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.