Something old, something new

Experimenting: I love it, I think all artists love it.

A few years ago I made a linocut called Sleeping Beauty. It showed a woman asleep under some prickly flowers, and I printed it in cream over a monoprint gold/green background.

sleeping beauty mounted

The only problem was that not many people liked it (other than me!). It was hard to make out the actual image, and the gold in the background caught the light in a distracting way. People puzzled over which way up it should be, too.

Preparing for Open Studios, I looked at my framed print of Sleeping Beauty, and wondered whether I could improve on it (and so reuse the frame!).

I did some experiments on Photoshop. Well, many experiments on Photoshop! I quickly worked out that it would be radically improved if the flowers were a different colour to the sleeping woman.

But how was I going to do this? I could cut another block for the linocut, or hand colour, or try to do a reduction cut of the block I had. But I came up with another plan.

I liked the pale woman and pale background, with strongly coloured flowers the best – green was the clear winner for colour. So first I printed the woman in white oil based ink on off-white Japanese paper:


While that was drying, I did some experiments. I had decided to do a variant of chine colle to get the colour into the image, but in a more precise manner than conventional chine colle (where usually bold or semi abstract shapes in thin tissue are glued to the printing paper before printing).

I chose to use hand made green mulberry tissue paper. First I printed my linocut onto the green paper, this time using pale green ink. I used a quick drying water based ink (because I know from experience that it works better on this type of paper). Then I taped the green linocut upside down on a place mat, and pasted all of it with japanese rice glue.

Despite the tape, the paper dried really crinkly, so I also pressed it under some heavy books overnight.

The next day I cut out all the flowers with a surgical scalpel. This is half way through. It was fiddly work, but the dried glue on the back made the paper crisper and easier to cut than in its native state.


When the base print was dry, I carefully laid all the cut out flowers onto the print…

dsc_0827.jpgFinally I painted over them with clean water and a soft sable brush. This reactivated the glue and adhered the flowers to the white on white print. I pressed the whole thing overnight with more heavy books to prevent crinkling and…

…I think it’s gorgeous! Coming soon – a photo when it is completely dry and framed. Watch this space!



Back from Cornwall

I’ve just been away in Cornwall, and as usual have come back with a few sketches of variable quality, a lot of photos, and a lot of ideas in my head. Thirty six views of Stonehenge is one possibility! Tintagel is something I’ve wanted to make a picture of for many years, but Restormel is lovely too, and we also visited the stunning gardens at Heligan and the Eden project. Not to mention the beautiful fishing villages…

Anyway, I’m going to focus on Tintagel first, as I would like to have a new Castle picture ready for Cambridge Open Studios in July. Watch this space for updates!

La belle Paris

louvre sketch

I’ve just been away for a weekend in Paris – glorious weather too. I’m going to talk you in detail through a sketch I made in the Louvre. I always have a good look at my sketches once I get home, to learn from my mistakes.

I found a bench where I had a good view out onto a sunny courtyard of sculptures. I liked the light, it wasn’t crowded with people, and there was more than ‘just’ art in the scene. It was also a challenge because I hate perspective drawing!

I took this photo from higher up in the building.


I did a sketch in soft pencil, ‘measuring’ sizes and angles to try to get the perspective right. I blocked out geometric outlines of the statues, and the trees, and quick rectangles to show a few people passing through.

I then went over it with a fineliner pen, re-drawing the shapes and putting the details in. I ‘fudged’ the arches at the back, because having drawn the first one I had to make the others match it! As you can tell, I don’t use a ruler. For the people, I had to remember roughly what had they looked like when I drew the rectangles.

I erased all the underlying pencil drawing and put in some shadows with blue and brown brown graphite pencils. Then I stopped because I was tired!

I was pleased with the picture but not 100% pleased.  I’ve done some illustrations to explain the mistakes.

Here I’ve drawn some lines perspective on the picture. The green ones I’m pleased with (for me), the yellow aren’t toooo bad, and the red ones are way off. The thing I focused on – the statue of the man on a winged horse – I did pretty well,  but by the time I got the other side of the page I’d completely lost it. Note to self: pay equal attention to all areas of the scene, not just the most interesting element.

louvre perspective.png

The people. I have been very inconsistent with their perspective. The feet of the people are higher and higher up the page, as they should be from my angle, but the heads are all over the place! Of course, people are naturally different heights, but if they are just part of a scene rather than the main subject, sometimes it’s better to fudge that in order to make them look ‘right’.

On the right I have resized and moved the people. Putting a very faint line across the page as I’ve done on this altered version would have helped me judge at what level to put their heads and feet. I think it’s an improvement.

Finally, colour and tone. At the time I considered making the trees green and the colours more distinct.

louvre sketch green trees.png

Glad I didn’t! In fact I wish I had used one colour for all the shading, instead of two.

But what I had really failed to capture was the contrast between light and dark. I thought it would muddle the picture too much to put much shading in, but I think I was wrong… what do you think?

louvre sketch dark

So I hope you liked this photo essay.  See you next time!





Creative Reactions 2018

Creative Reactions is a project I love – it pairs artists and scientists, and the artist produces an artwork about that scientist’s research. Last year I got a scientist researching the effects of obesity on offspring, and made a cyanotype series called ‘Sugar Mice and All Things Nice:

For this year I have been allocated a scientist working on DNA replication. Noooo! I thought, no double helixes!

I have come up with an idea involving prints, hand made books, and the plates which make the prints. I just hope it won’t be too difficult to hang at the exhibition!

Here is the main print (provisionally titled Mitosis) and its plate, both still drying. I have deliberately not cleaned the plate as that is how I want to exhibit it; I just carefully wiped a little extra ink off the body of the man, using a cotton bud.

As you can see one of the prints is darker than the others – the paper was too wet, I think. But I can still use it as material for the hand made books.

I look forwards to showing you the final installation in a couple of weeks time!

April Fools in Harrogate


I am at of my favourite events of the year – the British National Science Fiction annual convention, commonly known as Eastercon. And this year, more particularly, Follycon, since it falls over the 1st April weekend.

I am showing 7 brand new pieces, the result of frantic work over the last couple of months!

Happy Easter!

Getting Ready for Easter


Easter is one of my busiest times of year. I exhibit and sell at the biggest UK Science Fiction Convention, and also submit entries to a local Drawing Society which has a large and popular exhibition in Cambridge. So I aim to make at least 7 new pieces of artwork to set me up for the year – plus lots of hand made cards and gifts.

Here is my hare collagraph plate. I have a confession – I like the collagraph more than the prints, so I’m going to frame it and sell it as mixed media collage!

I hope to see some of you at one of these exhibitions. 



What do artists do all day?



It’s very difficult to stop working, as an artist. There is making. There is setting up making and tidying up afterwards. There is thinking of ideas (which tends to go on ALL the time!) and working them out on paper and then often Photoshop. Plus doing the accounts, counting the stock, ordering supplies, organising storage, applying for fairs and markets, doing fairs and markets, framing. Open Studios means an EPIC amount of tidying and cleaning and moving furniture etc around, plus then two full on weekends of talking to customers all day. The amount of time spent on these activities often swamps the amount I spend actually making art, and squeezes into any crannies of time I have between non-art things. Sometimes it’s exhausting.

Is it worth it?



Use it or lose it.

In the National GalleryThere are two myths about drawing.

Firstly, drawing is a magical ability that only a few people can do.

Secondly, all artists can draw. (Or sometimes, all artists can draw except the ones we don’t like.) These are both myths!

Drawing is a skill that pretty much anyone can learn, IF they practice. It’s just like playing a musical instrument (even Mozart had to put in many hours, it’s just that he started learning when he was three). Practice enough, and you may not turn into Rembrandt but I promise you WILL be able to produce a satisfyingly accurate drawing.

Historically, all young ladies were taught to draw; some became more accomplished than others, but I’m sure they enjoyed it. Before technology took over scientists drew, architects drew, garden designers drew.  So I really encourage you to just have a go. I’d recommend practising by drawing from life – a still life, a scene from your window, in a cafe, in a queue. (Photo references are great if you are composing a complicated image for a specific artwork, but less good for learning.) Look really closely at the subject, don’t guess. Try out pen, pencil, charcoal, drawing with a brush; try drawing quickly or slowly.

A great thing to do is find a local Urban Sketchers group (try Facebook) – there will be people of all abilities meeting on location to have fun, feel braver out on location by being part of a group, and learning by doing. Similarly there are also Drink and Draw groups, and Pencils in the Pub – you can guess what venues these tend to use! If you are brave enough find a friendly life drawing class – you will learn SO much, the naked human figure is the most difficult thing to draw!

And keep practising. Just like that musical instrument. Which brings me back to the ‘all artists can draw myth’. I’m an artist, but I’m not great at drawing, as you can see above. However if I draw regularly, I get so much better at it! Recently I’ve been too busy to do any sketching except for my monthly Pencils in the Pub meet up – so when I went to the National Gallery on Friday I was absolutely determined to do some. It was fun, it gave me a chance to sit down, there was a balance between moving subjects (the other gallery visitors) and stationary subjects (the artworks) – and it made me really look hard and appreciate the pictures that I included in my sketches.


Ideas – where do they come from? Everywhere! I always have more ideas for pictures than I can create. And then along comes something that I MUST do.

One of my heroes, the writer Ursula K Le Guin, died on the 22nd of January.  I have previously made textile work based on her inspirational novels, but I am now going to make a new piece probably in linocut.

I will make a donation to an educational charity from the sale of the prints. Hopefully to a project she supported herself; if I can’t do that I will find a charity with similar values in the UK.

‘Tribute’ is still in my head, so no pictures, but here are photographs of the textile works I made last year. From left to right, Islands (The Earthsea series); Winter (The Left Hand of Darkness); Divided (The Dispossessed); and Forest (The Word for World is Forest).