Friday 26 December 2014

Boxing Day

Here is a nod to Saint Stephen's Day, Boxing Day, The Day After Christmas.  A few days into the holiday with my husband's family, I wanted to draw something.  Boxing Day has always had a mystery to it - a cosy mystery, filled with leftovers and sweets.  Is it about the little foil-covered boxes that my mother would give me with a last little gift?  Is it about letterboxing races in the countryside?  (Unlikely)  Is it pugilistic?  (I know it's not pugilistic)  I don't think I was aware until today that it's about opening up the alms boxes and giving to the poor.

I like a good oddly-shaped, badly-carved, rusty-hasped alms box in an old church.  Doling out a mite to a quivering pauper is very quaint but no match for the welfare state.  I wondered about indicating that, and I suppose I have, by adding St. Stephen's Tower on the Palace of Westminster *.

Anyway, I'm ahead of myself.  What could be easier than drawing a pile of boxes?  Well, I've thrown a few in but I've focused on the alms box, surrounded by pretty much everything else I could think of.  Here goes:  runners letterboxing; a Dartmoor letterbox; a stamped notebook (I've never gone letterboxing, so it's a bit of a guess); boxes big and small; Saint Stephen's cross; a pile of stones and a palm for his martyrdom; Saul (later Saint Paul) holding the coats (Acts 7:58); holly to balance the palm; King Wenceslas looking out; the horns for the Boxing Day hunt (controversial, I know, so I've made them into a call to alms); the boxing game from my father's 1980s Casio calculator...  and that's it, except for Saint Etienne in the bottom right-hand corner.

Boxing Day!

I haven't mentioned the sales.
I added shading but it has gone crinkly and I'm away from a scanner.
Happy Boxing Day and Merry Christmas!

* This is another thing learnt this morning - the tower with Big Ben, which was recently renamed the Elizabeth Tower, was not really called St. Stephen's Tower, as many people thought, but a smaller tower in the complex was and still is.

Monday 8 December 2014

Postwar Education From The Dustjacket Labyrinth

Petersfield Bookshop:  a dolls'
house in the print room.
Every second hand bookshop is a temptation.  Old books, in piles and rows, are spreading along my shelves and everything else is balanced halfway over an edge.  I think I spend only as much time such places as is wise, to keep the process gentle.

Certain old series are always represented - Britain In Pictures, the King Penguins, the Discovering series - some needing more judicious inspection than others before you give in to their charms.  I've made some prize acquisitions in Penguin Modern Painters.  I'll take almost anything illustrated by Osbert Lancaster but I'm holding off from Fougasse.

This weekend I walked into the Petersfield Bookshop.  There's a lot of it:  an impressive rarities cabinet; a room full of prints, with plan chests, an index chest for postcards and a big dolls' house; frames lining the stairs; a glimpse of rolling stacks for storage.  I browsed Local History, Adventure Fiction and the vintage ends of Biography and Sports.  It was the London section that forced me into taking advantage of the shop's brief sale (29th November to 13th December!) for two books - although only one was in the right section.

London Explorer

Peter Jackson's cartoon strip in The London Evening News began in the late 40s as "London is Stranger than Fiction", full of extraordinary and characterful stories.  The second collected volume is the "London Explorer", strips dense with encyclopaedic information, to be pored over on public transport or cut out and given to a nephew or niece.

And Jackson was an encyclopaedia.  Years later, the Ephemera Society gave him their Samuel Pepys medal.  Read the society's history here if (like my friends Emma Butcher of Let It Be Printed and Adam Smith of The South Country) you have brimming boxes of printed matter.  Even in the early 50s, according to the Evening News editor's foreword, "Jackson's home contains one of the most comprehensive private collection of London lore including mellowed and yellowed books, magazines and newspapers, cuttings and scores of notebooks."

London Explorer:  "These houses are a sham"

In this book the strips are arranged into chapters ("The Charm of London's West End, "The Gates and Pumps and City Walls", etc.) with accompanying text by W Crawford Snowden and, of course, interspersed with adverts for department stores, watches, sherry, shaving foam and a new type of bathtub for infants.  There's a better explanation at Bear Alley Books (for the later collection of all the strips) and it's worth casting an eye over the obituaries for Peter Jackson, from 2003 (GuardianIndependent).

London Explorer:  "Horrid Murder"

World Wealth In Maps

World Wealth In Maps:
Map 11:  Central Russia.
"But the Ural region has one drawback.
It lack good coking coal..."
How could I resist such a monolithic title?  Here is another newspaper artist - the News Chronicle's Stanley Harrop.  His 31 entirely new full-colour maps show the principal raw materials of every part of the world and the lines of international transport.  From the dustjacket, "No modern school should deny its fascinating store of information to those who will one day grapple with the problems of the future."  The bright, colour-coded maps are glorious and it ends with a glossary of lesser-known products and commodities, from alfalfa, alpaca and ambergris to yam and yerba-mate.

The text about Central Russia mentions "The first factory in the world to produce "Polar sugar."  Russian scientists have discovered that from the lichen which covers vast tracts of this northern territory a crystalline glucose can be produced which differs only slightly from ordinary sugar."
What a great children's science story, which I guess came to nothing.  I found another mention in The Children's Newspaper, in 1944.  The increasing rubber production from kok-sagyz dandelions seems to have been a goer.

World Wealth In Maps:
Map 24.  Eastern United States.
"Pittsburgh stands for hardware ;
Massachusetts for woollen and cotton goods"
As for a date, research gives me 48, 53 and a school edition in 58.  The publisher, Percy Gawthorn / Raymond Fawcett (I'm not entirely sure of the relationship between the two forces), was responsible for The Empire Youth Annual from about 46 to 64.  I found 48 last year and other informative, outdated home textbooks, like Britain Past And Present or The Mastery Of Water, call to me from every crooked bookshop.

What is the appeal of these educational children's books from the end of Empire?  The noble aim, that of understanding the whole world and presenting it to the leaders of the future, seems quaint now:  was it really that simple in those days?  The patriotism is subtle (apart from the pink on the world map) but I think it is evident simply from the existence of the book - presenting proud Britain, proud London, essentially unchanged and undimmed by the Blitz, still the source of impartial knowledge gathered intrepidly, and the source of pride for every child.  But these books are not just boy's-own derring-do:  there's at once a very up-to-date scholarly rigour and a simplistic post-war optimism to the packaging of an exciting, burgeoning world for enquiring young minds.

Read about this time in The Open University's "Selling Empire: Epilogue – the slow death of heroism?"

Map key icons on the dustjacket
of World Wealth In Maps.

So, here are two attractive books that show exactly what I'm a sucker for:

  • Musty, foxed old books that look like they came from my parents' childhood,
  • Maps, labels and information laid out to understand,
  • Dense presentation to pore over cosily,
  • 1950s optimism, before the 60s and 70s made the future a bad thing,
  • London,
  • The book that was filed backwards on the shop shelf.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Southampton Songbook

Music Services at Southampton City Council have further confirmed their excellence by producing a book of songs, all written by locals in response to an open call, timed to celebrate fifty years of city status.  It has been distributed to libraries and schools, along with a CD of recordings.

The contents of Southampton's songbook.
I was approached to provide some illustrations, with my 2012 circular pieces as a touchstone.  I started by isolating sections from that, but made a few new images too.

The bottom-right one is a journey down the Itchen and Southampton Water from rowing at Riverside Park to container ships in the deep channel.

Four pages of images for Southampton songs.
The statues, if you are wondering, include John Le Fleming (looking down from the old town wall), Palmerston, Andrews and Watts (in the parks), King George III and Queen Anne (on and in the Bargate), "Adam and Eve" (in Cossack Green), the quarterjacks (on Holyrood Church), the Anthony Gormley diver (in the art gallery), Danny Lane's silhouette sculpture (outside BBC South) and the red lion (on the front of the Red Lion on the High Street).

Wednesday 24 September 2014

I'm On A Teapot

I feel a bit like Eric Ravillious - my artwork has been put on crockery!

The design that I made for Southampton Solent University a couple of years ago was always intended for plates.  This year the project was pushed through at last and, beyond my expectations, expanded so dramatically as to include a mug and a teapot.

Prototype printings, on crockery!

As for the design:  the borders (there are two, for the outer rim and for the bit that dips down) show a lot of tall or long things in Southampton.  The centre is split into several sections representing Southampton's history and symbols, the university's history, the art school, the maritime academy at Warsash and the figures that the university's main buildings are named after.  Here goes:

Buildings at East Park Terrace

  • Sir Christopher Cockerell, who invented the hovercraft at Thorneycroft in Southampton
  • Lord Mountbatten, Baron Romsey and celebrated elsewhere in Southampton
  • John Everett Millais, pre-Raphaelite painter, born in Southampton
  • R J Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire at Southampton's Supermarine Aviation Works
  • Michael Andrews, mayor of Southampton, who sadly died in a seaplane accident in 1998
  • Herbert Collins, suburban and garden city architect, prolific around Southampton
Buildings off the campus and student halls
  • Sir James Matthews, educationalist, councillor, and post-war town planner in Southampton
  • Lucia Foster Welch, Southampton's first female mayor
  • Emily Davies, women's activist from Southampton

It is very satisfying to see the artwork printed out and to see that it printed well.

Thursday 31 July 2014


A maritime, shipping and cargo themed RSVP pattern.  Count the ways I say it.

... please do!

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Reinstatement and Reissue

Cowering unloved behind a red curtain for the last 20 years because it went ‘out of fashion’, the mural has been quietly waiting to be brought back into school life.
There you have two familiar stories:  the neglect of decorative art in public buildings and the eventual exoneration of mid-century themes and styles.  [And there you have a fine dissertation title.]

Something sharp behind the arras:
Gordon Cullen's Greenside Mural.
This Saturday, 10th May, at at Greenside Primary School, London, Gordon Cullen's restored 1952 mural for the school will be celebrated.  The attendant festivities include a film about the mural; maypole dancing; the 20th Century Graphic Art Fair; vintage this-and-that and a new old Eric Ravilious print.  The quote above comes from the press release.  All Things Considered (St. Jude's) has a good write-up.

I didn't know about this story until recently.  The Greenside Mural Facebook page documents the gradual fundraising and restoration over the past few years.  Other murals, like Edward Bawden's at Morley College, were lost to unkind decades before the artists' reappraisal came around.  Ravilious has been gathering adoring book-buyers in the new millennium.

Nairn's London.
The other overdue celebration this weekend is that of the topographical writer Ian Nairn at the Festival Of Ideas in Bristol.  On Sunday, at The Watershed, a few of his TV films will be shown, with discussion between Owen Hatherley (of A Guide To The New Ruins Of Great Britain), John Grindrod (of Concretopia) and others.

The forgotten 1966 hit "Nairn's London" is to be reissued, following another slow-growing campaign of small voices in the wilderness.

I will be at the art fair with some of my own work (I'm still putting a bundle together), hoping to get the commemorative letterpress poster and maybe copy of Gordon Cullen's Townscape.  Here is a good guide to buying mid-century prints at Mid Century Magazine.  My partner Adam will be at the Nairn event, having campaigned for that reissue - but we'll each wish we could be at the other one too.

Finally, the winning entries for this year's Serco Prize For Illustration show a love of old transport posters and architectural guides - particularly the pieces by Eliza Southwood and Gill Bradley.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

St George's Cakes

"The cakes of England" are many and varied.  The named ones are not quite so evenly distributed.

I left out lots of savoury things (Dorset Knob, Bedfordshire Clanger) and sweets (Pontefract Cakes and Kendal Mint Cake.  Saint George (credit to Uccello's Saint George And The Dragon) is interested only in sweet cakes, buns and biscuits.

If there's one thing that makes me get a piece of work done it's St George's Day.  Last year's is here.  I made plans and demonstrations for this one some weeks ago, and wanted to get it all printed this week.  Yesterday morning I found that the date had crept up on me.  Over breakfast time, and feverishly, I cut most of the cake shapes.  Over lunchtime (the lunch break from jury service) I inked them up and got some prints.  The text came together in time for supper.

As I write this, I've just been asked if I know any St George's Day songs - specifically ones that are suitable to teach to a class of six-year-olds.  Do you know any?

More importantly, have you ever seen a Kentish huffkin?

Happy Saint George's Day!

Friday 18 April 2014

The Treasures Of Jordan

My sister is flying to Jordan right now, to visit a friend in the capital, Amman, and see the many historical sites.  I knew nothing about Jordan, so I'm looking forward to hearing about it.  In preparation, here is the sum of what I've looked up this morning, based on my sister's plans and other itineraries that are available - ancient sites on the Kings' Highway; crusader castles; snorkling...

The start of a learning journey about Jordan.

A search throws up some great mosaics in Madaba, and the fact that King Abdullah had a small part in Star Trek Voyager.  My apologies to the Jordanian interior and for any names that are wrong.  Oh, and once again I've skirted with potential offence by trying to draw Arabic text.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Fruits Of The Press

My badge.
Two weeks in a room full of presses had to result in a few things to show, printing from lino, card and silkscreen.

As I have a supervisory rôle, I needed a badge to adorn my apron, to accustom the student body to my capacity and to show that I mean business.

Rebecca said that, upside-down, it looked like a toothy grin.

Painted pebbles.

The shelves and sills of my family home used to be dotted with painted pebbles.  My mother had picked out nice round ones and painted detailed butterflies.  Now they are outside the back door, in a little bed of varnished stones, and butterflies have given way to flowers.

That became a little lino print for Mothering Sunday.  It was quick and sinuous and simple.

Vegetables and fruit.

Now that Adam and I have an allotment, I expect its produce to creep into my work.  By the end of the year I will be drawing only squashes and peapods.

Working with card on card (for super-embossment), on the etching press (which required some tinkering with the Big Spanner), this piece is a quick celebration of our new endeavour:

broccoli, tomatoes, courgette (or marrow, depending on depth perception), onions, pumpkin, carrot, runner beans, chillies and rhubarb (or chard, depending on preference).

Silchester walk in detail.

The three-colour screenprint of a walk near Silchester fits into this post, although I wrote about it last week.  Here is a crop.

If you like a neat rural jumble, or the silent brashness of a farm field, look at the work of Carol Lander and Carry Akroyd.

As for screenprinting, the lesson to learn is to think about registering the layers.  To think about it early and to keep thinking about it at every stage.

Three little cakes.

Finally some card-cut cakes, which are a test piece for something to come.

Any other projects are under my hat for now.

Tuesday 1 April 2014


Silchester must be Hampshire's largest Roman site.  Calleva was a Roman town on the road from Londinium to Sorviodunum (Salisbury).  An uneven octagon of low walls filled with farm fields and abandoned excavations might not be the most potent historical experience.  Still, it was a satisfying goal-post for a country walk.

Starting at little Mortimer station, the route wove along the border of Hampshire and Berkshire, skirted the edges of farm fields and passed under lines of pylons, over stiles and along deep-set drovers' paths.  The Roman road marked on the map appeared to run under a field.  Most of the trees are still bare but the oilseed rape is beginning its display and the hedgerows are coming to life.  Fairly early on a sunny Saturday morning, everything was quiet except for chattering pheasants, shouts from riding practice, the distant rushing of trains and the trilling and mewing of what might have been a buzzard.  A red kite flew up right in front of us; a snake hissed and slid gracefully into the grass; sheep's wool fluttered from where it had snagged on a fence.

My screenprint of a walk near Silchester. 

I put this print together yesterday.  I almost threw it together and I'm glad of the urgency in the drawing and the registering.

Here is Adam's lifestyle photo of tea from a thermos outside the Calleva Arms ("4 Michelin Tyres!") in Silchester village.  We went in and had their stilton chips.

Tea in the sun at Silchester.

Friday 28 March 2014

Working 5 to 9

Back in print.
Look who's back in the printroom!

Solent keeps the facilities open late for the busy illustration and graphics students preparing for their degree shows.  I've been given a supervisory rôle.  On weekday evenings I hold the keys and wear the apron.

When I've told people about the new job, half of them aren't sure what I mean:  it's not about toner; it's not the art collection of a Regency mansion (almost equally desirable).

It means making a mess with the intaglio inks, mopping up the leaking water from the hose cabinet; operating heavy presses...  and, if you've ever seen the sink in an art room, you can imagine the splattering and grime, which I particularly enjoy scrubbing.

When I'm not doing that, or helping students, I can get some of my own prints done.

The university website has an interactive tour of the art school - see here - including a blurry shot of me, a year or two ago, waving some big sheets of paper about.