Lighting The Darkness

Illustration from "Can it be true?"
published by Oxfam as a charity Christmas card.

Much as I love Christmas I do dislike the dark and gloomy days of winter and am always cheered by the notion that once we have passed the winter solstice the days will begin to lengthen.

One of the best things about Christmas is that we get time to spend with our loved ones. This year we visited our son and his partner in London. Whilst there we had a multitude of wonderful things to see; as we arrived at Euston station we decided to walk to the British Library. On route we passed St Pancras church and noticed that The Crypt Gallery had an exhibition of paper-cuts, paintings and calligraphy called Lighting the Darkness. There we met the jeweller, engraver and silversmith Alan Craxford who took time out to talk to us about his paper-cuts.

Alan Craxford Paper-cuts

Alan uses various layers to create shadows which change with the light, thus incorporating the dark and the light into each piece.  His paper-cuts are very beautiful, each one delicately cut with an expert hand, if you have time do visit his website, his work is extraordinary.

Fabric of India Exhibition
The next day we had pre-booked tickets to see The Fabric of India exhibition at the V and A.
I was familiar with many of the printed textiles, having encountered some during my studies. I was less familiar with the embroidered and woven pieces. As with all major exhibitions at the V and A, I always feel rather dazzled and overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the exhibits. I wish I could have made multiple visits over several weeks in order to absorb the artistry of those exquisite fabrics.

The Royal Albert Hall
The grand finale of our visit was a night at the Albert Hall to see and hear the Kings College Choir
which was amazing! We even joined in singing Hark the Herald Angles Sing at the top of our voices, safe in the knowledge that nobody would notice when I sang off key.

The Dream Quilt by Adele Geras illustrated by Valerie Greeley

When we arrived home we found my first sample book had arrived which called for a celebratory glass of wine. Somewhere in the back of a delivery van is a box of books though I know not where.

Wherever you may be I would like to thank you for visiting my blog and wish you a Blessed Christmas and a Bright and Shining New Year.
                                                   CHEERS EVERYONE  X X X


The Dream Quilt

Some of you may remember last year I illustrated a small format, hard cover book called "Can it be True?" for Long Barn Books. Earlier this year I was thrilled to be invited to work on another title for the same publisher. This time for a book entitled The Dream Quilt by Adele Geras.

Perhaps just once in a lifetime a dream job comes along. For a textile designer who also illustrates books this was my dream commission. Each illustration represents one square of a patchwork quilt. Adele Geras's enchanting writing begins:

"I threaded silk through a silver needle to make a cover for your bed.
Rest your head, close your eyes. I’ll stitch you dreams and lullabies."

We start with a house, where everyone sleeps except for a child.....

This is the house, from The Dream Quilt. Illustration by Valerie Greeley

Although the book would sit happily in a Christmas stocking it is not specifically a Christmas title; some of the imagery is summertime, we have shells and beaches, fish and flowers. There are tigers and trains, bears and dolls. Each illustration makes up a part of the final quilt as the characters dream their own dreams.

The illustrations begin as black ink pen drawings; these are then scanned and made into a digital file. I used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to create the final images, layering textures and embroidered effects to complete the job.
This is the doll, from The Dream Quilt. Illustration by Valerie Greeley.
The publication date is December 12th, in the meantime I hope you enjoy a glimpse into the creative process. I hope to put some copies in my shop as soon as they arrive. I am also waiting to see some fabric samples, more about that later!

This is the ship from The Dream Quilt. Illustration by Valerie Greeley
Adele has written her own account of how she came to write the book, you can read all about it here-

For more information about Adele Geras visit her website, there you will find details of Adele's other works. I can recommend "Cover Your Eyes"- a story about a fashion designer haunted by her past. You may also be interested to know that Adele's daughter is an accomplished writer too, her name is Sophie Hannah. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this commission was that I got to know Adele a little as we discussed the book as it progressed. I have a feeling you will like her too.

To visit Long Barn Books please follow the link.


Happy Halloween

With each year that passes Halloween becomes more of a tradition here, our house was no exception with family parties, pumpkins, fake spiders-the list goes on. When I was a child the focal point of the season was Bonfire Night with treacle and toffee apples.

I do love this time of year with its abundance of fruit and berries. It has been a good year for apples this year and my little Malus Gorgeous has been on top form. This tiny crab apple tree produces fruit no bigger than a large cherry. We never try to cook them, preferring to leave them for the birds to enjoy.

I made this little study with coloured pencils.

We went down to London to visit The Royal Miniature Society's exhibition at the Mall Gallery to see this years annual exhibition. I was thrilled to have five pieces accepted. The exhibition is now closed but you can still see the whole thing on their website, many pieces are still for sale and would make lovely gifts for Christmas perhaps? My work is numbered 229-233.

I made some new greeting cards from the artwork created for the miniatures, some are in my Etsy shop and there are more on the way. 

A quick hop over the border into Wales enabled us to use the facilities at the Print Centre in Wrexham. I managed to finish two editions, one intaglio and one linoprint. It was suggested that I try hand colouring some of the dry point prints and found that using water colour pencils worked well.

The Halloween print at the top of this post, the drawings, cards and prints all found their way here-https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/acornmoon


Mereside- New Miniature Paintings

I recently completed a set of five miniature paintings, this time based on the flora and fauna around our local Meres; these are naturally occurring lakes which support a wide range of species of birds, reptiles, insects and flowers.

Last week I took my little bundle of paintings down to London and handed them in for submission to The Royal Miniature SocietyAnnual Exhibition. This is a juried show and so an anxious wait ensued until the results were announced. I was delighted to find that all five paintings had been accepted for this year's show. If you are in London you might want to come along?

The show runs from 13th October to the 25th October and will be at the Mall Gallery. You can find more details by following this link.

Each miniature is hand painted onto paper with watercolour and gouache. I used some metallic colours in this series to give a rich medieval flavour. Each design has a decorative border which combines some decorative elements, flowers, leaves etc. chosen to complement each subject.

The design process begins by working out the composition, starting with a pencil drawing. The border design is worked out separately in much the same way I would begin a textile design. 

The design is then transferred onto hot pressed extra smooth watercolour paper. I like to use "The Langton" by Daler Rowney. I use tracing paper to transfer the design using a very sharp HB pencil. I then go round the outline using a very fine pen and watercolour before rubbing out the pencil line. 

The painting then progresses in much the same way a larger piece would, the difference being the size of the brush strokes. The work is completed using very many teeny tiny brushstrokes, layer upon layer.

The painting is then trimmed to size and placed inside a special frame which has bevelled glass. 


Last of the Summer Wine.

The recent unexpected sunshine has brought with it the temptation to walk rather than work; it seems a shame to sit at a desk when the weather is so mild and the winter months and darker days are only weeks away. We visited the nearby Victorian garden at Biddulph Grange and came away with a young Monkey Puzzle tree: no doubt a great mistake as they can grow huge and our garden is miniscule. The gardens at Biddulph have many themes, my favourite is the Japanese garden which has a lovely lake surrounded by ornamental trees. Ever since I was a child I have longed to visit Japan, maybe one day..... If my six numbers ever come up!

I took this photograph of a nearby lake, a favourite with dog walkers and fishermen alike. Although access is restricted you can walk around part of the lake and into the nearby woods. Our little dog used to love this walk, so much so we scattered his ashes nearby. I like to think his spirit is happy here, I am sure it is. We made so many friends walking our dog in these woods, so many people from different walks of life, all united by their love of dogs. In fact, we have kept in touch with many of them and because most of them are in the autumn of their years I am often reminded of the TV series "Last of the Summer Wine".

When I was not walking I was painting, this time more miniatures. My subject matter has been linked to lakes and water so it was a special treat to listen to Radio 3 whilst I worked. One piece of music has lodged in my mind; Sibelius 5th Symphony, a song for swans inspired by the sight of sixteen swans circling above a lake near the composer's home.

My garden has been full of butterflies this year, so it would be unreasonable of me to object to the many caterpillars that have been happily munching their way through my nasturtiums, I think they are cabbage white? It was fascinating to watch tremendous battles between wasps and caterpillars. The larger ones seemed capable of thwacking the wasps with their bodies as they flicked them away into the path of smaller, less able ones. The wasps made short shrift of the younger caterpillars and gobbled them up greedily. I checked back today and they have all disappeared and the plants seem to have survived ok. I have collected lots of seed for next year just in case.


Barn Owl painting and Intaglio printing.

August over half way through already! I am sure by now all my readers will have deserted me in my absence but for anyone still out there be assured that I have been visiting your blogs, not always commenting but appreciating your worlds.

Since my last post I have been struggling to finish a second book commission for Long Barn Books. If you are not familiar with this company it is owned by the writer Susan Hill famous for her “Woman in Black”. Susan has recently started a new venture and has added Little Barn Books to her fold. She has a brand new website with lots of news about her latest creation for children named Billy Bigheart.

I found the time to work on another miniature, this time a barn owl for the gallery “Art of the Imagination”. I was delighted to find a lovely old-fashioned frame to put it in and was rather reluctant to parcel it up for the postman.

It hasn’t been all work; we had a family birthday celebration for a youngest son James who celebrated his thirtieth birthday. Getting the house and garden ready for thirty guests was challenging to say the least. Fortune shone on us by sending a day of sunshine for the event. It was a lovely day and I think my lawn may recover at some point?

We enjoyed watching the film "Woman in Gold", have you seen it? I love the paintings of Gustav Klimt, they are so decorative and full of pattern and colour. 

Finally, I have got around to listing a new print in my Etsy shop. I have been trying out intaglio printing, a very old method of printmaking, which involves drawing directly onto a metal plate with a stylus. You can read more about the method used here-

I hope you have all had a good summer and I promise not to stay away for quite so long next time. x


Mind your P's and Q's.

Around this time forty years ago, I graduated from art college. I had studied textile design at The Manchester School of Art and Design- now Manchester Metropolitan University. I met up with my fellow graduate friend Pam and had a lovely day reminiscing about our student days, our hopes and dreams all those years ago. We enjoyed exploring old haunts and discovering the more recent additions to the city.

When we were students The John Rylands Library was something of a mystery to us, in fact I don’t really remember it ever being accessible to the public until fairly recently. It is now one of Manchester’s tourist attractions and welcomes visitors with open arms. It also has a more modern extension with exhibition areas, cloakrooms, a cafĂ© and a shop.

Like many of Manchester’s buildings the library was designed in the Neo-Gothic style so loved by the Victorians. It has many splendid features, beautiful stained glass, hidden balconies, amazing ceilings and books of course! It also hosts exhibitions and houses several printing presses and we both wished we had the space and funds to own at least one of those presses.

Although an Albion style press is far too large and difficult to accommodate, the Adana is much more suited to home use. So, when my blog friend Gretel told me she had one in need of a good home, how could I refuse?

Adana 8 by 5 without rollers
Those of you who are familiar with Gretel will be pleased to know that she is doing well, busy as ever and enjoying life in rural “Middle of Nowhere”. She made us some scrumptious scones and a lovely day was had by all. I returned with this- An Adana 8 by 5.

I hope to someday use the press to print my wood engravings, small lino prints and maybe even some type. In order to learn more about the press and how to restore and use it, I decided to take myself off to this amazing place- The St Bride Foundation, which offers classes in printmaking and typography. It is situated just off Fleet Street in London and is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

Learning about typography is fascinating. If you have ever used a word processor or computer application you will be familiar with font sizes and types. It all fits into place when you realise that a point is an actual measurement- an inch divide into 72.

Next time you select a 12-point font think of it as a measurement, 12 over 72 is one sixth of an inch also known as a pica. My head is in a spin.

The other thing you have to be very careful of is minding your P’s and Q’s. When you select a letter it appears back to front. As you can see I made a mistake, can you spot it? Spelling was never my strong point; as for back to front spelling- no chance!


June Flowers.

From "An Illustrated Address Book"
My garden is looking more like a jungle at the moment; every possible place is crammed with plants, many of which are self-seeded varieties from the wild. I have Jacob's Ladder, Woodruff, Buttercups, Grandmother’s Bonnets, Poppies, Cranesbill and Dandelions - weeds to many but I like to think of them as welcome guests although I have to be a little bit ruthless when they threaten to take over too much space.

Jacob's Ladder growing in my garden

another wild and weedy corner

I think I prefer our native woodland plants to the highly cultivated specimens and have always enjoyed drawing them. I love learning about their common names and reading about their history, so when I saw a copy of “Woodland Plants” for sale, of course I had to buy it!

I adore the art of Robin Tanner and the writings of his wife Heather. Together they created several masterpieces; “Woodland Plants” was the result of forty years of observation and drawing. It is a celebration of the commonplace made remarkable by the design skills and technical ability of the artist. 

Each plant is reproduced to its actual life size, when you look at the illustrations you enter a timeless world. They never fail to inspire and delight, I particularly admire the many different tones he achieves with his pen and the detail he includes in the backgrounds.

 Whilst I was shopping I saw this Country Alphabet too and I couldn't just leave it there could I?
I love that pattern too, don't you?

June is a month of gardens and flower shows, on a recent visit to Manchester I was both delighted and pleasantly surprised to find that my little “Herb Garden” book was included in an exhibition called “Flower Show” at MMU. You can read a little about it here-


Trial and error.

A multitude of packages arriving on my doorstep recently, each one containing art materials. I decided it was high time to replenish my stocks and took the opportunity to try out some things new.

I loved working on a cool assortment or if you prefer "Couleurs Froides" pastel paper by Daler Rowney. I liked the way the paper takes coloured pencils and gouache and I managed to produce a little collection of images to give to my agent for the upcoming Surtex exhibition In New York. 

I needed to buy some new pens as my old ones were showing signs of wear, especially after dropping one of them on the floor nib first. I have been trying out making tiny patterns and hope to incorporate some of these in a new book illustration project- more of that to follow. These small scale patterns were inspired by calico quilts.

The new book project needed a new palette, the client wanted rich colours and so I spent a happy day mixing and matching colours to fit the brief. These paints are gouache which goes on nice and thick, like evaporated milk... do you remember "evap" or are you too young? Unlike watercolour, these paints are opaque but can be layered and stippled with a dry brush to give shaded effects. I hope to show you more soon.

I was fortunate enough to attend a wonderful Society of Bookbinders workshop by the most amazing teacher and bookbinder. Maureen Duke is highly respected the world over with a wealth of knowledge gained over a lifetime and it was a real privilege to be part of her class on "Cuir Cisele"- a method of decorating leather by cutting and stamping areas so that the pattern stands out in relief. We each made a miniature book and tried our hands at this ancient method of decoration. Maureen had made it easy for us by preparing the book block and pairing the leather and cutting the boards so we were able to complete the entire book in a one day session.

The design was first dawn onto thin paper and transferred onto the leather. A sharp pointed bone folder helped to outline the shapes and the little hammer was used to press the handmade tool into the dampened leather. The tool was no more than a very narrow tube of metal inside a wooden dowel, a simple but effective way to create a decorative effect. We also cut the design with a scalpel to create lines and later dyed the leather in order to enhance the design; the dye took to the impressions and made them more prominent. We also learned a little about the history of the technique which dates back to the 15the century. In later years it was replaced by gold tooling but I rather like the simplicity and humility of this method. It is certainly less daunting than gold tooling and one which a beginner could try. 

Of course my book turned out a little skew-wif, the corners were not quite square. I had trimmed the leather far too close to the corners and so on, nevertheless I learned so much and felt that I had gleaned enough knowledge to be able to make more books at home.

The weather has been tempting us outdoors, gardens are lush and overflowing with new growth. The lure of the outdoors proved irresistible and we decided to make an impromptu visit to Pembrokeshire in nearby Wales. It was so lovely to see the sea again and to hear the waves crashing on the beach. 

I won't bore you all with my myriad of holiday shots, needless to say I took my camera. I now have a fresh supply of coastal plant images for future reference. You never know when you might need them!

Walking in the fresh air and breathing in those salty breezes proved to be just the tonic we needed and we returned refreshed and inspired.