Woodcut – a beginning

I have long admired many practitioners of woodcut, woodblock and Lino cut printing, I’ve thought for a long time that if I tried it, I could get really obsessed with it.

In the last few months I have attended three print-making workshops. The first was at the Tate Modern, taught by the Illustrator Lizzy Stewart  www.abouttoday.co.uk. I enjoyed it immensely.

Lizzy suggested we each bring a piece of text or a poem which might inspire us to make illustrations of that text, mostly using simple mono-print techniques, using just black ink and metal or glass plates.

I took Robin Roberstson’s poem “At Roane Head” to work from and made this. It was to be one of four illustrations in a long thin book but I did not have time to finish it. I must do so one day.

roane

I have also taken part in a woodcut ad print workshop with Jonathan Ashworth at the London Print Studio in Maida Vale.

I loved cutting the wood plate, really tried hard to create an intricate and accurate double image, to be printed in two colours.

It took longer than the time available but I did make some interesting images and have made several more prints at home since then. Jonathan is an excellent teacher.

This is actually a test piece, trying out the tool for the first time to see what marks I could make. It was then printed in blue in one direction and then pink in the other producing an interesting range of imagery.1stwc

I have lots more prints in various stages of refinement and in various colours, to be continued . . . .

Chicago

Chicago
A pigeon, with excellent taste, fascinated by the guide’s description of Anthony Calder’s Flamingo, standing outside a Mies Van der Rohe building

For four days I wandered this amazing city, my emotional state switching back and forth from heightened anxiety to awe and wonderment.

The suburbs are reputedly very scary places, the maps marked with every reported serious violent crime would put one off from visiting alone. However I didn’t look at those maps, I just booked an AirB&B and took my chances.

As it happened, I was perfectly safe  in the area known as Grand Boulevard down in the south towards the end of the Green Line train, 47th street station.

The first person I met when I got off the train after my flight from London was a white policeman in his car with his partner. He said ‘ Lady, what are you doing here?’ You have to imagine the incredulous tone of his voice and the weight of the stone falling into my stomach.

I explained that I was staying a few days at an Air B&B, he said  ‘we’ll follow you till you get inside the door, don’t go out at night, don’t use the train, get an Uber cab to come right to your door”.  With fear and some confusion, I trundled down the road with my shiny new wheeled suitcase, to the house, knowing I was being watched (an odd feeling in itself). I accessed the apartment and drank a large gin and tonic – duty free from Gatwick Airport.

And so I began my four days with such a burden of fear, it plagued my sleep and became my constant companion, even downtown in the “Loop”, where the main tourist areas are located.

I contacted a good friend who travels alone to far more unsettling places, she gave me excellent advice and suggested that I needed to follow some simple rules and relax, enjoy the city.

I loved Chicago, I have no regrets whatsoever about having been there, stayed there, explored everywhere I wanted to go. I talked to a lot of local people, on the trains, in the streets, in the shops, made a great new friend. Since my return home, I now know that this summer the rate of violent crime has soared.

I have no answers to the problem of escalating violence but the way its being dealt with currently is obviously not working. It is a disgrace that in this large wealthy city not all its citizens enjoy the quality of life they deserve. Racial segregation and the housing “projects” of an earlier era have caused misery to many lives. Gun crime is rife,  many lives could be saved by a ban on guns.

I was inspired to go to Chicago by a lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by a young Chicagoan Timothy Long who told the incredible history of the pioneers, entrepreneurs and downright scallywags who created such a vibrant and extraordinarily forward-looking culture.

It was all about trade, exploration, determination and guts. The discovery of the water routes from the north east coast, through the Great Lakes to the southern end of Lake Michigan, thence the relatively short overland distance to one of the tributaries to the Mississippi and on downward to the South, opened up trades routes of great importance.

But the real key was the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowing shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The population grew exponentially from 350 to 4000 in just 7 years.

And instead of low rise wooden buildings, the majority of which  burnt down in the great fire in 1871, the city is now the finest example of city planning and inspired building design and techniques. Indeed it is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Photographs do not do justice to the exhilarating city but here are some attempts to capture an essence.

If you get the chance to go – go, do not be frightened of by a couple of white policemen in a squad car. One of them kindly gave me his personal email address, perhaps I should write and tell him that i’m fine and that I loved his city. He said “don’t leave without eating a Chicago deep pan pizza”,  and that was yet another piece of advice of theirs that I did not follow!

 

 

Pembrokeshire

Recently I spent a week in South Wales, St David’s Cathedral is a very special place, I last visited more than 30 years ago in the pouring rain, it looks gorgeous in sunlight, though the deep purple of the stone stands out so much better in rain.

St David's Cathedral


St David's CathedralSt David’s Cathedral

St David's Cathedral
Tombstones leaning against the perimeter wall
St David's Cathedral
Stained glass window

 

 

The Sun at last

Our boat trip lasted about 12 hours and during that time the sky was pretty much clouded over but during our trip back to Longyearbyen harbour the sun finally appeared. The sky turned blue and so of course did the water. The ocean was calm and smooth as silk, I’ve heard that expression before but this time it really moved like silk and was very reflective. I tried to focus on the birds following above us but it seemed impossible, as an amateur, to get the focus right as the birds flew unexpectedly close.

I’m pretty sure the generous shots of whisky provided by our delightful guide Stein only helped my technique. He was kind enough to say that our trip was the most convivial he had guided this year.

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Stein from the MS Langǿysund, watching out for Polar bears, sadly we didn’t get to see one.
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A bright blue line appeared along the coast, I caught it on camera so it can’t have just been an affect of the whisky.

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A Minke whale flashed its white back at us a we sailed past

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Pyramiden

Pyramiden is one of several abandoned Russian coal-mining towns, there is also Barentsburg which seems to have been larger and more complex. We chose to go to Pyramiden because the boat sails past the Nordensköld glacier.
A busy and fully equipped mining town, it was abruptly abandoned at the demise of USSR in 1998. Here is an excellent site giving full details of its history but these photos demonstrate how it looks right now.
Some of these images were taken with a phone camera but most were taken with a borrowed camera. The charming and kind Lisa lent me her camera to use, with my SD card, because my lovely camera had a hissy fit and decided it couldn’t bear the cold wind, the shutter refused to shut or open unless I removed the lens and kept the body of the camera warm for 10 minutes.

Lisa and Severin are half way through a 6 month tour of Scandinavian countries driving and living in an adapted Mercedes van. What a fabulous trip, I would love to do that. Such interesting people doing such a great thing, and so generous with their camera. (thanks )

 

What a feast! Huset Restaurant in Longyearbyen

I had the amazing opportunity to visit this restaurant and indeed all the other fabulous places in Norway that I got to see because of my travelling companion Heather who researched so diligently.  Without her hard work I would certainly have missed all the best stuff.  She booked all the trips and decided which were the best things to do, what a champion. perhaps she might change jobs and become a tour guide/organiser. They even made the Heather Honey ice-cream in her name!