, scrambled up Snowdon, gasped on a South Down and got wet by Loch Lomond. Of course, there are plenty of other areas of land to gasp or get wet but the designated national parks are a great focus. Completing the set sounds like a great holiday plan.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Sketching New Surroundings

How would you get to know a new area? Having seen a move away from Southampton coming for some time, I wondered how I would learn a new place - its layout and routes, its shops and amenities and its history and character.

Well, two months ago, Adam and I moved from Hampshire to Cambridgeshire.

It's a new part of the country to me, so the whole region calls for exploration but first things first - I want to feel that I know the immediate area, the old town of Godmanchester.

Equipped with a new pocket-sized sketchbook, spurred by a need for drawing practice and aided by a run of early rising, I went out on most mornings in August.

A number of houses here date from around 1600 and there are several later periods. It's a dense little jumble and there's plenty of interest. I may not have ticked off all of the most notable sights yet - I'm enjoying tackling them as they occur to me and as I visit new streets and corners.

So there's a body of work growing. I don't know what I'll do with it. As an experiment, I've arranged them over the map. I would be quite happy to keep going and fill the gaps. It's a good way to try different methods but I want them to look fairly similar.

Just a few of Godmanchester's buildings, sketched and plotted. 

Pubs, houses, shops and assorted places of assembly. Godmanchester has given me a good summer project and will keep me busy for a while.

Thursday 23 August 2018

A Morris Border (not Border Morris)

Here's a hearty little project from earlier in the summer, for my morris men in Southampton.

King John's Morris Men wanted a new poster for dancing dates. I thought it would suit a dense border with plenty of details to pick out, taken from dances and songs, along with assorted rural, maritime and alcoholic titbits and ephemera.

Here, because you want to know and because I want to tell you, is a full contents list:

  • At the top:
    • Roses - for The Rose Tree In Full Bearing.
    • Hops - the importance of beer cannot be overstated.
    • The KJM badge - a portcullis, representing Southampton Bargate, above water.
  • At the bottom:  hollyhocks, wheat, trout and watercress (very small), more hops, tankards and a barrel being rolled out - as in the song Roll Out The Barrel.
  • At the sides:  an oak tree (on the right) and an apple tree (on the left, complete with ladder and scrumper), containing...
    • Bells - Ring O' Bells usually ends the King John's running order and Haste To The Wedding is included if we feel up to the challenge.
    • A shepherd's crook - Shepherds Hey features in several morris traditions.
    • Rifles - there are several shooting dances... including Shooting.
    • A fair - for Jockey To The Fair and the Hampshire song Taro Fair.
    • A mill - for Maid Of The Mill and possibly Milley's Bequest, which I may have misunderstood.
    • A ship - well, this covers various maritime references and several shanties featured in the KJM singing sessions - John Kanaka, Sugar In The Hold and many more.
    • Piglet - a plaster pig's head - is the King John's mascot, who comes out from time to time to cause trouble among the audience.
    • The pony, hound and cow are decorative but add to the rural idiom...
    • ...and, for a spread of birdlife, a seagull, falcon, woodpecker...  and the other kind of kite.
  • In the centre:  the accoutrements of the morris - a top hat, stout shoes, sticks for clashing, bells for jangling, hankies for waving, the fool's brush and bladder (for tickling and bopping respectively) and our main instrument, the mighty melodeon.

Now, there are several dances that we do but that I couldn't work out how to draw, at least at such a small scale:
Bonnets So Blue, Balance The Straw, Getting Upstairs, Bean Setting, Broad Cupid, Saturday Night, The Vandals Of Hammerwich, Cuckoo's Nest (I should have got that one in), Old Black Joe, Beaux Of London City, Sheriff's Ride, Nuts In May... and whatever Trunkles are.

They all deserve drawing, as do these, although we don't dance them at the moment:
Lads A Bunchum, The Captain And His Whiskers and The Old Woman Tossed Up In A Blanket / The Old Woman Who Carried A Broom.

Look for King John's in the Southampton area and sometimes roving farther.  There are monthly singing evenings and around Christmas there will be mumming and border dancing.  First, on 15th September, KJM is hosting FOLK DANCE SOUTHAMPTON, featuring numerous visiting dance groups in the centre of Southampton and a ceilidh in the evening.

Monday 23 April 2018

St George's Day 2018

I have only minutes to make my annual post in honour of St. George's Day.

Busy with long walks, printmaking with students, the whirl of the morris, baking, squash, coastwatch and plumbing, I didn't put the time in for my national saint until about an hour ago.

Well, before the day ends, here it is, torn from the pages of the local paper of my mind.

Hooray for England and Saint George!

Friday 30 March 2018

Hot Cross Buns

Buns as tiles.
Easter is imminent. It wasn't when I started thinking about hot cross buns.

Medieval clay tiles are a favourite feature of a trip to many cathedrals. They're in countless churches, abbeys, palaces, castles and sundry other edifices in the heritage oeuvre. The ones that I know best are at the east end of Winchester Cathedral. Some are in carpets of a repeating pattern; others patches are a jumble of motifs.

Last May I learnt a bit about the process behind medieval tiles at a one-day medieval tilemaking course - run by the Company of Artisans, at Weald & Downland Museum in Sussex. I got to reproduce a historical design and make a few tiles of my own.

All through the day, the tiles made me think of food. In their unfired raw clay form, they looked like chocolate slabs. Fired and unglazed they looked like the best gingerbread. In a glossy ensemble they reminded me of batches of buns. It's since then that I've been thinking about buns and how to make them look like medieval tiles.

Winchester Cathedral tiles
from my fish-eye phase.
I'm no great baker and my experience with yeast is limited, so don't expect too much. Improving something over several attempts is something of a new experience.

I focused on the topping (which is a piped mixture of flour and water and some colouring) but in each batch I tinkered with the spices and orange rind and the balance of fruit (NB. 80s funk band?).

Here are the developmental stages that have formed a wave, torrent, barrage, parade, season and surfeit of buns: my bunsperimentation.

Touching but not close enough.
(I'm not showing you the first batch)

A repeating tile pattern, before baking - and a little too tight.

Slow piping work, copying a section of Winchester's tiles.

Browned and blobby and in need of refinement.

The final batch isn't the apotheosis of the fine art bun but it's my last before Easter and I dug a duvet cover out for presentation, so here's the peak of my medieval encaustic tile hot cross bun phase for 2018.

The ultimate (if unglazed) bun batch.

There aren't any crosses (although some designs have certain elements in fours or fives, which can have a religious significance) and a lot of the time the buns weren't warm - so perhaps they should be "not cross buns".

Excuse the crushing wit and excuse my excursion into recipe blog territory. Happy Easter and enjoy your hot and/or cross buns!

My tiles after glazing and firing by the Company of Artisans.

Thursday 1 February 2018

Caper, Caper, Clash

The year since I took up morris dancing has been long enough only to encounter a fraction of its tradition and lore.  There's a deep mine of colourful customs; a wealth of very specific and subtle differences.  It has linked up titbits of folk history half-remembered from museums and children's books.  I'll be a beginner for a long time.

This week the year's complement of dancing events begins - at least for me.  I'm going to a school hall in Hampshire to see bunch of morris sides from across the south, many of whom I hadn't heard of despite the many events last year.
Twelve morris men... who will know what I got wrong!

I'd like to get the quirks and character down in ink on paper.  Sketching at an event is a laudable aim but not for me and not for a night of drink and dance.  What I like better is a good stint of research and time to think of things to pick out and fit in.

Here's my page showing the sides who I was told may be represented on the night.  I combed through pictures and group websites for the specifics of each group's kit and colours.  The result is a bunch of made-up figures, not real people from photos.

This sort of thing helps me to learn what's what in a complex oeuvre.  I feel a bit more prepared for what I'll see, even if things turn out to be wrong (such as Winchester's eight-foot jig champ).  It's no document, just a cheerful array of ribbons and bells, hats festooned with flowers and tin badges, tabards, baldricks and belchers.

Bonus list:  some of the best names of dances from Lionel Bacon's "A Handbook Of Morris Dances", known as "The Black Book":
Bare-footed QuakerBluff King HalBuffoonCaptain With His WhiskersCurly-headed PloughboyDevil Among The TailorsGallant HussarHunting The SquirrelLollipop ManLumps Of Plum PuddingOld Woman Tossed Up In A BlanketRoast BeefShave The DonkeySwaggering BoneyThree Jolly Black SheepskinsTravel By SteamWalk Of The 2d PostmanWebley Twizzle