Friday, 2 March 2018

Three weeks to go to Oxford Fine Press Book Fair....

Only 3 weeks to go and I should be promoting the Fine Press Book Association fair at the Kassam Stadium Oxford, 24/25th March, but I can never stop printing long enough in my basement to enter the upstairs world of my computer…
I just had to check my catalogue entry – and it sounds rather scatty but it was just the tip of the iceberg of my thoughts when I wrote it in haste facing a large pile of woodcut blocks and texts before starting printing over two months ago.
I will elaborate here....with some roughs of a few of the images.....

These books I am printing are trying to combine being painted and printed; I always print like a painter anyway – the blocks are just another way of getting colour and image onto the paper – and each book, of a very small edition ( 7? 9? ) will be slightly different.
I want it to be quite rough and immediate, not pretty at all – I am not sure my skills stretch to tragedy so rough and raw will have to do….

James’ poem has reverted back to its original title – The Untenanted Room, after a brief sojourn as The Ruin – lucky for him I hadn’t cut the title page until very recently…

The text flickers between current events and concerns, structured around the medieval story of Perceval, The Holy Fool, and yes – The Ruin. I am trying to mirror the metaphors of the writing with the way I print – shreds of allusions and references in the imagery, cut shapes. Fragmented printing styles. The covers, if I ever get them dry in time, are trying to gather up and meld some of the whirling detritus of the world, both natural and man made – and compact it into a surface; I did this once for a unique volume, The Artists Book, done for a Millennium exhibition in 2000, which is now in the USA and I never took a photo of the cover, so it is an idea revisited from memory nearly two decades on.

‘Current events and concerns’ are the perennial ones – man’s inhumanity to man and the continual degradation of the planet. The first image is of an unspecified bombed building, in the Middle East maybe; later bodies hang like meat from the trees, the woodcuts try to flicker like TV screens, dead birds are strung up, trees look blasted. But art ultimately makes things look aesthetic, cosy: I try to be raw but pages inevitably become cooked – our conscience and consciousness makes things acceptable so that we can carry on. I hope this is an angry book all the same..

Alongside will be our smaller, quieter book – Some Light Remains.

See you there hopefully.......

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Oxford Fine Press Book Association Fair

Old Year, New Year - a catch up on news. the FPBA fair, postponed after the newly refurbished Oxford Brookes university hall where we normally have our stands proved too small now to accommodate us all; we are now moving to the Kassam Stadium, ten minutes from the city centre and home of Oxford's football club! it provides space and easy parking with a Holiday Inn on site, so hopefully some practical considerations will make up for the at first glance rather bleak surroundings - once inside you will be surrounded by a wonderful world of hand-made books.

The fair is 24th and 25th March 2018.

 This year I will be bringing Some Light Remains, another poetry volume with James Simpson , same size and a sister volume to The Rhyme of the Reddleman’s Daughter which I showed in 2015, poems printed from Metallic Elephant metal plate and 7 colour woodcuts plus a frontispiece- see images in previous posts.

Also a very large new book, which is almost a sister volume to my very first book Gawain done in 1997, and based on the Perceval story and the medieval poem of The Ruin. This began as the Untenanted Room, a long poem by James Simpson which was published as an Agenda Editions special  edition a few years ago.
It has taken us a long time to re-model and conceive it in this new format, the complete text cut in wood as I did with sections of David Harsent’s poem cycle Gawain.
I am using A3 and A2 woodblocks, which will give you some idea of the size – which fits Khadi papers cotton rag paper with its lovely uneven edges. It needs to be big so you can be completely immersed in the story, and so that the images don’t become ‘pretty’ in any way – and to show the monumentality of the text. If Some Light Remains was a peaceful contemplative book this one is much angrier and reflects our times I fear.

It is currently still a huge pile of cut blocks, some of which are illustrated here, almost ready for printing and the time of reckoning: watch this space for more images as they emerge.

I have been cutting all over Christmas, after another brief sojourn in Bristol, where I finally found my way to Birdcage Walk on a lovely crisp day and thought sadly of Helen Dunmore.
I just managed to catch the last week of the Grayson Perry exhibition at the beautiful Arnolfini – it looked really good in this setting, packed with enthusiastic visitors. I always love his ideas and this time particularly really loved all the artworks too.

I also caught up with my daughter’s project Making Books in Bristol which was exhibited next to the West of England Academy as part of the Centre for Material Texts which she runs as an academic at Bristol University. It was a very inclusive and interesting display to which people contributed from a variety of skills and interests.

It included a photo of Nick Hand of the Letterpress Collective in Bristol with his printing byke. I saw this project as a crowdfunding suggestion by chance a few years ago and couldn’t resist contributing – the idea of cycling to Mainz, in Germany, home of Gutenburg, on a bicycle with an integral printing press, printing and sending postcards along the way was irresistible. He has since given Peter and I a good tour of his workshop.

It is hard to give a good impression of the exhibition with low resolution images but I hope it gives some idea –book artist Angie Butler made a definitive volume pulling all the ideas together, including everyone’s contributions in an often very witty way. I hope you can read some of the lables if you click on the images to enlarge them. or for much clearer pictures and more information google 

The good recent news about the Bodleian book project I was involved with ( see posting below) is that it is now going on to Bristol and will be exhibited at UWE curated by Sarah Bodman and showing all the books involved this time, starting in June I think – watch this space.

There's a few days left to visit the Outside In exhibition at Sotheby's in Bond Street - begun at Pallant House and now an independent institution this project is really worth supporting - find out about it and see some really inspiring artwork until the 19th I think.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

London Magazine winter front cover; and the British Library exhibition and more

In haste, so not a brilliant picture but here is the cover of the December/January issue with my image from Some Light Remains  - and James' new Christmas carol poem is inside.....
Christmas cheer from the London Magazine......
and talking of London - we really enjoyed the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library yesterday - something for everyone, really beautifully displayed as usual, and some really beautiful old books and the fabulous Ripley Scroll, over 6 meters long - alchemical hand-painted diagram  from the 17th century in Britain, really gorgeous; lots of exciting objects from the excellent Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle too.

More beautiful painted diagrams too in the Wellcome Institute Galleries Ayurvedic Man display too about Indian and wonderful, the Wellcome always a good place to visit....

Attending the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets dinner and presentation was really interesting  and enjoyable in the evening - many thanks to the British Library for this invitation,.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Guest Blogger for British Library Poetry blog

My post has just gone live at

Workshops, Websites and belly-worms was a hard act to follow......but I am very honoured to have been invited....

Meanwhile - just back from the Bodleian show PV yesterday, now open from today....
with an exciting display in the glass case of contemporary work in the entrance hall of the Weston Library; the exhibition of medieval books is a stunning and interesting collection; it is open now until 22 April 2018 - well worth a visit

Sue Doggatt won the first prize - her book is right in the middle of the picture

and Paul Johnson, who was teaching bookbinding at the course at Schumacher College where James Simpson and I first met, won third with his wonderful rendering of the tale of the Wife of Bath shown above.
The  view across towards the Bodleian Library looked pretty good too.....

What a week - the Women in Print Symposium in Sheffield was a joy; six talks centred around Love and Friendship alongside the Rav&Co exhibition at the Millenium Gallery it was inspiring and uplifting, lovely fellow speakers and a real sharing of research and ideas.
Women discussed included Peggy Angus and Tirzah Garwood, Enid Marx and Barron and Larcher, Ethel Mairet and Hilary Bourne, and Mary Hope Greg.
Sheffield looked lovely and was very welcoming - some wonderful artworks in the Graves nearby, there is a Ruskin room in the new Millenium Gallery, a Christmas market and bright golden angels in the lovely wooden cathedral roof with a green man and a sheila-na-gig; still a handsome city.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Nov 24th - Rav&Co in Sheffield and the Women in Print Symposium

See my September 17 post for details or the Millennium Gallery Sheffield  website.

The week after that - from 1st December - is the Bodleian exhibition - my book will only be on show in a digital format but here are some pics trying to show how it opens out as promised.....

The Wise Woman’s Girdle Book

The asymmetry, irregularity and organic materials of medieval books always inspire my own contemporary aesthetic but a few things sprang out from the books shown to us – new variations of folded papers, the sewing up of holes in the vellum, the ‘veiling device’.

I immediately wanted to make a very female book to hang on a girdle, which would include cosmography and zodiac references, and alchemical, herbal and temporal devices and iconography, for lunar and menstrual cycles rather than the liturgical year.

I then later read about the Voynich manuscript in the LRB*[1] and found that what I had started to imagine possibly already existed; with its coded text and intimations of women’s affairs - the LRB hinted at possible …’heretical descriptions of female contraception or abortion…’ – unsurprisingly, someone in the 16thc had got there before me.
However I decided to proceed with my own version, and meet the Voynich MS head on.

 As the LRB revue pointed out, ‘…studying the (Voynich) MS in the hope of unlocking its secrets is to miss the point ‘… there are ideas embedded in my book but the main idea is to enjoy playing with parallel worlds.

[1] July 27 2017

Friday, 27 October 2017

Designing Graphics on the Medieval Page/ Designing English - Bodleian Library

Today I received a beautiful invitation to the PV of the Bodleian Library's new exhibition starting on December 1st ....see my post earlier in the year when I went to a workshop looking at medieval hand-written books. The book I subsequently made has been shortlisted and chosen to be included - hopefully exhibited in the flesh if not digitally, I think the display arrangements may still being finalised...
My post for March 24th under BABE Arnolfini has images from the Bodleian study day and other details - I should have given it its own heading....( it has been a busy year )
and see the images below for the exhibition details or look up on the Bodleian Library's own site...

[revisit the post Women in Print  -20th september post - as well for details of the symposium/study day in Sheffield accompanying the Rav&Co exhibition...coming up soon - 24th November]

Here is a taster of my piece, called
The Wise Woman's Girdle Book 
maybe I will post images of it opened up nearer the time - it is very small when closed up and lives in a little soft leather bag that can be worn on a belt....opens up in various positions to a large spread...

Designing English
1 December 2017 — 22 April 2018
ST Lee Gallery, Weston Library (Map)
Weston Library Information desk 01865 277094

Graphics on the medieval page

This exhibition will illustrate the graphic design of handwritten
manuscripts and inscriptions for the first thousand years of
English, across the Middle Ages.
Showcasing the Bodleian Library's rich holdings of medieval
manuscripts in English, ranging from Old English picture books
or notes scratched into herbals, through fragments of medieval
songs scribbled on spare pages, to masterpieces framed with
illustrations and gold, or new page designs for practical tasks,
such as manuals for handling swans. It will cover the experiences
of both the makers and the users of writing: how craftspeople
planned and made books, and how readers responded to their
To show the likeness to modern craft, Designing English will be
shown for the first two months alongside
Redesigning the medieval book:
a display of contemporary book arts inspired by the exhibition,
through a workshop and competition.
We asked over a hundred contemporary book artists to redesign
the medieval book - the best of these will be on display in
Blackwell Hall and three winning entries will be announced.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ink Paper Print - after the fair

I think it can be said it was a resounding success - over 1800 visitors were recorded coming through the doors and it certainly felt extremely busy from a minute to 11am until closing time ; there were four really good talks ( by James Russell, Jonny Hannah, Alan Powers and Emma Mason ) on offer in the new auditorium at Towner and lots of people made a day of it. Hopefully it might be a regular fixture. The weather and the trains ( more or less for a sunday) were kind and there was a really lovely atmosphere and buzz and some excellent things tucked away on the stands - it was just a question of getting near enough to let the dog see the rabbit.

I was very happy to buy a small but exquisite little watercolour of a decorated elephant by Denise Hoyle, one of the Bardfield painters, from the stand next to me - not much time to browse further afield as a continuous stream of lovely customers and old and new friends passing by.  Kind patrons not only purchased but brought me presents, both comestible and literary. Bought some lovely Harold  Jones wood engraving Christmas cards from Judd Street Papers; there is always good stuff on Neil Jennings Fine Art, and Emma Mason, lovely goodies on Design for Today, and just managed to to get a good look at the last minute at some fascinating watercolours by Kathleen Hale ( better known as the Orlando the Marmalade cat lady - but also a very good artist before, and after, the cat took over ) on the Michael Parkin Fine Art stand at very reasonable prices. I've been writing about Kathleen in my book about Women Painters but you'll have to wait another year to read it...

A copy of my new book Some Light Remains has gone off to the British Library so you can ask to see that in due course...thank you to them...

Conversations with visitors are always interesting and a couple told me they had recently managed to buy one of my very early ( 1976 ) woodcuts printed Japanese style with rice paste and pigment, The Tree of Life in a Lewes flea market. It would be interesting to know its history of how it got there - at least it didn't go in the bin! and is now very well loved, carefully restored and remounted and hangs over their bed. I was very touched by this story; they had looked me up online and come to introduce themselves; sobering to know I really exist out there; and really lovely to talk to them. I wonder where all my other paintings and prints over the years travel around and end up, how many survive .....

I just remembered to take a pic of my stand at the very last minute (when no-one in front of it) - so it looks a bit rumpled! ( not to say blurry in low res - a bit how I felt by 4.30) I didn't have time to take a picture of the wonderful Jonny Hannah and Sharon driving away in their Cakes and Ale Press painted taxi which had been parked outside the gallery all through the show - I had my hands full of bags and managed a wave but not a pic....

next time....
here's to it - many thanks Joe Pearson Design for Today and Tim Mainstone...and Towner, for a fun day....