29 March, 2007

a day or two at the seaside . . .

We popped down to our favourite part of Pembrokeshire at the beginning of this week. Partly business of a sort but we did get down to the sea . . . and enjoyed some unexpectedly glorious sun. I really DO love just walking and looking but I cannot resist searching for treasures, sometimes actual stones, shells or ROCKS if I am not restrained, but increasingly with a camera. The following glories were all captured within a range of about 100 feet. Maybe more to come!

24 March, 2007

p.s. to the flood

Knowing, as I do, that half the world is agog to discover every feature and happening of 'our' river, I felt that I must waste a moment of your time with the following!

This photograph, and the one below, have little point without my stating 1: this dead tree is so heavy that Frances and I together cannot move it, 2: it was brought here and plonked down just where it is . . . by the flood water, 3: talking of water, the river when I took this photo was showing how it normally is at a lowish point of the tide.

Given that a tree of this weight would need quite a depth of water to float in freely, I reckon it must have been between five and six metres higher than it was for the photos.

There, I said you'd be interested!

15 March, 2007

In the Printing Office . . .

. . . things are beginning to bubble up nicely! At the beginning of work on any book it seems that weeks if not months of solid work go by and nothing seems to have been achieved. I print text on one side of a sheet but I know that that sheet must have text on the other side and then two (or sometimes four or six) further printings of blocks before that sheet is finished.

With the sheet in this photograph, I have at last reached that point. There is already text and imagery on the other side so, after these final images have dried, the sheet will be ready to be guillotined and then folded and collated with the other signatures to form the final book. When this point is reached, each day is likely to produce another sheet ready to be passed over to Frances for these final rites - including, we hope, the weeding out of any sheet that has acquired somehow an inky fingermark from the printer, although I rather think that these should be charged extra for!

This book is the wonderfully erotic poem, Black Marigolds, translated by E. Powys Mathers from the Sanskrit. The images are by Glenys Cour whose work for Vernon Watkins' Taliesin and the Mockers has been so much admired. The technique (although subject matter and format of book give a quite different feel this time) is the same as in the earlier book . . . collages of black and white paper and white paper given a patterning in black by such techniques as monotype, stippling and so on. In the photograph above, Glenys' original collage is on the right while my printing is on the left, with a verse of the poem. The gold-coloured thing above is the photo-polymer block which I made from the original and with which I printed my version.

While taking these photos, I suddenly thought that I would give to the world an uncensored view of the environment in which I work! At the start of a new book-building project I do start off with a clear table and most things 'put away'. As the process continues, tools and other things are laid out and must fall under the hand when needed again. I am sure it will be clear to all that everything in these photographs is exactly where it should be and any misguided tidying-up would be completely disastrous.

I have sometimes been shown into printing offices which look more like operating theatres or smart Show Houses than anything I would recognize as a place I could inhabit for many hours each day. In fact such places really give me the willies!

In the background of this other photograph (below) is my guillotine - made at the turn of the (previous!) century and still going perfectly. All it needs is a really sharp blade and a strongish arm to turn the handle. It is, incidentally, totally without safely features of any kind. 'Health and Safety' addicts would get the vapours just to look at it! If I, alone, use it then that is legally OK. If anyone else was to use it, however, I could be had up immediately. Hence (as all my other machinery is of similar vintage and degree of lethality) we can allow no assistants, students or helpers of any other sort.

If cars 'run' on petrol and sheep on grass, I 'run' on music! My cordless headphones are on all the time and there is always a CD somewhere that will answer my mood!

Back, finally, to the work in hand . . . an opportunity to compare more closely the original against what the process-camera 'saw' and what the block made of it.

13 March, 2007

Harry Brockway: Sculptor & Wood Engraver

As a recent visit here allowed me to take a photograph of our long-standing friend, Harry Brockway, I thought I would embarrass him by putting up a selection of lovely things that he has done for and with us over the years.

When you see examples of his work in his two media side by side, the style and particular character of the artist is clearly present in both and is of the same order . . . and yet some people appear surprised that the engraver is also a sculptor and vice versa.

There are, happily for us, 'signs of Harry' all around us. As you enter our domain, it is Harry who confirms that you have reached the right place. Below this elegant letter-cutting there is also our press-mark carved but the undergrowth seems to have taken it over!

When this fountain 'mask' was being thought about, I felt it would be fun if it could be seen as a combination between a 'green man' and one of those winged putti who pout their lips to blow winds from appropriate directions on ancient maps. Harry got the idea perfectly and a good number of years have given a wonderfully ancient and, yes, romantic feel!

The deliciously carved figure below is an early work and it has been with us decades. It is a full-length figure though less than life size. The dress is simply the wood painted white.

You may be able to see, incidentally, tucked between the uplifted arm and her cheek, a small tube like object. This has nothing to do with Harry but has a rather enchanting history. Many years ago Matilda (then about 10), the daughter of Sara Philpott (but that's a whole different story! See here and here ), came with her family to spend a summer day with us. We heard later that she had been a bit shy to say to us how much she had enjoyed the time so she took a piece of 'paper' from a paper-bark maple in the garden, wrote a sweet note on it and slipped it into the safekeeping of Harry's figure. It is, of course, still there carefully preserved in its niche!

The Lad Philisides
has always been a special favourite of mine. In the planning stages, we looked together at wood engravings and etchings by Blake, Samuel Palmer and, particularly, Edward Calvert and also some of the contemporary and near contemporary followers, such as Robin Tanner, Paul Drury and my favourite neo-romantic painters. How well Harry got into the spirit of these artists when it came to these poems by Sir Philip Sidney.

There are, I think, just two or three copies of this delicious book left - though I have to confess that I am staggered that they have survived thus far!

Harry's second book with us, Faithful John was much later and there are also copies of this remaining - even some of the Special Edition, I believe. His treatment of this powerful and resonant fairy-tale continues to amaze me for its technique as for its content. Not everyone knows that we started with the 'challenge' of him designing and engraving (and me incorporating into a page design) these bizarrely shaped blocks which in fact remained to him after stock-sized blocks had been cut down to size for one of Harry's many commissions by the Folio Society. Constraints always make for excitement.

We are in the process of trying to plan another project together. I cannot wait!

06 March, 2007

It's been raining a bit in Wales . . .

. . . so we're a little flooded. Happens each year (more with global warming, no doubt!) and does not matter to us for the good old builders of our house built it safely up the side of the valley rather than in the flood plain which seems to have been the fashion among imbecile planners in the UK for many a year.

It is quite dramatic, though. What those of you who have not yet come to visit us and seen the Wye in its detumescent state, as it were, have to realize is that the trees you can see in both of these photos - the ones which are sticking up out of the water - these are all on OUR side of the river.

The strange terracotta colour of the water is also absolutely genuine. The river has a normal colour at normal times but lots of rain brings mud from the fields of Gloucestershire into the river Lugg (how anglo-saxon can you get!) which is a tributary of the Wye and thence past us and into the sea at Chepstow.

There is no reason whatever for posting all this. I do it simply because I am taking the greatest delight in being able to! The fact that I can take some photos this morning, fiddle a bit on the computer and then friendly blog-followers in Orkney (hello Norman!) or Australia (hello Guy!), or wherever, can know precise, if totally unimportant, details about our lives as if they lived next door . . . is just fun and friendly and generally life-enhancing!