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.

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.


Saturday 3 October 2015

Metalwork in the Midlands

Do you know where this is? I'm sure some of you do, but for this who don't, it's The Library of Birmingham
Yesterday we had a day out for my Birthday - we visited Birmingham. I wanted to see the new Library and also the even newer New Street Station, as well as revisiting the Staffordshire Hoard in its new gallery in the Museum and visiting the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.

We parked near the Library, you can't miss it - a huge silver and gold block covered in steel filigree. The golden dome on the top houses a room saved from the original Victorian library, a Gothic extravaganza of remarkable craftsmanship in wood, plaster, ceramics and metalwork.

The shelves house books and documents relating to a local Midlands lad called Will Shakespeare; it's a shrine in the sky to the bard.

I was really impressed with the new Library, inside had an atmosphere of relaxed calmness and on floors 7 and 3 there are outside terraces with beautifully planted gardens.

There are lovely spaces to relax and look out over the busy city square below.

The recently opened new New Street Station is equally impressive and even more shiny, in fact it is very very shiny - clad in undulating polished steel that reflects the surrounding buildings like ripping water (dazzled by the shinyness, I completely failed to take a photo!) Inside it's like every other airport or shopping centre.

On to the Staffordshire Hoard, we'd visited the Museum to see the hoard when it was first put on public display (another birthday treat) now it was interesting to see how the jewels had been cleaned and interpreted. The hoard is a huge pile of scrap bling, probably looted from a battlefield and intended to be presented to a victorious warlord. It's anyone's guess as to why it got hidden by a main road and never retrieved. The exhibits explain what is known about life 1300 years ago and what the hoard consists of - basically it's man bling - warrior's swanky accessories. Again I didn't take photos but I did buy this book and I'm looking forward to reading it - because THE astounding thing about the Staffordshire hoard is the craftsmanship, the mind-blowing intricate patterns made of gold and garnets.

We then walked to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, I'd heard it was interesting but wasn't prepared for such a treat ... if you go, you MUST go on the guided tour! Behind the small museum galleries and tea shop is a time warp - the Smith & Pepper jewellery business which was in business for nearly a century and closed its doors in 1981, leaving everything untouched.

Smith & Pepper kept everything, it might come in useful! all the paper work and records, all the engraved blocked for their illustrated catalogues, all the moulds and punches for stamping out components for brooches and lockets, bangles and pendants lined up on slightly wonky shelves which cover the walls.

The craftsmens' benches are left as if they're having a tea break and will return to carry on work.

I was impressed that Birmingham has two glorious new shiny metal-clad buildings - it seems very apt in a city built on the talent of Midlands metal workers and they have given the city energy and pizazz.

I'll finish with a photo of my present from Cliff - a quirky curvy flower brick. Cliff spotted it when we were looking around a bric-a-brac shop on our holiday in Provence last month and he bought it for my birthday present. It's perfect for making a few flowers picked from the garden look fabulous!