"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Friday, 5 February 2016

For Goodness' Sake Girl…Just Get Started!

The time has come to get going. After a slightly longer than anticipated break  I'm beginning the research, notes, roughs plans, and trials for my MA dissertation and the major project. Time slips by so very quickly and I have just 7 months left.

The Hortus Project
So what am I going to do? For the dissertation I am not sure but the major project has been triggered by a visit last year to the Hortus in Amsterdam, a garden started in 1635 initially as an educational medicinal garden to train apothecaries and doctors and aid them in their efforts to improve the health of 17th Century Amsterdam's growing population.
The 17th century Dutch Republic was in the forefront of trade, exploration, science and art. It was also a busy and exciting time for doctors, surgeons and of course the accompanying herbalists and apothecaries.

This lovely map is the layout of the Hortus, published by Caspar Commelin  in 1693. from Wiki: Neth 3250.3, Houghton Library, Harvard University

The People
But although my jumping off point is the Hortus, my actual work will be much more general, looking further back, long before the Amsterdam Garden, reflecting the stories of not only the plants but the people involved in the transformation of plants into helpful (sometimes) drugs and potions. I assume without us the medicinal plants would carry on being just plants, incidentally attending to knowing animals. So the people are important and  I am looking at the botanists, the explorers, the herbalists, gardeners, apothecaries and doctors... not forgetting the patients of course.

Here is one of the Botanists....


Jan Commelin uncle of Caspar ( above) Botanist, one of the founders of the Hortus and a rich man. Medicinal herbs were good business.

The Plants
The story of medicinal plants is very very complex. For as long as man suffered ailments he looked for remedies wherever he could find them. Trial and error, knowledge passed down by word of mouth from a lucky survivor and eventually written accounts, the earliest, a Sumerian tablet listing herbal remedies which dates back 5000 years and refers to over 250 plants
Thousands of plants were thought to have medicinal uses and few bits of animals, rocks and minerals too. In my limited time I can only look at a few so I decided to ask Hanneke Schreiber, Head of the Garden and the Collection at the Hortus to choose her favourite  medicinal  plants which were part of the original collection. That's my starting point.

Here is one, from the British Library. The ancient and dangerous Henbane.

An Illustration from the " Tractatus de herbis (Herbal); De Simplici Medicina by Bartholomaei Mini de Senis, Platearius, and Nicolaus of Salerno" . circa 1300

Lots to do, research, paint, print and draw..happy me.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A New Year

Happy New Year to you all. Mine begins today.
Project handed in yesterday and so now it’s on with some research for the dissertation. At the moment I don’t have a subject but I guess it will be something to do with plants, animals, us and…them. I am not looking forward to the dreary writing but I am looking forward to the research.

This year sees the end of the MA with a final project to be completed by the end of September. This is the time to draw together all the thoughts and experiments and get, at last, something finished. But happily, for the eternal experimenter, September is still a long way off!

And here a trial print from the last project.
A verse from the strange and lovely Anglo Saxon Bee Charm. “Wid Ymbe”

Back soon…

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

December Bumble Bees

Today was mild-ish and weakly sunny and the sweet smelling winter honeysuckle by the kitchen window is in bloom. It seems too early… and it seems way too early (or too late) for little worker bumblebees to be collecting pollen. But there they were. But the winter honeysuckle is a real star of a bee plant and if I cut it back it will flower again. The bees are very small so I am not sure if they are terrestris or lucorum workers. Just a hint of yellow after the last black stripe makes me think perhaps terrestris… but so tiny!!


and here they are together…


I hope these little bees are close by and have a well protected nest and that winter is kind to them.

Beekeepers Ancient and Modern

Also, to accompany these, a few sketches of beekeepers, ancient and modern. I am considering adding some figures to my current bee charm project and have been working out what I might include. Some are based on old manuscript drawings and some are modern beekeepers and of course there is a bear, which I changed a bit ..

The figures are all engaged in varying bee keeping activities from evasive action, banging pots to quell a swarm, catching a swarm, general hive work and cutting the comb. The most sinister are Pieter Bruegel’s three faceless hooded figures with their circular wicker face masks ( Pic 4) Wonderful…



Where there is honey, there is bound to be a bear.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Black Rabbit on the Track

On Friday morning I cycled early, up to the disused railtrack. There, very still, in the middle of the track crouched a big black rabbit.  In the quiet still early morning he seemed lost in thought, contemplative even.  It was quite something to see and had a certain mystery about it. I like to think that at some time in the past a tame rabbit has perhaps fled the confines of the cage for the great outdoors. It’s understandable. But when you stick out like a sore thumb perhaps the merry life of freedom will be a short one. There is a profound dilemma in that, isn’t there?

Over the last few years I have mentioned the black rabbits that live wild around the reservoir. I have seen them in 3 different locations. I guess on close inspection they are probably a chocolate brown but they seem very black and always mysterious. Whatever their colour if their aim is to be low key and unobtrusive, like their browny grey friends they are failing badly.

A quick sketch when I got home.

I started thinking about a print, decided I wanted him facing the other and made a first quick woodcut. I have hunkered him down a bit more. On sight of me he had crouched more, ready to spring, before leaping away.

It all needs reworking/rethinking but I like the basic image.
The previous day I had visited Jeremy whose two big domesticated rabbits were grazing on the lawn in the company of a large adjustable spanner. So I have added a spanner which somehow seemed appropriate for a rabbit who lives on a disused railtrack. And of course there is a bike in the background

The A3 block, cut and inked.
A couple of first proofs. More to come after reworking/rethinking and playing around.
It’s a bit of  welcome break from the course work which takes up 99%of my time at the moment. If you are interested in what I am up to, I am keeping a blog of my final year work. HERE

Saturday, 14 November 2015

And a few more letters…

A little bit more freeform now …and thinking more about the text project.



And some hand cut and printed letters..

Thursday, 5 November 2015

An (almost musical) Interlude

I am afraid I can’t yet truthfully say it is musical…but I have to introduce you to my new and, I think, enduring love.

hohner1Nice san serif typeface!

After more years than I can contemplate I felt the need to pick up a musical instrument again. Exactly where this came from I’m not entirely sure. Back in the day I played guitar and sang my pretty young heart out. Then real life cut in and these childish carefree things were left behind.

Somewhere round about May, when life is always so good and everything seems possible I had it in my mind to learn to play something, something portable and almost by accident along came a melodeon.  My good friend Linda  was telling me her brother Jeremy played the melodeon ( ..the what ?) and so through her I came to borrow her brother’s spare pokerwork Hohner.

I can’t say it was love at first sight. We struggled to come to terms with each other. I think in the first month of excruciatingly awful first notes I almost gave up. Chris was banned from the house, I contemplated earplugs and thanked my lucky stars that the Ugly Bungalow is at least detached. But bloody minded, dogged determination and some despairing times later and I have the faint beginnings of some very beautiful music. More lovely than I could have imagined.


If you think the humble melodeon is just a squeaky folky thing that only bangs out folk dance accompaniments you are so very mistaken. It is a sensitive thing capable of the softest  whisper and the richest fullest sound that fills the room and resonates through your bones as you hold it against your body.

It’s because it breathes, and through that  breathing it makes music. When my unaccustomed hands get used to it and I regain my musical ear I think we might make a good team, my melodeon and me.

And yes there will be artwork and soon. 

Huge thanks to all who have helped, encouraged and covered their ears. I now have twin pokerwork melodeons of my own, one in D/G and the other the most velvety, husky G/C. Both beautifully restored by Martyn White both German made, the G/C about my age. They are really known as basic workhorses in the melodeon hierarchy but mine will be treated  like royalty. ..(well if I believed in such a thing they would …:) …).

More melodeon stuff to come ...but, you will be relieved, not of me playing.
No Youtube channel ….yet…

Friday, 30 October 2015

Some More Letters

More daily freehand letter forms for my October pen sketches.
They have been very useful in just understanding how letter forms are created, about the rules and then how rules are broken and bent.
Just as rules should be …


This second set includes some wonderful 60’s 70’s letterforms.The vibrant work, the visual track of my teens and early twenties and formative in my design thinking, really needs those incredible colours..more of that to come.


It was interesting that while working on them I found these exuberant forms were the only ones that just would not be contained within the page. Some may recognise part of the “U&lc” Upper and Lower case mag logo.


Every gorgeous issue of Herb Lublin’s magazine was stuffed with wonderful design. I used to have a few.

And a few larger sketches from a great typographical “life class”..

Next month I am going to hopefully continue this daily exploration of type… but with some colour!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

First Letterforms

Just a few sketches to get started as this next year I shall be considering combining image with type, more than I ever have before. I was never a typographer or been able to write in any sort of elegant calligraphic way. It all seemed too controlled for my nature. Back in the pre computer days it seemed a dreary task to hand render everything, measure everything or use the awful ever cracking Letraset. Running out of “e”s was just a perpetual headache.

But now, ironically, when I could do so much on the computer I am more and more interested in the hand drawn letter forms. I am starting to think about hand cut letters and how I might be able to combine them with images.


A5 sketchbook and pen, very cheap, nice thin paper. I like thin paper.

I had started off last week not really knowing what to do. Freehand drawing of letterforms hand seemed a good idea. Now I find myself looking more carefully. Here are a few from last week. They are a random bunch.

 type8 copy

Lemonade Heart

This week in particular I have focused in on older letter forms which fits in more with this next year. I am about to go to past times .. old texts and herbals.


Nine of the sketchbook type drawings.

They are completely fascinating. As soon as you start drawing them you can see connections and rhythms that are not so obvious from just looking. So many ideas ….