22 December, 2008

Appropriate Greetings . . .

. . . from a suitably frosty Wye Valley . . .

. . . and from old "Bah, Humbug!" himself . . .

and from Frances,
unusually in the place where Nicolas is traditionally hidden,
behind the camera!

07 December, 2008

Some excellent photographs and a crazed printer (digital!)

Earlier on we mentioned the fact that House and Garden wanted to do an article about us (in a series about people who do things or make things) and that we had been interviewed and photographed. The article was duly published (in the December issue, so it should still be in the shops) and we have heard from a nice lot of people who are new to all this and were interested to look on our website and choose stuff to buy. We also heard from a lot of already friends who had somehow seen the article and were spurred to say hello!

The photographer, Andrew Montgomery, had kindly said that, after the publication of the article, he would send us a disc of the photos saying that, with a few entirely understandable exceptions, we could do whatever we liked with them. Here, therefore, are the three main ones which we are very pleased to have.

I must however give one very strong caveat. If anyone out there starts to look not at the figures but at the 'things' lying around and whatever is happening on the press &c in order to learn how things are done at the OSP, please let them not waste their time!!

Andrew is a wonderful photographer but not much of a printer . . . more like a set designer in some costume drama for a film. When he saw clothes pegs hanging from the roof he wanted something hanging from them. Old discarded proofs from an earlier book looked colourful even though there is no circumstance under which they would be hung up like that! I will not continue but would simply say that almost nothing is as it should be. The image of me peering at a sheet that appears to be coming off the press looks really great BUT, I have never before been at that end of the press in my life and no printed paper would emerge from that end of the press and so on and so on . . . but, again, they are really lovely photographs and we thank him profoundly.

Now here's a funny thing . . .

I remember, as a boy, being fascinated when I was shown, in the National Gallery, the painting entitled The Ambassadors, and received an explanation of the curious object in front of the two gentlemen. On subsequent visits, I remember purposely going to the side of the painting and squinting at what, from there, was clearly a skull in elongated form. I cannot remember the theories as to why it had been included like that by the artist but I certainly enjoyed it when my knowing little act had the effect of causing others, young or old, to sidle round to see for themselves!

Why do I mention this now with a reproduction of the painting? Simply that, after inserting Andrew's disc in my computer, I sought to print out one of the photographs. All seemed to be going to plan until I started to see what was emerging from the printer . . .

I am not really interested in why or how this happened except that either computer or printer had clearly had some sort of seizure. I am however very intrigued to see my own head [I am not quite sure how easy it is to view a computer from the side but it is easier if you click the image bigger] appearing in exactly the same way as the skull in Mr Holbein's painting!


I decided to photograph this a few days ago - because the light suddenly struck me as good - but it has been standing under a cherry tree in our garden, giving pleasure to all, for a decade at least.

Frankly I have seen damaged sculptures of kouroi in the The British Museum and The Louvre with much less presence than this and I could kid you with tales of expensive dealers in illegal exports and/or digs at dead of night or even of famous British sculptors with a 'thing' about 5th century Athens . . .

. . . but I will come clean! We two were enjoying a rare holiday, all that time ago - in the Yorkshire Moors. I cannot recall exactly where but I remember we were told that from there, on a good day, you could see the sea off the east coast of England and the west at the same time. [Could that really be? Were we being taken for a bit of a ride?]

Anyway, we were quite high up and found ourselves on a hillside which was literally strewn (like bodies on a terrible battlefield that went on as far as the eye could see) with pieces of limestone pavement, presumably littered there by some glacier or another. [OK, so I am NOT a geologist!]

This was a remarkable enough sight but my eye was suddenly caught by one single piece of this rock. It was not particularly close but was propped up slightly by the fact that it lay on another so that the all-important line of its 'neck' was visible. I went to it, stood it upright and walked back. At that moment it HAD to come home with us.

Two points to make. Firstly, I had brought home pieces of rock from holidays practically all my life. Great hunks of serpentine from Cornwall, a large but beautifully broken 'pebble' from a beach in Ireland and various treasures from France, Greece etc.

The second point, and I hasten to make it, is that all this was before there were laws in this land designed to stop beautiful natural landscapes being denuded by insensitives with great lorries ripping up stone for sale in garden centres for suburbia's water-features. Yes, I put my hands up to thieving this piece from the nation but we did only take the one piece and I am sure that it has given more pleasure to our visitors here, quite apart from ourselves, than it would have given if it had lain all these years, anonymous among its millions of fellows!

We found a base (from our own land!) and pinned the one to the other and placed it under the cherry tree. Since then, I have been continually amazed at how satisfying a piece of sculpture it is. It is my experience that most pieces of 'found sculpture' may look wonderful from one angle but, from most others, just look like a hunks of rock. This one looks spectacularly good from pretty well all angles.

Anyway, that is enough of me going on about it. I will simply give a random sequence of the photographs I took the other day and I hope they will please and interest. It may be, of course, that you see the thing just as a random hunk of rock . . .

03 December, 2008

It's that time of year again!

. . . when Christmas Cards have to be produced!

Our first thought is whether there is anything suitable in the book that is 'on the press' or in preparation at the moment. [The Benjamin Britten A Christmas Sequence was so long in coming that it served for TWO Christmases!]

Thus it was logical to think in terms of Clive Hicks-Jenkins who has long been making studies towards a definitive style for our edition of Peter Shaffer's play EQUUS. These heads may or may not appear in the book as the style continues to develop. The images in the book, however, certainly won't have blue backgrounds!

This was my idea and (as I said to Clive in an email giving him a courtesy preview!) 'I enjoyed painting 400 unique little abstracts - just in the correct place on a large sheet. I reckoned it was fascinating how each of the heads changes character minutely depending on the background'.

Clive happily approved of what I had done and added "I like the way the brush strokes give a feeling of wind and movement in keeping with the mane-blown subject. And the colour too is perfect, turning the beast into a creature of the high air, as in Pegasus, as well perhaps as of watery depths, as personified by the Scottish Kelpie!"

Here, then are three cards, more or less at random. You can make up your own mind whether the horses change character or mood!

26 November, 2008

Lindsay Kemp

Way back in the seventies, I first became aware of the incomparable Lindsay Kemp and made sure that we saw every one of his shows that came within range. Flowers, Salome and A Midsummer Night's Dream . . . all magical.

The very first time we met his work was in a show of many small acts entitled The Turquoise Pantomime. We saw it at the old Tramshed in Woolwich.

In this one particular act, Kemp was discovered in a pool of light in the middle of the stage in a foetal or seedlike position. The Mozart Laudate Dominum began to be played - one of my most favourite pieces of music. As the piece developed, Kemp grew shoots and began to grow - taller and taller. His limbs became stronger and he gloried in his prime with the most wonderfully joyful movements of his arms and ecstatic glances all around. By slow degrees, though, his strength diminished and he began to shrink and crumble. Heartbreakingly, this process continued as his disease took hold until, as the final notes played, he was again lying lifeless on the floor. At that point, in the theatre, I was utterly moved and tears were pouring down my face.

I never saw the piece again but have remembered it all these years with complete clarity and have often told people about my experience. I never thought to see it again . . . but NOW . . . I find it on the wonderful YOUTUBE!

It is a seriously imperfect film and the music is all wavery but I am SO THRILLED to be able to see it.

09 November, 2008

Liebestod in Pembrokeshire

I've been playing around again . . . at what is becoming one of my favourite forms of relaxation, setting a video of some aspect of the natural world against one of my favourite pieces of music. Although I have chopped it around a bit for the purpose of this film, the 'raw material' started life as a single take of about 29 minutes, which was a bit tiring but remarkable to do.

I am aware that I am 'borrowing' this music without permission so, if I offend copyright in so doing, please let me know and I will take it down.

This actual recording, in the form of a little 45 rpm disc, was known by certain of my friends at University as Nicolas's Catharsis Music! It was used often, sometimes more than once a day, when student angst was upon me and it often did me much good. I think that the water would have helped!

[I put up this post some weeks ago but lowered it when I found the video totally unsatisfactory. It is better this time and that is all due, yet again, to patient help from Natalie d'Arbeloff.]

If you are interested in this little movie, you can play it, bigger and better, here.

08 November, 2008

Faces in the Trees

After what seems like weeks of grey, overcast and characterless weather, yesterday produced bright sun for a few hours. We had sorted ourselves out a little earlier than necessary to drive to Swansea so I thought I would rush for the camera to catch some Autumn colours.

After a bit of time, I became fascinated with just one tree. Yes, the colours were great . . . but I soon concentrated on photographing 'found faces'. I am interested to know whether everyone who looks at any of these images first (or only) sees part of a tree OR whether all or most first sees the 'face' that I have seen and 'drawn out' of the natural elements.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these as much as I have!

for Iulia, in Romania, whose Autumn colour photographs I have heard about and look forward to seeing.

. . . and that is the paper-bark maple tree where all these faces live! And, of course, I was only operating at the lowest 6 feet of the tree.

The sculpture, by the way is by Harry Brockway. Put his name into the 'search blog' box above to see his books with the OSP and other sculpture around the place!

Finally, putting aside the faces, here is one I rather like . . .

31 October, 2008

Our exciting new book . . . now in the main part of the website

For various reasons, it was not possible, until recently, for us to put details of this book on to our website along with all our other books. We are happy to say that it is now here, where the movie is much more convincing! Enquiries or ordering can be done through the website in the usual way.

A Christmas Sequence

chosen by Benjamin Britten from the Chester Miracle Cycle
with an Introduction by Dr Andrew Plant
images by Angela Lemaire

Fifty years ago Benjamin Britten wrote Noye’s Fludde – an opera-for-all telling the story of Noah’s Ark with the main characters taken by adult opera singers alongside children playing animals, involving instrumentalists at all levels of ability and including hymns for all present to join in with. It was a tremendously popular work and is still widely performed. In 1974 the head of Pimlico School in London, Kathleen Mitchell, asked Britten to write another such opera for performance at the school. The composer went to the same source, the Chester Miracle Cycle and selected scenes for a Christmas Sequence which would again afford opportunities for collaboration between professional musicians and schoolchildren. Sadly, the second draft of this libretto has remained only as a typescript in the Britten-Pears Library because the composer died before any music had been written.
Dr Andrew Plant, until recently Curator of the Library, warmed to our idea of the work coming to life as a book filled with images as evocative as the music would have been. He writes an introduction to establish the story and then Angela Lemaire has cut magnificent woodblocks which capture a splendid sense of the medieval play, its presentation by contemporary children and a mystical rendering of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.
The scenes included involve the Salutation – which introduce Gabriel, Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and midwives who arrive for the birth; The Shepherds; the Magi; Herod and the Innocents and the knights who carry out the orders to kill. The language is wonderfully down to earth and designed to entertain in the market places of medieval Chester and the surrounding towns and retains that power. The woodcuts dance through every page – 76 blocks were cut and printed in midnight black (which is slightly blue) weaving between the blocks of text, printed in seville black (slightly orange). The binding was inspired by the colours of medieval stained glass, green images on blue for the covers with a black leather spine as though leading on the window. A deep red cloth on the slipcase surrounds a large label printed on golden yellow paper.

380x290mm. 80pp. The paper is VĂ©lin Arches, the type is Truesdell. 76 woodcut images printed from the wood. Cased binding with black leather spine and boards covered in blue paper printed with woodcut images front and back in green. Slipcase covered in red cloth with a large label on yellow paper. ISBN-13: 978-0-907664-80-2 Main Edition limited to 195 copies, numbered and signed by the artist : £275

As with some of her other books with The Old Stile Press, Angela has hand-coloured ten copies for a special edition. This version is bound as the main edition but housed in a lined, drop-back box.
Special edition I-X, numbered & signed by the artist : £950

22 October, 2008

All power to the Carrying trade!

Especially if one lives in rural isolation, the Carrier supplies an incredibly valuable service. A few days ago one such van came to our door, at our request, and saw to it that a large parcel was delivered to a hotel in Edinburgh in double quick time. Some days later the same parcel was returned to us with the contents somewhat modified. We did not need to leave the house!

Staying in the Edinburgh hotel was Michael Onken, well-known already to readers of this blog as the artist whose relief blocks I have been printing rather manically of late to complete The Girl from the Sea, the play for voices by the late George Mackay Brown.

Michael had taken the opportunity to time one of his regular escapes from the United States to Orkney with our need for him to sign the edition and also the proof pulls of four of the engravings in the book which will be found alongside the book in the TEN copies of the Special Edition.

The final treasures in the parcel were also destined for the Special copies, being ten original paintings by the artist, in watercolour on handmade paper, each loosely based on a scene from the play or on one of the engravings in the book. These are really lovely things and I cannot resist posting three of them here . . . at random, which is how they will be received by their eventual owners, those who obtain one of the Special ten copies.

The photograph at the head of this post shows Michael at the most recent exhibition of his paintings in America.

14 October, 2008

Liebestod in Pembrokeshire

I've been playing around again . . . at what is becoming one of my favourite forms of relaxation, setting a video of some aspect of the natural world against one of my favourite pieces of music. Although I have chopped it around a bit for the purpose of this film, the 'raw material' started life as a single take of about 29 minutes, which was a bit tiring but remarkable to do.

I am aware that I am 'borrowing' this music without permission so, if I offend copyright in so doing, please let me know and I will take it down.

This actual recording, in the form of a little 45 rpm disc, was known by certain of my friends at University as Nicolas's Catharsis Music! It was used often, sometimes more than once a day, when student angst was upon me and it often did me much good. I think that the water would have helped!

Sorry! This went up but was such a feeble shadow of what it should have been, that I have taken it down . . . pending the time when I learn how to do it properly!

05 October, 2008

The Girl from the Sea

I spent this morning preparing and imposing three blocks, proofing and adjusting for evenness of printing surface, depth of ink and so on and, finally, printing a sheet from the actual edition. This is the fifth time that this sheet has gone through the press so I was keen that everything should go well.

My usual behaviour after reaching this point is simply to put a nice opera on the CD player and bash on with printing the whole edition. On this occasion I was so thrilled I thought I must get it on the Blog. Here, therefore, is the title spread, the spread with the Singer's Prologue to the play and a close-up of one of the 'selkie' blocks that take up pages before and after the play itself. On each occasion the image is by Michael Onken - soon to make a short trip from the US to his beloved Orkney, not least so that he can sign the copies in the UK!

I have a lot still to do but now the excitement mounts to see the finished book.

Just for the moment, though, I must haul myself down from this high and settle down to print the remaining 200+ sheets of this particular printing!

09 September, 2008

Things coming up!

The beginning of October has regularly been the time for Oak Knoll Books, (in New Castle, Delaware, USA) to host a Fest . . . for those of us who produce books to meet with librarians, collectors and local book lovers in the wonderfully relaxed early autumn sunshine to talk about, handle, admire and acquire the most recently produced books.

The bookshop itself has several floors of wonderful collections and it is open all weekend offering amazing discounts.

There are talks and discussions held in various parts of the historic town where William Penn first landed in America and, especially, there is a hall filled with tables each manned by one or more of the creators of the books on sale.

The Old Stile Press has travelled over there for many years now - and we always relish the opportunity to meet again those of our US collectors who visit and, each time, there are new people to whom books from the UK are unfamiliar. When I say The Old Stile Press . . . that usually means Frances since Nicolas does not take much pleasure in travelling and he would rather be at home printing another book! So this October F. will collect up some books - especially of course the newest (A Christmas Sequence - see photographs above) and we hope that it will create an excitement similar to that on this side of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, Nicolas will continue to print George Mackay Brown’s ‘play for voices’ - A Girl from the Sea. This progresses excitingly. The text is printed and now the woodblocks engraved and cut by Michael Onken in Carbondale, Illinois are creating the images of Orcadian life, seals on the shore line and a croft which gradually rings to the sound of children playing.

The December issue of House and Garden is using its specialist profile page to talk about The Old Stile Press. Jennifer Goulding has written enthusiastically about what we do and aspects of the printing office were beautifully photographed by Andrew Montgomery who makes it look wonderfully atmospheric and 'old world'! Andrew kindly said that we could use some of the photographs in blogs and such . . . so watch this space!

This photograph is of some proofs of the two-page article.

Jennifer Goulding thinks our books are ‘a delicious secret for the privileged few’. We would be very happy if a few more folk could be introduced to the delicious secret!

16 August, 2008

Text only for a change!

A few years ago I, in common no doubt with all other members of The Private Libraries Association, was asked by the Chairman to write a little piece about 'how they came to books and what are their feelings towards them'. I wrote a piece and sent it off. Some years later (the editorial tasks must have been horrendous!) the book, entitled a modest collection, was published. It is a handsome book and full of interesting stuff but I strongly suspect that each recipient of such a book checks with pride their own appearance in print and then puts the tome carefully on the shelf. I have certainly had no indication whatever that anyone at all has read my piece! It may well not find anyone interested here either but I put it up anyway, hoping that one or two may be amused.

I cannot remember a time before I loved books. As a child I hoped to be given books for Christmas and I would visit bookshops, especially second-hand ones, with excitement from an early age. I am ashamed to remember that, as a teenager at boarding school, I worked out a foolproof method of pilfering from my favourite warren of a bookshop. It involved visiting the shop dressed for tennis and carrying a racquet and box of balls. The clever thing was that there were no balls in the box. I think that I was much too scared a lad to have carried out the scam but I did emerge from that shop with many legally acquired treasures such as five leather-bound volumes of Pope’s Iliad which cost 15/- and how I can remember the smell and the thrill as I opened one of those romantic objects . . . books which had been made and actually handled by people living in the eighteenth century.
‘I cannot remember a time before I read books’. Had I started this piece thus, rather than as above, few might have noticed any difference but the fact is that the latter is as untrue as the former is true. I was, and remain, a very slow and unhappy reader. I simply cannot concentrate on the words. If I am trying to read for pleasure I soon nod off, even if I am not reading in bed. If I am reading because I have to, or need to, I find myself thinking about something else after a couple of sentences . . . just as I did in prep while trying to read the designated chapters about the Thirty Years War. It is the equivalent of the small boy in class who keeps looking out of the window and, indeed, I was that very child. So, if I did not devour pages of text, for study or stories, like the usual sort of bookworm, why did I like books so much?
The simple answer to this conundrum is . . . pictures. The best books of my childhood had gobbets of text on each page but these were surrounded by images in which I could be lost, worlds in which I could wander and in which I could be more alive than in the atmosphere of fear at school and of boredom at home. Actual illustrations (magical line drawings by Heath Robinson, John Minton and Mervyn Peake or summery lithographs from Curwen and other presses transferring drawings of Babar and Orlando to metal plates from grained plastic sheets, for example) were marvellous in themselves but my favourite books were those which used the double-spread like the stage of a theatre or the wide-angle viewfinder of a movie camera. Swirling vistas of imagery cover the page and the paragraphs of text sit safely surrounded by the scenes they describe. In some artists’ work it is the all-over tapestry of the treatment that is satisfying while in others (and these appealed more and more) the effects were achieved by artist and book designer with less rather than more. I would let my eyes wander round an expanse of land, sea and sky and suddenly realize that it consisted largely of white paper and the magic of an artist.
Pope’s Iliad wouldn’t have had many pictures in it, I hear you comment. No, but it did have glorious initial capitals and stretches of large italic type and ligatures and long Ss and all sorts of exciting ways of placing stuff on a page which, as a schoolboy, I found intriguing but did not understand (like sex) and certainly did not know that it was called typography.
For a time after becoming an educational publisher, I attempted to collect old schoolbooks but soon found that most of the Victorian period ones, which were available on the shelves, either had no pictures in them or were unimaginatively laid out with ‘improving’ engravings. Sadly, lovely ones from earlier times, which I had seen photographed in books, were fiendishly rare and expensive. Carefully locked away in glass-fronted bookcases, posh ‘limited editions’ are all preserved while books made for children are now rare, having been loved, scribbled or torn to pieces by the little monsters.
I soon began to concentrate on Illustrated Books Of the First Half of the Twentieth Century. There were the Pre-Raphaelite wood engravings, Beardsley, Laurence Housman and early Heath Robinson at one end and, crucially, at the other end, the wonderfully inventive post-war publications (so often from Houses run by European refugees) on war-economy paper with no margins and, if you were lucky, a dust-wrapper with another on the back, liberated from the over-long print run of some other title. The very best of these, for me, were those illustrated by the neo-romantic painters with whom I had been fascinated since exploring the various Cork Street galleries as a teenager. At that time I could not afford the paintings (lost time has been made up for to a certain extent now, I am happy to say!) but often the images by Keith Vaughan, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Edward Bawden et al in these volumes took the form of autographic lithographs and, thus, represented (and still do, of course) a wonderfully inexpensive way of acquiring original prints by my favourite artists.
In those early days, mine was an unfashionable area for collecting. In special cabinets, booksellers would prize Rackham and Dulac books but these, to me, were simply books of text pages with reproductions of paintings glued in. My quarry, with the help of my ‘shopping lists’, John Lewis’s The Twentieth Century Book and Rigby Graham’s PLA booklet, Romantic Book Illustration in England, 1943-1955, could be found anywhere and picked off the ‘ordinary’ shelves. I would spend an hour in a new shop and come out with a cardboard box full. This honeymoon period was not to last, of course, and I am happy that I did not let up while the going was so good.
I did lash out on some major treasures when funds allowed. When we moved out of London to our paradise in Wales, I was moved when the unrepeatable Alan Hancox sent a postcard to wish us well, saying that he was pleased that his copy of the Gill Four Gospels had ended up so close to Tintern Abbey!
Active collecting ended when we started to produce books of our own. The Old Stile Press had started when I was still a full-time publisher and developed over a number of half and half years before becoming all-consuming when I was able finally to bid farewell to London. Our pattern (almost from the beginning) of working with artist/printmakers on books in which image was as important as words and the design of the book as a completely integrated whole was foremost, has developed over the years. We are going strong, with an eager following among librarians and collectors across the world and, as I write, I have exciting projects being worked on by artists which will keep me busy hand-feeding sheet by sheet well into my dotage.
It is a happy and satisfying thought that, had that fifteen year old snuck into that bookshop, all those years ago, and found one of the books we are now producing, he might just have liked it enough to slip it into his empty tennis ball box!

19 July, 2008

Exhibition at The Art Shop and Gallery in Abergavenny

In this photograph, Frances is talking with Pauline Griffiths, the Proprietor of The Art Shop and Gallery in Abergavenny, who very kindly offered to mount an exhibition of our books (and some prints from them) which will be open until 23rd August 2008.

The Gallery is housed in a beautiful building, of considerable antiquity, in the main street of this pretty town which retains a rarely characterful shop front and deliciously low ceilings and wiggly staircases. Pauline has enhanced the Gallery's wonderful atmosphere with subtle and sensitive paintings of walls. We found that this lovely green colour, while making the whole room a work of art, seemed to enhance the look of every single one of our books!

Last evening we very much enjoyed the Private View at which we met a number of people who had not come upon our books before and expressed themselves amazed that such things were being produced in these times!

One lady said, of Natalie d'Arbeloff's Revelation, seen above, that she thought we should add a nought to the price - but, please, not until she had bought a copy for her herself and her husband!

The photographs below will speak for themselves. Anyone who happens to be near this part of South Wales during the next month should treat themselves to a visit to Abergavenny and pop in to see the show!