birch trees, japanese woodblock print

Japanese woodblock printing uses watercolour washes mixed with rice paste as a printing medium, and I have always want to learn more about it. I was delighted to have the opportunity to spend the day at a workshop led by the very talented printmaker and inspirational teacher, Laura Boswell.

Click on the link to see her website where there’s a gallery of her wonderful work and more about the printing techniques she uses.

using a sketch in my sketchbook as the basis for the print

using one of my sketches as the basis for the printing block*


using Japanese cutting tools on plywood to cut two printing blocks; foreground and background*

cutting detail

cutting detail*

watercolour painted onto the block, ready to print

thin watercolour washes painted onto a block, ready to print


further washes on the birch trees (left), and background (right), ready to print

Repeated registering and printing on dampened paper builds up colour and texture. Although the plate is a lot harder to carve than a linocut, the watercolour and rice paste are slightly adhesive, so printing by hand with a baren onto dampened paper is very straightforward. The results are very subtle.

the finished print

the finished print on lining paper

If you live in the UK, I highly recommend this workshop. Laura took 12 people who have never printed in this way before through designing, transferring, cutting multiple blocks, how to register the blocks accurately and multi-layered printing, all in 6 hours, as well as talking about the cultural context and her own working practice along the way.

AND everyone left the workshop with a finished print, brimful of ideas and inspiration.

*photos from Wolverhampton Embroiders Guild

catching up with the year: perthshire

Some more sketches from Scotland, this time in Perthshire. I stayed for some weeks in Dunning, about 10 miles from Perth. The village nestles against the north slopes of the Ochils with the mountainous highland line visible across the broad strath. The landscape is very varied and dotted with neolithic remains, standing stones, iron age hill-forts, Roman camps, ancient monasteries and castles. The capital of Pictland was at Forteviot, just a few miles distant. Dunsinane is prominent on the north-east horizon. There are also legends of a saint slaying a dragon.

I walked and walked in the rain, picking my way through mud and flood, through the dripping beech and oak forests, all with the resident sheepdog leading the way and sometimes the mad kitten. I was supposed to be looking after them, but it mostly felt like the other way round.

dragon house

dragon house, Dunning (watercolour)


fungus on treestump, dunnock hillfort (pen, ink, watercolour)


Pictish carved stone set in Norman arch under romanesque tower, St.Serf’s, Dunning (pen, ink, watercolour)


looking towards Dunisinane from Dunnock hillfort (pen, ink, watercolour)


St.Serf’s church and the village of Dunning, looking north towards the highland line (pen, ink, watercolour)

catching up with the year: angus

I spent a couple of months  in Scotland earlier this year; a combination of seeing family, house-sitting and catching up with old friends. I’ve been a long time away, over 30 years now, though I visit regularly, even if it’s just for a few days at a time. But it was great to have more time there than usual. Time to wander. It was the wettest summer on record, with wild skies, thumping winds, floods and roaring rivers. I had a border collie as company for part of my stay, so I bought a good pair of wellington boots and tramped about as much as I could, working on the theory that the more I moved, the less I would get wet.

I didn’t do as much sketching as I thought I would, but I did get a lot of fresh air.

Gagie Burn, Wellbank, Angus

Gagie Burn, Wellbank, Angus

This  is of a small water at the foot of my brother’s garden; much fuller than usual, and almost submerged in yellow buttercups and marsh marigolds, bright in the grey light. Sketching this, I had to have my hood up and scarf wrapped round my face because of the biting gnats and mosquitoes. Every so often a flock of martins would torpedo down the course of the stream, only a few inches above the water, gobbling them all up.

This is a pen and ink drawing with wax crayon resist and watercolour washes. If you look closely you can see where the rain splatted the paint about.

Whilst in the area, I spent three days at the DCA with a wonderful local artist printmaker, barbara robertson. Barbara linocuts using the reduction or suicide technique. She draws directly onto the lino (‘life’s too short to draw anything twice’) and registers the many subtle layers of ink by eye. Her work is magical, loaded with her own symbolism, wit, warmth and wisdom.

I used this sketch as the basis for my own reduction linocut print, enjoying the liberation of just getting stuck in and also the delicacy of colour in Barbara’s technique. The print is not finished yet. It’s already been through the press a few times with various yellow, greens and blue. I’d like to add another paler blue to the water, vary the mark-making more on the greens a bit and add in a complementary cool brown/ochre to the fenceposts. All this at home pressing the prints by hand… I need to wait for the return of the light I think.

work in progress: reduction linocut

work in progress: reduction linocut

catching up with the year: Lud’s Church

I’ve been offline most of this year but am now back connected.

In the spirit of the coming  turn of the year, I’ll try to catch up a little with the work I’ve been doing in my sketchbook.


Lud’s Church, Staffordshire

Lud’s Church is a striking natural chasm cutting through the the gritstone ridge of the Roaches in the Peak District National Park. It’s signposted and accessible via public footpaths but not easy to find. We came across it in spring when the trees were just beginning to leaf and the surface of the moors were covered in acid green mosses, bilberry bushes and white bog cotton. The chasm itself is narrow with sharp turns and steps, starting gently but then as the path descends sharply beneath high stacked walls and boulders, the air chills and thickens. The atmosphere is dark, still and eerie; all the more so for the glimpses of sky and the notes of remote birdsong in the heights. Named after the Celtic deity, Lud, legends of green men, folk heroes, refuge and worship have gathered round this place. It also has a strong case for being the location of the green chapel described in the anonymous medieval english poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’.

I fell in love with the poem when I first read it in the original at university. I’d recommend the Simon Armitage translation (2006); narrative drive combined with a deep commitment to the dialect and alliterative verse, combined with  a real understanding of the original work. Years later I spent many days rock-climbing with friends on the Roaches escarpment nearby, only recently coming across the connection.

This is a sketchbook drawing of the north entrance. I started drawing with a lamy fountain pen, then some watercolour washes. I like working with lamy ink as it’s water-soluble, washing into rich ochres and greys, perfect for the depths of colour in  the mudstone and gritstone rock. Conte crayon rubbed into the surface indicates the intensity and saturation of the spring greens.

I’d love to go back there and do a series of sketches from surface to chasm and back again. In fact it’s the kind of subject that could become a life’s work.