Monday, 19 January 2009


Last Thursday I started a printing course, one evening a week, at Leeds College of Art. Our first week was spent monoprinting: for anyone who doesn't know, this involves inking up a sheet and then making designs by painting on inks, masking off shapes or areas or scratching in lines, wiping out areas and so on. The advantage is it doesn't involve lots of dangerous equipment and is very easy to do - especially for beginners (apart from some roller printing and lino printing I've not really printed before); the disadvantage is you can't print multiple images - hence the "mono".

Our first exercise was to ink up a piece of plastic, then place cut-out shape or shapes on top and print the result:

- not the most sophisticated shapes in the world, but this was designed to be a play session: I can be more seriously creative when I've learned the basics.

You can then re-ink the plastic and turn the shapes over to get a print of one shape on top of the other: you have to work at speed for this, before the ink dries on your mask - I was slower than I should have been, which resulted in a misty-looking print:

In the next one I used the end of a paintbrush to scribble lines in the ink, as well as blotting with scrim (there are also some fingerprints where I forgot and held it):

One of the things I really got into was layering the ink on the plastic in different ways - curved lines, varying the pressure, using the edge of the roller to get narrow lines and so on - the following print is from the basic inked up plate:

You'd never guess I'm into a woodland theme at the moment, would you?

The last two involve masking off, this time with torn rather than cut paper; this gives a softer, subtler effect:

-though the effect is subtler than I intended - forgot again to add more ink before inking up the roller, but it does give some very subtle colours, which become even more subtle when the strips are turned over on the re-inked plastic:
This week it's drypoint which means we have to take a line-drawing to use, so off to practice my drawing skills. I also have some other prints which are waiting in the drying-rack.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Keeping Going

At last I seem to have got through my midwinter doldrums. I'm working on several things - so far so good - and I'm back at art school, having added on a printing course of which more in a later post. I also have the mammoth task ahead of decluttering the house and preparing it for sale in order to downsize, hopefully to large studio with living accommodation and space for cats, if such a place exists!
I'm also getting more motivated to continue with The Artist's Way. The next week which deals with issues such as anger, criticism and growth seems to be just what I need at the moment, having been dogged by self-doubt recently; I am ready to turn things round and look at life more positively.
Thanks to "Brenda from the Boro" for the comment on my last posting! Comments like this help enormously.
Finally (it's getting late and I need to get ready for bed), the photo above is the view from bedroom window at my brother's house - just to prove I wasn't exaggerating about living in the woods!

Sunday, 11 January 2009

the artists way

At the beginning of this month I joined up with Marie - and Judy - - in agreeing to work our way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, a book I bought two years ago, intending to work my way through it. I did work through a few chapters and found it useful despite my initial reservations about its manner and philosophy (summed up in its subtitle - A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity) - I'm basically a down-to-earth practical person so I tend to miss a lot in veering away from the high-flown stuff. Maybe it's time to put that right.

So far I've been going for one week and so far I've learnt that it's not the end of the world if I don't do everything 100% all the time. Last time I worked through Chapter One, a whole lot of rather surprising feelings from the past surfaced, which I worked my way through. This week has been an odd week - difficult to concentrate on much else but keeping warm - and I don't think I've been as thorough as the last time. One of the features of the course is the morning pages - free writing for about half an hour at the beginning of the day. This week I managed this for only five out of seven days, though on one of those - today - I foud myself writing for more than an hour, working my way through something I hadn't resolved last time - the whole idea of people wanting you to be different from the way you are and so on (I'm sure most people will be familiar with this so I won't say more - anyway I don't really feel like spouting my innermost thoughts and feelings in public). This bit I really did find useful and today has been a useful reminder of the value of doing the morning pages consistently - any yes I do find it useful to do them near the beginning of the day.

One of the other features is the Artists Date - the idea of taking a piece of time out of your week to do something different to foster your creativity. This is something I'm not very good at so it will become a priority in the next week. This week the nearest I got was going into town to spend my Christmas tokens - token-givers were very generous this year and I got:

Reef - a book and DVD of inspirational photographs by Scubazoo;

RSPB Visual Guide to the Wildlife of Britain

The Drawing Book by Sarah Simblett -more than just a how-to guide, it has a wonderfully varied selection of interesting drawings by a vast range of artists

ArtEffects by Jean Drysdale Gree - an amazing collection of different techniques using conventional and unconventional materials

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale - an account of a real-life murder mystery in nineteenth century England - I really enjoyed this one and found the accounts of the methods of early police detection fascinating

When Will There Be Good News, the latest book by Kate Atkinson, one of my favourite authors

A pretty good haul I think!

Overall the effect of the first week has left more willing to commit more time and energy to the overall process - though this week art college starts again - including the printing course I am starting this term and I really do have to turn some of my thoughts and energies towards getting the house ready to sell later in the year (stage one decluttering)

And just so you have pictures - a collage of "likes" to put me in a positive mood for this coming week. This fits with my word for the year which is STEPS - enjoying walking, reminding myself to do things a step at a time, keeping going and enjoying and relishing every step of the way!
And finally, a further comment on the weather at the moment:

Monday, 5 January 2009

There and Back Again

Many thanks for the complimentary comments on the Wytham Woods photographs: it is very photogenic woodland so it wasn't difficult to get interesting ones.

For the third and last visit to Wytham Woods I am going to take you with me on one of my walks. First is a mile and a quarter stretch of uphill which will at least warm you up in this freezing weather. The track on either side is bordered by a band of trees on either side with farmland beyond, reaching a kissing gate with - on this particular morning - a rather hazy view of the "dreaming spires" of Oxford.

Here a pause to catch our breath and answer Julie's question. Tolkien would have known Wytham Woods, though I have been told that the Old Forest is in fact based on somewhere else, so it's difficult to know how much he was influenced by them. I first read The Lord of the Rings after we moved there and found the woodland described in the book very familiar indeed!

Through the kissing-gate at the top of the lane, bear left and you enter the are known variously as (to me) the top road, (to locals) the Gallop and (on the Wytham Woods official map) the Singing Way. Here we find a startling sight - felled logs. Timber is cut from these trees from time to time and moved to the roadside by horse-power, one horse at a time to minimise damage to the forest floor.

We can pause here for a rest, and look at the amazing shapes of the stacked logs ...

and the strange shapes and colours of the fungi on them:

Now the walk becomes a nice level trudge along a good path (soft underfoot providing you walk on the middle bit) to the sound of bridsong. There's all sorts of wildlife all around us but the things that can move are hiding (and I'm not sure I really want to investigate what's under those logs)

This is where many of the weird-shaped branches and weird-shaped trees come from.

Aren't the colours wonderful?
Near here we meet a track which points down to the car-park which is why there are more humans than in the earlier bit.
Continue for some distance past a memorial stone to Hazel ffennell, who sadly died young and whose father gifted the woods to the university in 1943, and then turn down another track, where you come across a rather fanciful-looking building:

This is known as the chalet: when I lived in the woods, the Warden lived here; now Wytham Woods has a Conservator (probably a more accurate title and probably posher) but I don't think he lives here - I could be wrong!
From here we take a real road downhill (we've walked a long way already, need to get back and therefore must leave Wytham Great Woods for another day) to where there was once a working sawmill, and follow the path along a wondrously idyllic-looking green field full of sheep with Wythan Abbey in the distance:

And from there, back along the Gallop through swarms of runners who have a habit of appearing suddenly - the really fit ones give you a breezy hullo as they pass - to the top of the land.
Looking over a fence, we see the path through Rivendell (see yesterday's photograph) so sunshiny and lush with mosses and spngy turf we can't resist, so on we walk along it, not minding that it's taking us in another direction from where we want to be: I know these woods and know we'll get to a turning that leads onto the bottom track and this area has always been magical for me.
And then onto the track: when I lived here there used to be a house called Marley Lodge at this point, but now it's gone and there's no trace: it was fairly primitive, had no foundations, and was demolished when the last occupants left.
More interesting bits of tree along the bottom track which would be even more idyllic if you couldn't hear the A34 which runs close by:

And home to warmth and food!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Where fairytales are born...

More Wytham Woods photographs today (further ones to come - I took a lot!). Idaho Beauty commented that my previous pictures made you see where fairytales came from and I must admit that Wytham Woods make me think of books such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well as a whole series of myths, legends and folktales.

Trees have always seemed to me like characters in their own right, usually benign but occasionally scary - I remember one day, when I was about eighteen, when I'd walked further than I intended and was still in the woods, on my own, as it began to get dark and began to feel as if the trees were alive and I was an intruder into a different world ...

Different times of day and differences in light make the woods change mood and colour...

and there are magical places, like these, where the water has been culverted so as not to drain the path...

or in the broad rides, soft underfoot, mossy, and often full of dappled light like the path below which on the sunday after Christmas reminded me of Rivendell - it is so easy to imagine elves just out of eyeshot watching your every move...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Meetings with Interesting Trees

My brother lives at the edge of Wytham Woods, owned by Oxford University and used for research projects. Unlike most managed woodland it is for the most part left to develop naturally: many areas qualify as "ancient woodland" where the undergrowth hasn't been cleared. Mostly oak hazel and beech, with additions like the ivy which wraps itself round the tree below:

Trees here are allowed to split, droop, fall apart, decay and above all grow unrestricted:

I spent a number of happy hours this holiday re-exploring the woods where I grew up (and discovering that I was fit enough to walk for miles and miles without getting tired, which was also a bonus!)

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Looking forward, looking back...

Happy New Year! A time to reassessthe past and plan ahead.

Sometimes we forget to tell ourselves about the good things we did. So apologies while I start by congratulating myself for:
  • finally signing up for art classes
  • entering quilts in a show and recognising that although I was not especially happy with the work I produced I could learn a lot from the experience
  • beginning to find a sense of direction in my artwork
  • managing to get the routines of life under control
  • discovering how much pleasure I can have from making things for other people - like the quilt which I did, in the end, give to Kelvin and Gill, my brother and sister-in-law - here it is in their red bedroom:

Now for 2009: I don't propose to make resolutions. Instead I have decided on fairly specific goals. Here are the five most important:

  • I will complete a quilt for the Art Quilts section at Festival of Quilts: it will be finished well before the deadline so that I don't ruin it by rushing to finish;
  • by June/July I will declutter my home and redecorate as needed, ready for sale;
  • I will complete at least three drawings a week for the first three months of this year; after that I will review and decide what comes next;
  • having established that I am fitter then I deserve to be, given the way I've neglected my physical wellbeing, I will go for a medium to long walk at least once a week (minimum five miles);
  • I will update my blog at least once a week.

So here's to 2009