Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Heading north on a road trip

Last week Cliff and I took a quickly planned holiday - a road trip joining up some places we'd always meant to see but hadn't yet got round to visiting.

Our first stop was Durham, I wanted to see the great Norman Cathedral, the resting place of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. Not doing our homework, we had no idea our visit coincided with Lumiere - the UK's biggest light festival! It also coincided with Abigail, the first of this year's Autumnal Atlantic Gales (which now have names to give the media an excuse for more amusing headlines). 

We braved the elements and after spending a day exploring Durham and the ancient cathedral, after dark we managed to see most of the light installations - I shared some photos and videos on Instagram

This is one of the installations in the cathedral cloisters - it's made from plastic drinks bottles.

Which transform into a Rose Window when illuminated.

Our next stop was Kirkcudbright on the south Galloway coast, you may have seen BBC Autumnwatch which was recently from Caerlaverock nature reserve, which was a few miles along the coast. If you did, you probably remember Martin Hughes Games watching Salmon swimming in the river at Dumfries. He stood on a bridge near a picturesque weir...

This is my selfie by that very weir ... I was lucky to keep my feet dry, as the aftermath of storm Abigail had filled the river to overflowing!

At Caerlavrock we saw the flocks of Barnacle geese through the driving rain and fog and decided not to walk around all the reserve in the mud!

But the weather wasn't bad all of the time ... we drove to the most southerly point of Scotland, The Mull of Galloway, where the strong winds blew the rain clouds and almost blew us away too! 

Autumnal colours seen after soft Scottish rain seem to have a special luminous quality.

We did some short hikes in the Galloway Forest, where we saw lots of Red Kites - you can see one perched in the tree above.

Misty views to the Solway Firth in the far distance

and over moors, mellow with russet bracken and ochre grasses.

One afternoon we walked around the beautiful secret Rigg Bay on The Machers peninsula.

After 3 lovely relaxing days (staying here, which was fab!) it was time to start heading south again .... via Morecambe

where we stopped for lunch at the Midland Hotel ... if you like 1930s design, I recommend you visit

looking up through the stairs to Eric Gill's Neptune and Triton medallion (which was painted by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier)

and a beautiful wall freize - it's behind the reception desk and impossible to photograph but this detail gives you a taste of the whole.

In the rotunda bar/bistro are murals based on the original (sadly lost) designs by Eric and Tirzah Ravilious. The originals were photographed in black and white at the hotel's opening ...

That night while we slept in a hotel just north of Liverpool, another storm swept in from the Atlantic, Storm Barney was still blowing when we went for an early morning stroll to the beach - the tiny figures in the distance are the Iron Men of Anthony Gormley's 'Another Place'.

Barney blew the fine sand into our pockets and ears and mouths! (I'm not sure if this little film is going to work, if it doesn't you can try here)

Time to leave Liverpool...

but not before a stroll around Sefton Park ... that statue looks familiar!

It's an exact copy of the famous Eros fountain by Alfred Gilbert at Piccadilly Circus in London. 

I've never taken a close look at the lower part of the fountain, it's often boarded up in London so revellers can't climb all over it. But if you get a chance to - in London or Liverpool - it's an Art Nouveau treat ... 

The Sefton Park version has the added value of splishy splashy water trickling around the slithery fish and chubby cheeked children.

With the cobwebs blown out of our heads we're back home again and feeling strong enough to put all ghastly news reports in perspective. The cold weather is here and Christmas fast approaching ... and I'm already working on the illustration for January's Gardens Illustrated magazine!


Friday, 6 November 2015

Making Winter brighter . . . and my illustration for November's Gardens Illustrated

It was back August that I received Frank Ronan's article for the November edition of Gardens Illustrated magazineFrank is writing about plants to enliven a winter garden, a subject that has been covered in many TV programmes, books and articles  . . . but interestingly he takes a different perspective - and it's one I'll share with you for the Making Winter blog hop organised by Emma aka Silverpebble - so if you crave ideas to brighten gloomy days, hop on over!

But first, I'll quickly tell you my inspiration for the composition of my illustration . . .

I had only a few days to come up with an idea for my linocut illustration, before I headed off for almost 3 weeks in the south of France. As usual, I sat down, carefully read Frank's words and looked up reference for all the plants he mentions - feathery yellow grasses, shiny red thorns, scented winter flowering shrubs, etc. But the editor had specifically requested "something atmospheric"

"you want to be drawn outdoors in the winter; to go and look for things and see and smell whether they are doing what they should"
Frank Ronan

I'd just visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the much aclaimed exhibition of Eric Ravilious paintings and there were two that I'd spent a long time looking at, intrigued by how the subtle marks and textures  – they were full of light and atmosphere . . . 

"Interior at Furlongs"

 "Wet Afternoon"

The memory of these to Ravilious paintings was floating in the back of my mind as I worked on this linocut. And to continue the 'Bardfield Group' homage, when I needed a focus in the foreground I added a cat – in the spirit of all the cats that inhabit many of, Ravilious's friend, Edward Bawden's domestic pictures.

Re-reading Frank's thoughts in the gloom of an overcast and foggy November day this week, I decided to take his advice:

"the weather always seems so much worse from inside than it is when you emerge, so you might be stuck there until March were it not for a few judiciously placed things that can catch the momentary light and make you drop your work and draw you out"
Frank Ronan

From the bedroom window I'd spotted some vibrant pinky-gold leaves – outside they shone even brighter!
Miscanthus grass

I then saw some newly opened pink flowers and remembered that Su had given us some Nerine bulbs from her Mum's Norfolk garden – what a lovely surprise!

After being outside for a few minutes the light really did seem as brighter! A patch of vivid yellow drew me further into the garden - our small Witch Hazel bush's leaves had turned sulphur yellow edged with copper. Looking closely I could see lots of tiny round flower buds which will open early in the New Year and fill the air with their fragrance.

I hope I've convinced you to venture outside on even the dullest of days – it really does make winter brighter


Monday, 26 October 2015

Woodland Craft . . . a book jacket (behind the scenes)

A few days ago, this book arrived in the post - Woodland Craft by Ben Law (you may recall the chap on Grand Designs who but a wooden house in a wood) and a foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage, etc). 

I was excited to see it . . . as the cover illustration is a woodcut by me!

Here's a confession - I dread working on book covers and usually go out of my way to avoid doing so. It's a hangover from my previous life working for educational publishers, the book covers were the result of endless meetings and emails and the opinions of Uncle Tom Cobley and all. But that's all in the past and this time it wasn't me that was pulling the whole thing together, I 'just' had to come up with a picture. And the subject was right up my street . . . I couldn't refuse.

I'd do a woodcut, after all it's about wood so an illustration created by carving wood seems apt.

Great! They said, here's a list of what Ben would like include in the scene . . . it was a very long list!

I looked at the piles of reference photographs of Ben working and the tools he uses and the items he makes from wood harvested near his house, then I sketched them all in a scene. It was getting a bit crowded. I really loved the textures of the twigs and woven baskets so I played with the scale and brought them to the fore. On the back cover I put two frisky squirrels like the ones I see from my studio window.

There was a long pause . . . comments came from the publishers and from Ben. The Squirrels had to go (not welcome in Ben's wood!) the Rooks also got the chop, but the Long Tailed Tits could stay. A Blackbird and wood pile replaced the Squirrels on the back cover. The chair, besum and basket got moved back so they were fully visible.

At this point I paced around and sighed a lot. The composition was OK but something was missing, it needed a spark of something.

I ploughed on . . . to get all the detail in I'd need to work big. Very big! The birch plywood block is about 1 metre wide by 80 cm (3 x 2 feet). I started carving the design for the back, there are a lot of twigs!

Here's the block on my desk . . .

. . . nearly finished!

This is the finished block. I inked and hand burnished separate prints for the front and back. These where down onto thin Japanese paper that had visible fibres in it.

Here are the prints, scanned and positioned in Photoshop. I knocked back the paper texture but didn't clean it out entirely.

The publisher wanted me to add a second colour, or maybe a third and fourth? Doing this as a multi block print seemed risky (especially if last minute tweaks to the design were requested!) 

I decided to add the colours digitally using textured 'brushes' and merging the colours with the scanned print. I settled on a retro palette or apple green, yellow ochre and grey . . . it was at this point that things started to fall into place (Phew!) and I knew I could make this work. Which was a huge relief as I was almost - but not quite - regretting taking this on.

So, here's the finished cover . . .

. . . and here's the back 

The book has a paper dust jacket, underneath is a nice binding with a linen spine. You might have noticed the dust jacket looks a slightly darker colour from the book inside . . . because, well, it is. The brighter colour was all settled on and printed, then after some thought the publisher decided darker more woodland tones would be nicer - so they tweaked the colours and printed the dust jacket.

I actually like both versions. The brighter version has the retro-look of my original artwork. But the dust jacket version looks great too.

It really is a lovely book, with lots of photos and beautiful illustrations describing traditional woodland craft projects. I'm sure it will find it's way under many Christmas trees this year.


PS: I've put this together on my iPad so will have to add the links later - now added x

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Behind the scenes - working on October Gardens Illustrated linocut

Each month I look forward to an email from David at Gardens Illustrated magazine with an attached text file of Frank Ronan's latest column. Sometimes there's a hint of what the editor would like me to illustrate . . . in mid-July the October Frank email arrived with no accompanying notes.

I settled down for a read . . .
Frank is replying to a letter from a gardener in California who wants to do the right thing and plant drought tolerant plants; but she lives in a historic wooden house, built in 1904 and is worried the plants won't 'go' with the house.

OK. A bit of research was needed and some sketching  . . . 
. . . a cute early 20th Century Californian house and some suitable succulents. Yes I could juggle them into a composition but like Frank's correspondent, I wasn't happy with it. I wanted to show the over-the-top 'Belle Epoque' decor that is loved so much more in the US than here in the UK. I remembered some of the B&Bs we've stayed in on our road-trip holidays - all those velvet tassel-edged curtains, curvy swirly jardinaires and pottery dogs . . . I'd sleep on it.

Then! as often happens when I'm drifting off to sleep, I had an idea. I have a small sticky-notes pad and pen on my bed-side cupboard, without switching on the light I scribbled "2 Staffs dogs looking miffed" and stuck the note onto my spectacles so I'd find it it the morning.

In the morning, as soon as I got into my studio, I quickly drew what had been in my mind's eye.
And then worked on a more detailed study of a pair of Staffordshire pottery dogs. 
I've just noticed the note, bottom left, I painted this using some very special paint, Egremont Red, it's wonderful stuff and this has reminded me I must use it again, very soon.

Using Photopshop, I pulled all the parts together into a composition - a close-up of the lower half of the window of a historic clapper-board house, showing lace and bobble-edged curtains and a pair of Staffordshire pottery dogs looking out at an impressive array of Aeoniums and other succulents. I decided that a rich magenta would add to the 'Belle Epoque' and Californian vibe.  

Here's the page I sent to David to show what I had in mind, below is a reversed print out on tracing paper that I use to trace down the design onto the lino.
Having got the design sorted (sigh of relief) now comes the fun bit - the carving . . .
I enjoyed carving the lace curtains and the dogs . . .
I mixed some luscious magenta ink . . . the block comes to life when you roll the ink onto it!

And here's the finished print and the illustration printed in the October edition of Gardens Illustrated.

Despite, maybe because of, the stuttering start; I think this is my favourite GI illustration to date.