Catching up on ‘Within These Walls’

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It’s a good seven months since I wrote following the installation of my large-scale print project, ‘Within These Walls’. I had hoped to have time to sit and write a poetical and reflective account and in hoping to do that, it never happened! 2017 was a year that was intensely busy, very rewarding but with not a lot of breathing space. Strangely, the one time I had some head space was during the Grassington Festival when I was at the installation for four hours every day and often had little gaps of time alone. During these pauses, I wrote haiku, printed, drew and generally had a very relaxing and fulfilling time. My friend, the photographer Paul Harris, visited the installation and very kindly created this rather lovely film of it. It can be viewed HERE

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The installation was a success in that I had over 335 visitors and all had positive things to say. I was humbled by just how many people reacted to the work within the space saying that it made them feel peaceful, calm & inspired. The word ‘ethereal’ was repeatedly used and many felt that the barn took on the aura of a sacred space such as a church or cathedral. One woman told me she had visited early on a few occasions so that she could have the space to herself and wander amongst the hangings. A few comments from my guestbook sum up nicely the general feeling amongst my visitors:

“really suits the space well and enjoyed the walking aspect to find the barn. Lovely combination of light and shade & movement of the wind on the hangings”

“…the soul of this wondrous dale, thank you…”

“beautiful work in a special ancient place. Hay meadows & swallows – perfect summer image”

“fab to enjoy the swallows, art and barn on the longest summer day, many thanks”

“beautiful work – perfect for this peaceful space. Images make sense of ambient sounds”

“didn’t expect this! beautiful work in a  special ancient place. Haymeadows and swallows in this wonderful old barn. Cheered up a dull day”

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I also hadn’t envisaged just how much I would enjoy being within the space. Everyday was different and the light changed throughout each afternoon. Sometimes I would watch a spot of sunlight travel across the barn floor and up the hangings, other times they would whip about in the wind and, on many occasions, the parents of a brood of swallow chicks would fly amongst them.

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Since the festival, I have had one of the paper monotypes from ‘Within These Walls’ accepted for the New Light Prize Exhibition and it is currently touring having just finished the opening show at the Bowes Museum. I’m at Ålgården in Sweden at the moment and my original plan was to work on some large-scale paper prints to act as an exhibition to show alongside the hangings but, as yet, I don’t have a definite date and space in which to show them and another deadline (my next Collections project show) is looming. Conscious of all the work I need to do over the next few months for the Hepworth Print Fair (with Printmakers Circle), Printfest, West Dean Design and Craft Fair and ‘Collections’ at Sunny Bank Mills (not to mention the fact that I’m part of a team of artists trying to get a Three Peaks Art Trail off the ground for July 2018), I’ve put the development of the work on hold….temporarily. This is a project that I feel that I could work on for quite a few years to come. I’d really like more concentrated time to forget everything else and focus purely on making a body of work related to the installation but as an artist who makes all of their living from their printmaking, that involves exhibitions, shows, art fairs, talks and workshops and so I’m constantly busy and switching between deadlines. I could either do with some development funding or I will just have to work in fits and starts – as and when I can. Either way, I know I have the determination to carry it forward so watch this space!

I also have a new website (which I built in January in between doing my tax return!) so do check it out, it has a gallery for ‘Within These Walls’: www.hestercox.com

My thanks must go to Kate Beard (director of the Grassington Festival) for making the leap of faith and including me in the festival programme; Ian Harland for letting me use his barn and for all his hard work, support and cups of coffee; Paul Harris for his lovely film; Jo Denison for her beautiful photographs; my husband Brian for his continued encouragement and support (especially at 4am when I was lying awake worrying); my mum and Ian for helping on installation day and Matt Light for doing the scary bit of climbing up a huge ladder to install the five 4 metre long hangings (whilst having a small child and large puppy to look after)!

The Installation of ‘Within These Walls’

So now I had five hangings printed, sewn and perspex rods ready to be inserted (thanks Ian Whyte for drilling the fittings!). Ian Harland, the owner of the barn, had worked really hard to clear it and get it ready for the installation. I’d been up there to sweep up, do a risk assessment and cover the shelving with hessian (I bought a 42 metre roll!). Now there was just the small matter of reaching the beams, which are 4 metres from the floor, to fit the screw eyes and tie the rods in. Ian managed to borrow a builder’s ladder and I was going to give it a go myself but I have to admit, despite being a fellrunner and (briefly) a potholer, I was feeling nervous. I really don’t like being up ladders. Its not a fear of heights because I love standing at the top of a mountain, I think its a fear of precariousness! I have been known to get cragfast on rocky ledges when the wind is up.

Fortunately, I got a text from my friend Matt, an arboriculturist and former tree climber extraordinaire, offering to give me a hand. This actually meant he came along and did the whole thing. My mum and her partner Ian were up for the week so they came up too and kept an eye on Matt’s little boy and wrangled his gangly pointer puppy. I was in charge of passing him the pristine white voile hangings and was responsible for making sure that nobody trod on them or got tangled up!

It was a bit fiddly and we’ve come up with all sorts of ideas to make it easier next time I hang them but essentially, the rods and line did the job and Matt made it look very easy. In the meantime, Ian Harland was mowing the grass and making everything look lovely. He has been cultivating two meadows close to the barn and they are glorious. Ian Whyte then pinned up the rest of the hessian which helped to minimise the distraction of the rack of shelving.

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After installing Within These Walls, I distributed the flyers I’d had printed and put direction signs up. I’d also had postcards of four of the plant monotypes printed. Selling them at 50p each not only gives people something to remind them of the installation but also helps recoup my petrol costs for being up at the barn each day. The Grassington Festival team made me a lovely A-board to direct people up the lane and I’m turning a blind-eye to the fact that I’ve been renamed ‘Heather Cox’ 😀

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So that’s the logistics and the installation has now been up for over a week and open for 6 days. I’ve had 138 human visitors so far and 14 dogs! In my next post I will talk more about my personal feelings about the installation now its finished and some of the visitors’ reactions to it but I think its fair to say that I’m not only relieved to have pulled this off, I’m totally delighted with just how well the prints work in the space.

NB thanks to Paula Cox and Ian Whyte for taking photos of the installing part!

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Large-scale Collagraphs

Its been a long, long road to get to this point but as I write, I’m just about to cut the final blocks for my last two hangings and will be printing them in Horton-in-Ribblesdale Village Hall later in the week. Grassington Festival is a week and half away and I’m up at the barn later today to do some final clearing up. Most importantly, I have also successfully completed my 4-metre collagraph!

I should also mention that I spent a day at ArtisOn Ltd in Masham thanks to the lovely Gaynor and Sue letting me use one of the studios for hemming the five hangings. I am also totally indebted and eternally grateful to Lorraine Garlick and Sheila Smith who gave up their free time to sew 47.5 metres of fabric for me. That is true friendship! I don’t have a sewing machine and I have very little sewing experience so what could have been a total nightmare, was actually pretty straightforward and the results are beautiful.

When I embarked upon this project, I don’t think I fully understood the implications of attempting to print a continuous 75 x 400cm collagraph but I’m glad that I didn’t let all of the set-backs and logistical problems put me off. Working on such a large scale has been challenging but really exciting. First I had to sort my design out so I worked on four pieces of cartridge paper that I divided into 1 inch squares (7 1/2″ x 10″) with the idea that I could then apply a grid to the large pieces of mount board and redraw the design using the sketch as a guide. This did work but the initial drawing took two and half days to do and then each plate took a day to draw out not to mention a day each to cut.

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The finished drawing (hard to photograph!).

My idea was that the collagraph would be a close-up study looking through a bit of meadow with a number of different flower species represented. I chose to include eyebright, yellow rattle, birds foot trefoil, bush vetch, red clover, wood crane’s-bill, meadow buttercup, pignut and sweet vernal grass. These are all species that I’m familiar with and that are found in upland meadows here in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy and detail so each plant needed to be researched and I wanted them to be accurately in scale with each other. FullSizeRenderUsing the grid system to upscale the drawings worked really well and took me back to my college days. I used four full sheets of mount board to make the plates and mainly used cutting, wood glue and gesso to create the collagraph.

I soon realised that printing at that scale, it was best to keep things quite simple but it was still a bit of a challenge to work out how to do the veins on the leaves and pignut is a such a delicate and frothy plant that it did take a lot of work to get the look just right. In the meantime I had been searching for a place to physically print the work because I needed a press that could accommodate a 75cm wide and metre long collagraph plate. No small task and I actually found myself waking in the night and having panic attacks about not being able to print the plates once I’d made them. I even found myself trying to work out how I could get such large pieces of card over to Sweden as I know Ålgården’s press would have been perfect. Fortunately I found out that Northern Print in Newcastle have a lovely big intaglio press and I made an appointment to have an induction and to print the first plate. It is a 2 1/4 hr journey to get there on a good day (with no traffic & no accidents) and my first visit saw me getting up at 5.30am and hiring a dog walker in order to get there on time and not leave my furry pals crossing their legs all day.57F6D87A-07E4-4F88-9D71-6811EE094C84

It was an unbelievable relief to discover that when I book to use the large electric press, I have sole access to it for the whole session and so can work slowly and methodically whilst not worrying about anyone else needing the press or having to reset it. I am now a member of the studio and have plans to go back and create more large-scale collagraphs there.

Each plate initially took an hour to ink and forty-five minutes to wipe in order to get a paper proof. I needed to do that for each one so that the plate would ‘settle’ and I could check it was printing exactly as I wanted it to. It meant that I had to book the press for 2 x three-hour sessions in order to print one section of the hanging. I won’t go into the entire process here as it was lengthy and stressful but imagine trying to handle an inky metre-long piece of card and print it onto a pristeen white piece of four metre voile and you’ll get a bit of an idea. I also had issues with the pressure on the first print and lifted a corner of the fabric to discover that the collagraph was pale and ill-defined. Fortunately I was able to lower it again and tighten the press to get a good print from it. After my first visit with the first successful section printed, I returned home triumphant to recount my exploits to my husband who then asked ‘but how are you going to make sure the plates match up and how are you going to get them all the same tone?’ To be honest, I hadn’t considered this but chose not to think about it too much and just to hope that I could work these problems out as I went along.

It took another two sessions (with the last one being from 10am to 8pm) to actually complete the design but it is fair to say that I’m really happy with it. Sure, there are a few flaws and I know that I could do it better a second time around (which I may have to if my Swedish contact does want to buy one for the hospital) but it is how I pictured it and I can’t wait to see it in situ.

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The first two prints successfully through the press.

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One left to print. Here I am rolling up the previous prints to protect them and make it easier to handle.

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The final print! All ready to roll up with tissue paper for transportation home.

Now I’m working on two flights of swallows that will be block-printed using screen printing inks designed for fabric and won’t require a press. Mind you, there are plenty of other factors that could go wrong but I’m choosing to ignore those for now too!

 

Collections

So…what am I up to this year (apart from the usual exhibiting and selling in galleries)? Well, I’m making lots of new work and the majority of it will be for a joint exhibition in November. The show features my printmaking and the work of two friends and colleagues, Josie Bezant and Charlotte Morrison. Josie is an artist (and owner of Masham Gallery) who creates assemblages, collages, mixed-media pieces and paintings and Charlotte is a ceramicist. Charlotte and Josie also run Crafted by Hand (a multi-talented pair!). We’ve all exhibited together before but this is the first time the three of us have worked so closely on a project and shared a common theme.

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I’ve always collected natural objects: stones, bones, feathers, skulls etc., and whenever I am walking or fell running I am constantly on the look out for these ‘natural treasures’. The significance of my finds is important to me. For example I am not so interested in the skull of a rabbit, a very common animal, as I am the skull of a curlew which, for me, symbolises the wilderness, moorlands and the arrival of spring. Coming across a pile of linnet feathers with one lone tail feather from a merlin was so exciting and told a complete story of an act that is rarely seen by humans. It triggered the work below which is called ‘The Huntress’ and features a collagraph print, linnet feathers and a twisted heather branch.

The Huntress

I’m really enjoying using some of my finds within the finished pieces and there will be a number of ‘one-off’ multi-media works at the exhibition. Over the next few months I’ll be writing posts about some of the works that I’m making and you can also read more about the project at our website. Josie, Charlotte and I envisage that this will be an ongoing project and that the exhibition will tour to other venues and perhaps collect more artists along the way.

 

What’s happening?

Well it seems that, despite being a fan of social media, I am not awfully good at regular posting. I do love a blog though so I’m going to try to write shorter, more regular posts.

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This year got off to a cracking start with a number of exhibitions and the Hepworth Print Fair. Initially my application for a wall space was rejected and I was disappointed but you have to expect rejections when you work as a full-time artist. There are a lot of us chasing the same opportunities and it is important not to take it personally. I emailed the organisers to thank them for considering me and a couple days later I received a reply saying that a table stand had become available and would I like it…yes please!

I don’t do a lot of shows and when I do I have always had hanging space of some kind, even if its the bars of a sheep pen (Art in the Pen). A table stand was a challenge but with the help of my friend and colleague Janis Goodman, who sent me photos of her table stand from the previous year, I got to work planning my stall. I can thoroughly recommend Ken Bromley Art Supplies for their collapsible easels. They pack flat so are easy to store but they are really strong and light and they look unobtrusive. I decided to cover my table with heavyweight calico which was a devil to iron and I can only thank my handsome assistant Brian for his perseverance on that score.

I had also recently purchased an iZettle card reader which proved absolutely invaluable. It links to a smartphone via bluetooth and you have an app with all of your stock on it so that you can keep track of sales and take all sorts of card payments (the change purse was a gift from my mum and a joke about my childhood dislike of peas).31444ECD-E36A-423E-A185-8903B51F333B

The event is supremely well organised but the Hepworth is tricky to get to from Horton-in-Ribblesdale and it took 2 hours to navigate safely to Wakefield and a further twenty-five minutes to find my way from the museum car park to the Calder building! I had been given a time-slot of 2-3pm to unload and that gave me plenty of time to get set-up and have a coffee and scone before the preview at 6pm. Unfortunately the lighting of my stall was a bit poor with only one spotlight pointed in my direction but it didn’t seem to put people off and I organised my work so that the prints that needed better lighting were at the appropriate end. During the day, it was much brighter than this photo!

4AA581F4-0AAF-4FA4-BCD5-AAE43B07A675The preview was buzzing and I sold one of my newest framed prints almost straight away. It was an auspicious start. Janis had offered me a bed for the night at her Leeds home.  This saved me a long journey home and back the next day and we celebrated our successes with wine and pasta.

The weekend proved to be really good for both of us. Not only did we sell a large amount of framed and unframed prints (more than I’d ever sold in an event before) but we met lots of wonderful printmakers, gallery owners, print co-operative members and interested visitors. The people that came to the print fair (about 4000 for the weekend) were generally well-informed about printmaking, asked lots of questions about the processes and were very encouraging and complimentary. It was completely exhausting and I barely found time to eat/drink or make the trip to the toilets but it was well worth it.

My stall in daylight:

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Janis’s stand:

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The general hubbub:

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The people that exhibited were:

Ali Appleby / Amy Rodchester / Andy English / Ben Whittington / Beverley White / Bobshaped / Cath Brooke / Colours May Vary / Drusilla Cole / Geri Waddington / Helen Peyton / Helen Roddie / Hester Cox / Hot Bed Press / Inkylinky / Izzy Williamson / James Bywood / James Green / Jane Walker / Janis Goodman / Katie Eyre / Laine Tomkinson /Laura Slater / Lidota Studio / Little Lost Soul / Louella Moon / Nancy Haslam-Chance / Northern Printmakers / PAPER Gallery / Pica Editions / Print Wagon / Rachel Sim / Sarah Harris / Sean Mort Print Shop / Spike Island Print Studio / Staithes Studio / Stoff Studios / Studiotic / The Art House / The Lost Fox / The Modernist Society / The Owlery / Watermark Gallery / West Yorkshire Print Workshop / Wil Law / Yuck Print House / Zillah Bell Gallery

Having had such a good weekend, I treated myself to a lovely little wood engraving by fellow stallholder, Beverley White. ‘Anything Could Happen’ reminds me of my own little terrier.

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Then I had to pack everything up, drive back using my iPhone satnav and unpack at the other end before collapsing exhausted in front of the fire with Brian and our dogs.

 

 

 

Connections North: Mirror Images (Part 1)

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Better late than never, I am writing this as Mirror Images moves to its final location at the Caithness Horizons Gallery in Thurso, Scotland. It will be on show there from 16th October to 28th November 2015.

Last summer applications were invited from printmakers based in North Yorkshire to take part in Chrysalis Arts ‘Connections North:Mirror Images’ project. This is an international printmaking project featuring the work of 40 artists from 4 countries, England (N.Yorks), Scotland, Sweden and Finland. It is a development of the connections already made between Chrysalis Arts, Ålgården Workshop in Sweden, Ratamo Printmaking and Photography Centre in Finland and Highland Print Studio in Inverness, Scotland. Artists specialising in or with a strong interest in printmaking were invited to apply to create two works each on the theme of ‘Place and Identity’. The idea was that the printmakers would create an edition with a minimum of 4 prints which would then be shown simultaneously in England, Sweden and Finland.

I was already a member of the working party that met regularly to discuss the logistics of the project and provide opinion and ideas to Chrysalis Arts but this was no guarantee of a place in the final exhibition as that was to be judged by three external selectors. These were Deborah Fahmy (Visual Arts Officer of Arts Council England), Sally Smith (Curator of the Inspired by gallery) and Martyn Lucas (a print specialist and curator). I was totally certain that I wouldn’t get selected, I’d had a previous disappointment with an application when my prints were judged to not have enough of a ‘contemporary feel with particular regards to subject matter’ and two of the selectors were from that panel! It had given me a well needed ‘kick up the backside’ to really consider how I present myself and my work and with that in mind, I sought advice about my cv, rewrote my statement and carefully selected the prints that I felt illustrated my desire to push myself and that showed best my technical ability. I was walking through Ripon checking my emails on my phone when the judgement came and, typically, the text of the letter didn’t download for ages! I really couldn’t believe that I’d been selected out of the 43 artists to apply.

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I designed my two prints whilst I was at Ålgården in February of this year. I spent two weeks creating numerous test plates and tinkering with ideas and compositions. It had been snowy when I left Yorkshire and I arrived in Sweden to find thick snow and iced over lakes which suited me perfectly. I worked with idea of the contrast between the ephemeral and the enduring as the land changed daily between thaws and snowfall.

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The relief and intaglio studio.

I explored themes of pathways, tracks, trods & traces which directly relates to my fellrunning but also to the landscape where I live which is essentially a playground for all adventure lovers, cyclists, walkers, runners, cavers & even the occasional paraglider. It’s also a region of quarrying & sheep farming.

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Ideas for a layered print about Penyghent and my fellrunning. It includes a garmin trace of the speed and ascent of an actual run that I did.

I managed to get one of my prints proofed whilst in Borås but the plates for the other print were still in the making stage.

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Collagraph plate varnished with seven layers of shellac to allow for drypoint techniques.

To cut a long story short, I worked on both prints for over a month and eventually was ready to proof them just before the delivery deadline (no different to my normal working methods then!). Here they are:

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Tracks and Traces, 6 plate collagraph print, 230x475mm

Hester Cox Enclosures

Enclosures, 4 plate collagraph print, 294x417mm

In the next post I will talk briefly about the project as a whole and some of the workshops and talks that took place as well as post some photos of the exhibition.

Life in the Slow Lane

I’m currently in Sweden at Ålgården again and for once in my life I’ve had to slow down. At the end of July I successfully completed the Lakeland 100. This is a 105 mile race around some of the most beautiful parts of the lake district and I had a really good run. I spent the followng weeks on a high, imagining the future strength I’d have and planning for a Bob Graham Round attempt. Six weeks and lots of running later and I have developed a mystery knee injury and can no longer walk without hobbling. It could be reactive arthritis or it may be an injury that didn’t hurt at the time but certainly does now! I’m being tested and examined and hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it but it is really debilitating.

However, I’d already made plans to come to Ålgården with a friend and colleague, Barbara Greene. She wanted me to show her the ropes so I thought I’d come anyway and just do whatever I could manage. Barbara and I met through Chrysalis Art‘s Connections North project and were both selected as two of the ten printmakers from North Yorkshire to take part in the Mirror Images exhibition. I will write a separate blog post about that as it is a fantastic project involving forty Finnish, Scottish, Swedish and Yorkshire printmakers. Barbara and I hope to collaborate on a future project so it was a good opportunity to talk and exchange ideas too.

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(a fellow printmaker or an accident in the DIY shop car park?)

It has been frustrating to be able to see the dense forest but not be able to get into it but I’ve made myself look for inspiration closer to home and am currently exploring the traces of nature found in the city and around the studio. I’m working on a few ongoing projects simultaneously whilst exploring ideas for a future project and I’m using the time and wonderful equipment here to try out things that I wouldn’t do at home. I tested a pot of Akua Intaglio ink which I brought from home to see what it was like to work with. It is perfect for reduction monotypes because it doesn’t dry on non-porous surfaces so you can work with it indefinitely before printing. It also cleans up with soap and water and yet the print has the same velvety qualities of an oil-based print. With some precarious balancing on a stool and on one-leg, I managed to produce an A1 monotype that I printed on the lovely big etching press. It has a bed sized 1metre x 2 metres and one day I’ll use the whole thing.

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Creating a reduction monotype on an old aluminium litho plate.

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The beautiful etching press (the big one, there are three!) with my print drying behind.

Whilst I may not be very mobile, I’m still getting about thanks to my very kind Swedish artist friends. Christina picked us up from the airport and drove us to the studio and she also invited us to her house for dinner, Lennart has lent me a walking stick (he’s 80 but says he no longer needs it!) and Torbjörn collected me and drove me to the Borås hospital to show me their amazing art collection (and I stocked up on painkillers). He is project director for the region and organises the buying and displaying of art for public spaces such as hospitals, health centres and dental practices. I was so impressed by the work on show at the hospital and the thought that had gone into its display and selection. Not just the more figurative and accessible work that you’d expect but very good quality contemporary pieces and in all kinds of media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, textiles and glass. Tomorrow Anna is taking us both to see an arts and crafts place called Nääs so that will be a lovely trip out too.

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Today I made 12 small collagraph plates from plaster creating impressions in them from the fallen birch leaves that I’ve collected. I will print these and hope that the leaves will be very subtle. I then plan to overprint with further imagery relating to the city. I associate the birches so much with Sweden and I find their leaves everywhere, in the studio, on the pavements, in the supermarket etc. I’ve also been making monotypes of the shadows of plants growing round the studio too. All the traces of nature that creep into the city and that I seek out when confined to urban places. Really I’m just playing but that’s why I like it here, it gives me the time and headspace to do that and who knows what will develop from my experiments.