House to Let

Dog walking is one of my favourite forms of exercise; it forces me out of the house no matter what the weather and gives me time to appreciate the wildlife on my doorstep. There has been so much to see recently, wild orchids, a grass snake, a heron chasing a buzzard, some rather unusual wild flowers which turned out to be orange hawkweed (sometimes called fox and cubs), and yesterday we watched a very industrious solitary bee.

A flash of green passed at eye level, at first I thought it was a dragonfly but on closer inspection saw that it was a bee carrying a piece of leaf. It took the leaf into a hole in the canal bridge wall. We watched in total fascination as the bee emerged from a gap between the bricks and returned with yet more pieces. Despite the fact that we had focused the camera on the hole, we did not manage to get a good shot but you can just about make out a piece of the newly cut leaf being dragged into the tiny space in the motar. We think that the bee must have been a leaf cutter bee, which makes nests similar to a cigar, rolling the leaves into a cylinder. Please click on the photograph to see more clearly.

Earlier this year I placed a bee house in the garden, so far we have had no takers. It has been thought for sometime that pesticides may be killing our bees and it is clear that more research is needed. The Co-Operative Plan Bee is campaigning for more research into the effects of pesticides on bees. You can visit their website and sign a petition and learn more about our bees. If you enjoy flowering plants, juicy pears, almond and cherries then please spare a thought for our bees without which we would have none of these things. If people had to take over the job of bees in the UK it would take a workforce of tens of millions, to find out just how many visit this link. In some parts of China humans now have to pollinate fruit, it could happen here, please help.


Illustrating for the iPod.

Illustrating for the iPod/iPad is proving to be interesting if not challenging. It has always been the case in years gone by that the method of printing was the major factor in deciding the style of illustration. For example, printing from a wood block usually produces an illustration in black and white and the limitations of the process can be a starting point and sometimes an inspiration for the final artwork. When full colour photogravure printing came along illustrators responded to the challenge by producing more colourful and detailed artwork. Illustrating for the iPod is not limited to the conventions of the printing process, in theory anything is possible, the rules are “there are no rules”. In reality the restraints are of a different nature, mainly governed by the actual size of the iPod screen. The artwork has to “read” when shown on the tiny screen and in the case of the application which we are using with MCB Mobile Children's Books for “The Bird with the Rainbow Tail” (to which I referred earlier) the left hand third of the illustration is covered by text, so that part of the illustration can only be seen when the text is switched off. This means that all the action has to happen in the other two thirds of the screen on the right hand side.
As if that wasn’t enough, the same illustration cropped has to also work on the iPad, which is much larger and has a higher resolution.

In the past, all of my picture book illustrations have been in full colour. Each illustration took weeks to complete with nine to twelve months allowed for the entire book. This current project has to be completed in a much shorter time frame added to which there is another constraint, that of the story which begins in a world devoid of colour. It seemed logical therefore to do the illustrations in black line drawing and then to add patterns, colours and textures digitally. As you can gather, the whole project is experimental and a little bit daunting. The patterns and collage effect have been taken form my fabric designs, and photographic textures from wood, stone etc.

The illustration here is page one and has been inspired a little by Samuel Palmer whose work I adore.


Japanese Kozo Paper

I have been patiently waiting for the arrival of suitable paper in order to print my wood engraving. I took advice from Chris Daunt who has been more than helpful with advice and supplies. If you are thinking of trying this craft I would suggest you visit his website first.

Chris advised Japanese White Kozo paper for hand burnishing. This method is an alternative to printing in a press. I was very surprised when my order came, the paper is very fine, like tissue paper and at first I thought I had ordered incorrectly. I have since learnt that Kozo is extremely strong and is nothing like our western pulp made paper. This Japanese paper is made with the fiber from the inside of the bark of the Mulberry tree. Its long, fine fibers give the paper strength, flexibility and smoothness, which are perfect for printing; it is also used in conservation and book repair. Its translucent quality also helps when burnishing as you can see the print through the paper so you have a better idea where to apply the pressure.

I found that the paper performed well and was a pleasure you use. I may try different papers in due course, the ladies at the paper suppliers were very helpful and have even promised me some free sample sheets to experiment on! For the time being I have decide to put some of the prints into my Etsy shop in the hope that I may be able to fund more materials and maybe a workshop or two!


Tea with Angela Cater.

It seems ages since I did my last "Cuppa" interview, so here without further ado, let me introduce to you the author/illustrator Angela Cater. Angela illustrates her own children's books and publishes them at Tabby Cat Press, She draws cats beautifully and is a cat lover herself which I think shows in her work.
Won't you join us for a cuppa, there's plenty of tea left in the pot!

How do you take your tea and in what kind of cup do you like it served?
Answer - Just as it comes please with a drop of milk, and in a pretty bone-china mug.

If you could choose anyone, past , present or future, who would be joining us for tea?
Answer- I'd like to invite Norman Rockwell. The stories he told about the characters that modelled for his paintings are often hilarious. Also Lesley-Anne Ivory as I'm sure we could chat about cats until the cows come home. More than her cats themselves, I really admire her detailed backgrounds; the background is always the thing I enjoy illustrating the least.

Tell me a little about your background in art and design?
Answer- I've been painting and drawing animals ever since I was old enough to hold a paint brush and consider myself to be self-taught. I read a lot of art books but don't use them to influence my own work or the decisions I make. As a mature student, I took the Foundation Art course at Chesterfield College of Art and Technology. I quite enjoyed dabbling with all the different facilities there, but resent the tutors' attempts to draw me away from a more illustrative style into the abstract oil paintings they so favour. After that, I studied Advertising at Doncaster College (at HND level), but graduated in the early 90's recession and by the time things picked up, my skills were well and truly out of date.

Where are you based and does it influence your work?
Answer- I'm based in Manchester. When I first moved here, I lived on a really rough estate (the sort of place where everyone turns out at the weekend to watch cars burn), and my art became a form of escapism. It was then that I first developed my “Character Cats” and I would build stories around them. Most people either love or hate them, but Sailor Sam later became the star character of my first children's picture book, and “Cat Dracula” is a best-selling greeting card at the Whitby Bookshop.

What have you been doing/working on today?
Answer- Today, I have baked my coloured pencils to strengthen the lead as I am working on a portrait of a siamese cat for submission to the Society of Feline Artist's annual exhibition. I am currently off-work with sciatica and it has given me an unexpected fortnight in which to work on various exhibition pieces. I also exhibit annually with the UK Coloured Pencil Society.

I hope that you have brought along something wonderful to show us, what is it?
Answer- “Beautiful Dreamer” (see above)
This is a coloured pencil portrait of my late tabby, Samson who was one of my all time favourite models. It was the first time that I have attempted working in 'reverse' on black paper, and I was so scared of making a wrong mark that this picture took me almost 4 months to complete, but I am very pleased of the result.

Illustration for “Brogan's Good Turns” - I have recently started work on another children's book that is about a stray cat who is so grateful to his young mistress for saving his life that he tries to repay her with many misunderstood favours. My new cat, Pablo is the model here – someone dumped him on my doorstep just before Christmas and he's the best present I've ever had! I am also in the process of writing and illustrating “A Lifetime of Cats” which will be kind of a memoir of every cat I have ever had and the art that they have inspired. Yes, all this and a full-time job! Thanks for the cup of tea, I really needed that.

Well Angela, I can see that we have lots in common and share an admiration for the work of Lesley Anne Ivory. I once worked with an editor who knew her well, in fact Lesley had given her one of her cats and no doubt painted it too! I have also learnt something new about baking coloured pencils and have discovered that you have a blog so no doubt I shall be visiting you again soon. It was a pleasure to share a cuppa with you and hope that you come back soon.


Messing and Pressing

Whilst I was in the printmaking mood over the half term holiday I felt inspired to do more lino printing. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems and I spent lots of time experimenting with different papers and methods of printing. Eventually I settled on a lovely grey paper that I had squirreled away in my plan chest, the smooth surface took the linseed oil based ink very well, sadly I did not make a note of the name of the paper. I used my old office press to print the piece and wondered why my arm ached so much afterwards. I now know why they say, “Hand pulled” when describing the printing process!

I happily filled the kitchen table and every other surface in the house with prints whilst my family fended for themselves. I found a low odour white spirit, which made the job more acceptable but did not realize how long each piece would take to dry; still, we live and learn.

I had a go at printing my wood engraving but decided to do a bit more tinkering with the block. You can see how it is looking so far in the photograph. As you can see the wood had irregularities, which I tried to disguise in the design. I was thrilled to bits with my new burnisher, which worked a treat on the block. If you have ever fancied having a try at wood engraving I would encourage you to do so. I was pleasantly surprised at how little pressure is needed to make a cut and so few materials and space are needed.

I have listed a lino print in my Etsy shop; I do love playing shop don’t you? Now sadly, playtime is over and it’s nose to the grindstone for the next few months.


Black and White and shades of grey.

Work on “The Bird with the Rainbow Tail” is progressing well and I have been taking inspiration from the world of black and white, line art and wood engraving. Most of the work for this project has been executed in pen and ink, using black line drawings as a starting point. I hope to share some of these images soon; in the meantime I would like to share with you the work of Michelle Palmer who draws onto vintage linen. Her work is very detailed and delicate and now I am the proud owner of these little beauties after winning her blog give away, thank you Michelle!

For some time now I have been promising myself that I would try my hand at wood engraving, having admired the work of such luminaries as Clare Leighton, Reynolds Stone and Eric Ravilious, for many years. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I have been able to source materials and view instructions which has enabled me to have a stab myself, in fact that is exactly what I have done, several times, those tools are sharp! I would really like to do a workshop, as it is so hard to try to teach oneself.

After several abortive attempts and many practice pieces I finally managed to produce one engraving which I will try to print, you can see my work in progress above. The wood is end grain boxwood, which is very hard and polished to a very smooth finish; it is also very expensive which makes my many mistakes even harder to bear. Now I know how difficult this craft is it has increased my appreciation for this beautiful art form.

The white foxgloves have finally flowered and are being visited by many bumblebees. I came across this wonderful wood engraving of foxgloves by Andy English, a master engraver; you can see it by following this link
Andy also has a wealth of knowledge which he has very kindly made available on his website.