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 March 2009

Knowing the voice

Each cutting blade has its own voice . . .

deep v-grooves; lines with tapering beginnings and endings;
small angular marks

a small curved scoop; long sweeping lines;
cleaning around the shapes; tidy; easy

a wide shallow gouge; curvy, satisfying;
shovelling away the spaces between

. . . conversations with my chisels.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Cooking with colour

With two blocks carved for the first of the new set of prints, it was time to start printing . . .

It's a bit like cooking, first I needed to assemble the ingredients and do the prep'.

Dark Bronze Blue, Yellow Ochre and White inks plus a dash of Extender makes pale turquoise.

Rolled out so it makes that nice chush-chush sound, and we're ready to go.

Block number one positioned on the drawing board and inked up

and after using a bit of elbow grease the first print is hung up to dry.

I don't have a vast array of tins of printing ink. Maybe it's a throw-back to A-Level art lessons where we were only allowed four tubes of watercolour paint: Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, Light Red and Crimson. My printing ink collection consists of Dark Bronze Blue, Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Primrose Yellow, White and Black (which I've gone off using).

Yellow Ochre, a smidge of Crimson, and teeny weeny dab of Primrose Yellow, white and teaspoon of Extender and we have Suffolk Pink ready for inking up block number two.

I usually print onto BFK Rives paper, but results can be variable – temperature, ink colour, the size of the blocks all seem to influence the success rate. For these prints I decided to use a different paper, I chose Kitakata 36gsm paper which is handmade in Japan using 90% Philippine Gampi (Wikstroemia diplomorpha) and 10% pulp. It's got a lovely silky texture, a vintage book page colour and is very strong, but it's also slightly translucent which makes printing much easier because you can see what's happening as you rub the reverse of the paper onto the inked block.

The second colour was really quick to print.

So now I need to get that third block carved . . .

The tabby studio assistant was a great help . . .

Friday 20 March 2009


Today is the Spring Equinox, when day and night are of equal length and in the Northern Hemisphere it is officially the start of Spring.

This morning I put on my Village Magazine Editor's hat and walked through the village taking photos to cheer up the April issue. The morning mist was just clearing and although it was cold at 10.30am (I could see my breath) I could feel the sun's power. Along the grassy verges were clusters of violets - in fact white violets are more common along the village roadside than purple; I wonder if because they are unusual people have encouraged patches to spread. Where the white and purple grow together there were a few 'milk and water' violets.

Back in our garden the senior under-gardeners and Spice Girls had a jaunty confidence as they surveyed their foot-work along the garden borders.

The greenhouse has had a major spring-clean last weekend and it's all systems go for 'Veg-season 2009'.

I hoped to show you pictures of the inhabitants of the wild-life pond, but my attempts at night-time under-water wildlife photography failed miserably. I wanted to show how amazingly beneficial the pond has been for the local Common Newts - when we moved here ten years ago there was a tiny pond in the garden, one of those preformed plastic ponds in a bright shade of turquoise which I nick-named 'Barbie's swimming-pool'. After a few years we got round to digging a larger shallow pond next to it and lined both ponds with a black pond-liner. The liner extends under the surrounding garden to create an area for pond-edge planting. We moved nine newts from 'Barbie's swimming-pool' into their new 'wild' environment and bought them a Water Forget-me-not as a moving-in present, within a few days we noticed the newts had laid eggs, neatly folding the Forget-me-not leaves over to protect them. Now is the time when newts get amorous, so a trip down to the pond in the dark with a torch is rewarded with seeing them doing their flirtatious underwater dances; I was amazed to count sixteen newts in one corner of the shallow pond - it just shows how a small change to the garden can be beneficial to wildlife.

While failing to snap frisky amphibians, I noticed a movement on the far side of the water - a nocturnal huntress on the prowl . . .

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Cluster; peak; overload . . .

Whatever you choose to call it, I'm a bit busy this month. But feast and famine is a fact of life when you're freelance – and the upside is that I work in a lovely studio with 'studio assistants', I can hear the birds singing outside, the radio is tuned to Radio 4 and when I do take a break I'm only a few steps away from the garden and the under gardeners.

When people discover that I work as an illustrator they often conjure up an image of Beatrix Potter sitting in a flowery field drawing bunnies, well it's not like that and I'm sure even Beatrix worked her socks off to meet a deadline occasionally. When I was at art school the Head of Illustration, John Vernon Lord, brought us down to earth by telling us his first commission had been to illustrate a plumbers' catalogue. I take on all sorts of projects; a rich seam of work comes from English as a foreign language text books – have you ever thought where all those little pictures come from? Well I'll let you into a little secret . . . I draw them. Well, not ALL of them, but over this week and last week and next week I'll draw 234 of them.

There are some things I love to draw . . .

Salad, cake and fruit

Client: Emc Design © Nelson Thornes

Client/© :International Teaching Services

When I was very young I loved looking at a very very special book my Gran owned, it was The Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese Dillmont, with my Gran I tried out the embroidery, knitting and crochet stitches. But it was the illustrations that I loved the most, I spent hours and hours looking at them and can remember them all. I wanted to be the person who drew all those beautiful diagrams.

Dreams can come true – these are for some 'Textiles' worksheets for Key Stage 2 . . .

Tying for dying

Client: Black Dog Design © A & C Black


Client: Black Dog Design © A & C Black

Must get on – today it's beans, biscuits, cereal, cheese, chocolate (need reference for that!), coffee . . .

Friday 13 March 2009

We think she's forgotten something . . .

The ginger one: "Play attack! Play attack!"

The tabby one:
"You do and I'll bite your ears!"

The ginger one:
"Just a thought..." (thinks: boring girls!)

The tabby one: "Last one to the top of the wigwam is a fat ginger sissy!"

The ginger one: "Don't care! Why doesn't the boss come out to play with us in the garden?"

The tabby one: "She's too busy with stuff called 'deadlines', she hasn't even cleared up the mess the under-gardeners have made. She hasn't picked these old dry beans – I'll have to do it for her – and she's even forgotten it's that blog-thing's second anniversary tomorrow!"

Saturday 7 March 2009

Wuffing warriors and WAGs

OK, guess where and when this was made . . .

It's the design on a tiny silver coin made in Suffolk 1300 years ago. The period of history between the Romans leaving Britain and 1066-and-all-that used to be dismissed as 'The Dark Ages' - I always wanted to find out more, surely it wasn't just "dark" for a thousand years! Of course it wasn't, it was a time of huge change and resulted in the formation of a culture that underpins what we think of as "English" - our language, food, villages and towns. However inspiring the art of different cultures is, it will always be exotic and I will always be an outsider looking in; the art of the early Anglo Saxons is the art from the people who made my world.

While I'm working in my studio I like to listen to either BBC Radio 4 or BBC Radio Suffolk, yesterday afternoon when Lesley Dolphin, on her new improved afternoon show All About Suffolk, interviewed Caroline McDonald, the curator of a new exhibition entitled Anglo Saxon Art in the round - I pricked up my ears . . .

There's no time like the present, this morning we drove the width of Suffolk to go shopping in Ipswich and visit the exhibition in The Town Hall. The central display in Gallery 3, shows the 'De Wit collection' of Saxon coins in four display cases within a reconstruction of a long boat like the one found at the ship burial at Sutton Hoo (just along the coast near Woodbridge). What is amazing is the size of the coins - they are teeny tiny, the tip of my little finger could cover them! Helpfully the walls of the gallery display large dinner-plate sized photographs of the designs from the coins - birds, foxes, horses, kings . . . and there they are on the actual coins, miniature works of art, so fresh and imaginative.

Ipswich, or rather Gipeswic was an important sea port and trading centre, it was key to the power of the ruling dynasty - the Wuffings. The finds at Sutton Hoo revealed the intricately crafted bling worn by warriors and their horses, in this display there are a few finds from warrior's graves - shield bosses, daggers and spear heads, but it's the Wives And Girl-friends who steal the show in the displays of treasures from the Hadleigh Road site in Ipswich. This is what the warriors' WAGs wore in 7th century Suffolk . . .

The reason we have all these gorgeous Saxon accessories is because a single minded Edwardian woman named Nina Frances Layard who's hobby was archaeology, rushed home from her holiday in Scotland in 1905 because she read in the East Anglian Daily Times (presumably posted to her) that skeletons had been found by workmen digging near the Hadleigh Road back home in Ipswich. She took charge and organised 150 labourers to continue the excavation through 1906, unearthing 200 graves and the occupants' precious grave goods. The gentlemen directors of the town museum viewed her with amusement . . .

On our way home we went to the TV celeb pig farmer's place Jimmy's Farm, as it's the first Saturday in the month we knew that Emma, aka Silver Pebble would be there selling her wares. After munching our burgers in the 'Field Kitchen' we tracked down Emma in the barn. She was just about to pack up her lovely beads and silver charms, but very kindly let me select some beautiful moss green tourmaline beads from her stash and with a deft tweak of her pliers customised a pair of hoop earrings for me - thank you Silver Pebble :-)

As I couldn't take photos in the exhibition these pictures are scanned from the post card and guide book I purchased at Ipswich Town Hall. © Fitzwilliam Museum and Ipswich Museum.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Releasing the hand brake

Reading other artists' and makers' blogs is sometimes like being back at art school – I become aware of how other people work and how there isn't a 'right way'. Blogging about my printmaking has made me more aware of how I work . . . and it's not a smooth creative curve. Drifts of ideas accumulate in my mind, the build up starts to cause a sense of panic about the inactivity – but the brake is on. I need to give myself a deadline – there's nothing like urgency to make me release the hand brake.

Today I told myself that I absolutely had to draw out some designs for a new group of prints; I'd been thinking about them for too long. I needed the same short deadline that I get from publishers "artwork by 4pm today please" – so that my mind switches off and I just work until the job is done.

I spent about an hour in the garden drawing in my sketch book; back in the studio I worked on the compositions with acrylic paint – I like the way it dries instantly on the paper. By limiting the colours to a dark peaty green, terracotta and a pale blue/green I had to start to think in three different lino blocks.

I like to work directly over my sketches so that the initial spontaneous marks aren't lost and I enjoy working very quickly so I don't have time to consider and ponder before I make a mark. This afternoon I scanned the three images and adjusted the sizes. I could see repeated shapes – arches and circles . . .

Woohoo! It's a relief these are now down on paper!

The next stage is my favourite – cutting the lino :-)