Bird Life in the Dales

I’ve just been to the Dales Countryside Museum for the ‘big handover’ of all of the prints that I’ve taken from Marie Hartley’s wood engraving blocks. There are two sets of 129 prints made from 127 blocks (2 were double-sided!). I had to leave the linocuts unprinted because they’d degraded over time and become hard, cracked and warped. I didn’t want to damage them further and, although I tentatively tried to print one block, I wouldn’t have been able to get a decent print from them. I’m really happy to have played a part in this important archive and to help realise one of Fiona Rosher’s dreams for the museum. I then spent a couple hours reading some of Marie’s diaries that she wrote when she was working and living with Ella Pontefract and then Joan Ingilby.

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The diaries often contain illustrations, poetry, natural objects, christmas cards & other ephemera.

I have just read the heart-breaking entries from the time of Ella’s death and the year anniversary of it. I will write a little more about the women’s lives and the important part that Joan’s friendship played in helping Marie to recover in another post. The diaries that I have just been reading were written before, during and after the second world war and provide a fascinating insight into how it affected the people living in the Dales.

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An entry from 1950 which included petrol rationing tokens.

I’m currently visiting different areas of the Dales (written about in Marie’s books) with a view to collecting ideas for new work and I’m taking photos and making notes of what I see. I’ve got various lists of all the wildlife that I’ve been seeing and I was delighted to find numerous entries in Marie’s diaries that record the birds that she saw each year.

IMG_6152IMG_6153IMG_6158IMG_6154I think that one of the most poignant things is the fact that she refers to seeing corncrakes near Askrigg and these have now vanished from the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve been out and about and seen some really amazing wildlife. Here are some collages of photos taken on my visits to Muker, Keld, Penyghent, Plover Hill and Semerwater.

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Top L-R: lamb on Kisdon, eggshell at Snaizeholme, Lapwing above Stalling Busk. Middle L-R: Red squirrel at Snaizeholme, Curlew, fox cub. Bottom L-R: pied wagtail at Malham, me on Kisdon!, sheep on Kisdon.

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Top L-R: primroses on Kisdon, cloudberry on Plover Hill, Birds Eye Primrose near Yockenthwaite. Middle L-R: Saxifrage on Plover Hill, Bluebells on Kisdon, Mountain primrose on Penyghent. Bottom L-R: cotton grass on Plover Hill, Purple Saxifrage on Penyghent, meadows at Muker

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Top L-R: Oyster catcher at Keld, Wheatear at Muker, Ring Ouzel near Plover Hill. Middle L-R: Sandpiper at Kisdon Force, Lapwing above Stalling Busk, sported flycatcher at Muker. Bottom L-R: Meadow Pipit on Penyghent, canada geese with goslings on Semerwater, grey wagtail at Kisdon Force.

I often run my routes because it means that I can go further and to places that I wouldn’t get to when walking. I don’t mind getting wet in bogs or scrambling through heather when I’m in my running shoes and I also find that I see far more wildlife and the animals and birds seem less bothered by me. I often spot things and hide out of sight so I can watch without disturbing. For me, these times are some of the most joyful in life. I gain a clarity of thought and I often solve solutions to my printmaking conundrums as I’m running up a hill or across an open moor. Running can be meditative and it is the perfect counterpoint to my sedentary days in the studio.

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A golden plover seen near the cairn at the summit of Kisdon yesterday.

I carry a small Canon Powershot camera that fits in my hand or a bumbag and I chose one with a powerful zoom lens. I’m really enjoying sketching from life for this project and am looking forward to doing more landscape studies ‘in the field’ but it is virtually impossible for me to draw fleeting encounters with birds and animals and so I have always spent time watching to get to know them and then used my huge reference library of photos to help me get accurate details in my prints. The rest is then left to my imagination, my memory of landscape and artistic licence! I have enormous respect for the likes of Robert Gillmor who has spent a lifetime studying and drawing birds from life in order to make his exquisite prints.

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Top: Studies from life of grasses and meadow plants which were made to understand the structure for when I am cutting my collagraph prints. Below: lapwing studies made from my photographs to help me understand how they fly so that I can make prints that capture the essence of their behaviour.

Marie, Ella and Joan spent their lifetimes getting to know the Yorkshire Dales and their books are as much about the people living there as of the land itself. Marie’s diaries have many entries about time spent with fascinating people learning about life and traditions in the Yorkshire Dales. Whilst I’m not aiming to write a book about the people of the Dales, I do hope that the artwork I make will show how the landscape has been shaped and moulded by the farming, mining and other human interactions with the land and how, in many cases, that has made incredible habitats for wildlife to thrive. As a result of this project, I’ve already met some really interesting farmers and landowners who have made conservation a priority in their work and I hope that will be reflected in some of my prints.

Meadows at Muker

For anyone that is new to my blog, I’m currently working on a project with the Dales Countryside Museum. I’ve been printing up their archive of Marie Hartley MBE’s wood engraving blocks that were used to illustrate her books about Swaledale, Wensleydale and Wharfedale written with Ella Pontefract. I’m now in the next phase of the project which is to carry out research in the form of looking at the archive of her notebooks, diaries and sketchbooks and going out ‘into the field’ to get inspiration for a new body of my own work to be exhibited at the museum gallery in 2020.

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Today I’ve been sketching meadow grasses and flowers for reference for new prints inspired by the glorious upland meadows (of which the Yorkshire Dales National Park has a few). In the 1930s, Marie and Ella wrote about ‘haytime’ in the dales, of a time when whole communities were involved in the cutting and collecting of the hay, machinery was pulled by horses and the hay was then stored in the famous stone barns (often known as cow’us or laithe) ready for feeding the overwintering cattle and sheep.

(A selection of Marie Hartley’s wood engravings depicting aspects of hay making)

“When hay-time comes, generally towards the middle of July, everything else is put aside. All the women help, extra daughters appear miraculously from service. Irishmen are sometimes employed by farmers with small families. In a very wet summer much of the hay has to be left to rot in the fields, and some of the grass is never cut. When hay-time is well and safely over, a wave of relief goes through the upper dale”. (from Swaledale, 1934)

The meadows were not only fragrant, extremely beautiful and a rich source of food they were also very important ecosystems supporting a wide variety of invertebrates which were then fed on by numerous birds and animals. Unfortunately, as agricultural practises have changed and intensified, over the last fifty years 98% of meadows in the UK have been destroyed.

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The Yorkshire Dales have also lost a proportion of their traditional meadows but, fortunately, due to the work of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) and Natural England alongside committed farmers and landowners, the last twenty or so years has seen the conservation and restoration of species-rich meadows. This is a subject that I’ve been interested in since moving to the Yorkshire Dales and further information can be found at the websites of the YDMT & YDNPA. Times are very different now and ecology and economics mean that we’re unlikely to go back to the days of meadow-strewn Dales but what is being created is a network of species-rich meadows that everyone can benefit from and that are being managed with the help of modern machinery alleviating some of the hardships that the farming community of Marie’s time would have suffered. They are not only useful as a fodder crop of animals but attractive to wildlife, the local community and a visitor attraction which helps the local economy.

Due to Ella and Marie’s obvious love of the area, I’ve been visiting and revisiting locations around Kisdon fell (I am a fellrunner after all)  which include Muker, Thwaite, Angram and Keld. The meadows at Muker, which have been given Coronation status, are currently at their most stunning.

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This is the perfect time to visit. They are colourful and smell amazing, swallows and swifts swoop over them to feed on the many insects that they attract and there are so many different plant species. You can see yellow rattle, pignut, red clover, wood crane’s bill, eyebright, rough hawkbit, cat’s ear, meadow buttercups, lady’s mantle, crosswort, speedwell and melancholy thistle to name but a few!

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“In this grave sweet valley of the Swale meadows like the flowery meads of medieval paintings burgeon in early summer. Perhaps nowhere else in the dale does the yellow of buttercups splash the fields more boldly, or the pink of crane’s-bill tinge them more deeply, or wayside bushes shower sprays of pink and white roses more freely than here round Gunnerside and Muker” so says Joan Ingilby and Marie Hartley in their book, The Yorkshire Dales, 1956.

Loose Ends and Exciting Beginnings!

So…I’m going to be regularly using my blog again for an exciting new project but before I start that, I just wanted to tie up a few loose ends regarding ‘Within These Walls’. Since I last wrote, I have been commissioned to recreate the central collagraph print for a hospital in Sweden. It is undergoing major building work and there is a pillar in the main reception area that they would like to hang my work from so I spent October/November of last year reprinting it! No small order as it required a few trips to Northern Print to use their lovely big electric intaglio press and then I had to line it and sew it.

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The pillar is grey so my contact, Torbjörn, suggested that it it might be better if the material was more opaque. Unfortunately, I used the transparency of the lovely cotton voile so that I could see through to register the plates each time so it looked like lining it would be the best option. That ended up being quite a mammoth task but I used an iron-on cotton interfacing which worked well as it provided a bit of stability too. It was a bit of a nightmare to attach but I was able to hire the village hall again and lay the work out. I was methodical and careful and I also put a few eyelets down the sides so that the work can be secured away from the wall with bolts if needed. Due to a scalpel disaster, I managed to bleed over the work at one point but luckily blood washes out with cold water…

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Then I enlisted the help of my lovely friends Sheila Smith and Lorraine Garlick and they hemmed the whole thing for me. They did the most amazing job including handstitching the pockets for the acrylic rods with invisible stitching. I have learned so much from them both and am forever grateful for their patience and enthusiasm.

Then it was a case of cutting the new acrylic rods to size, securing the screw-eyes in the ends and rolling the whole thing up in acid-free tissue ready for sending by courier to Sweden. It was a little pricey but Euro-Trans Despatch delivered it safely in less than 24 hours! As is the way of the world, building work has been delayed and the hospital isn’t finished yet so I don’t have any photos of it in situ but I promise to post some when I do.

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In summary, I was planning to develop this project but unfortunately, the next venue for it fell through, time has passed and I’ve got involved in other projects but I have been so lucky to have had two of the monotypes on paper purchased for public display in Sweden, the commission for the hospital and also my monotype, Meadowsweet, selected for the 2018/19 New Light Prize Exhibition. I’ve now just found out that the collagraph panel will be on display as part of PrintFest7Oaks in May 2019. I’m so pleased to be a part of this event. It is a print festival held in Sevenoaks founded and directed by Christina France. Christina is also a member of Ålgården Studios and this year she has planned two shows for PrintFest7Oaks. The first will be by members of Ålgården Studios and held at The Kaleidoscope Gallery and I have been invited to show the collagraph at that. I will also be giving a talk at the gallery in the evening of the 9th May to discuss my connection with Ålgården and how the installation came about. I will then have a piece of work as an invited artist for Printfest7 at Ålgården Studio Gallery in September. All exciting stuff and there will be lots of information and links on my website.

So for the next year I am going to be blogging far more regularly about a project that I’ve just begun with the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. look out for the first post on that in the coming days…

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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Two Flights of Swallows

So, now to the final hangings…

Having started the printing for the project in January in a world of snow and ice in Sweden, I had got hooked on the idea of doing a flock of crow silhouettes in flight. This is something I often see in the fields around where I live and would have fitted in with my original idea which included more work on the actual wall lines and the geography of the land. However, it didn’t seem very fitting when combined with the meadow imagery and was far too wintery. I briefly considered creating prints of various birds associated with meadows but was wary of it becoming an ‘I spy’ and looking a bit naff. It is quite easy to get hung up on the educational side of things and neglect the aesthetic and I definitely didn’t want to do that. So I decided upon two flights of swallows. This seemed pretty apt considering that I see them feeding over the meadows every day and they are associated with the arrival of summer in the same way that a field of meadow flowers can signal that summer days are here. IMG_1921 (1)

I have to say that these were the easiest hangings to print which was something of a relief (excuse the printmaker’s pun) after putting so much time and effort into the other ones. I started by ordering A3 sheets of 4mm EVA, 2mm perspex and a roll of double-sided adhesive paper. I then spent a day researching the flight patterns of swallows and drawing as many different shapes as I could come up with before tracing them all off and moving them about on long (to scale) strips of paper. When I’d got the designs how I wanted them, I glued each swallow in place and numbered it before scaling up each drawing to fit on an A4 sheet of paper. I then traced each one onto a piece of foam and cut it carefully out with a scalpel before cutting a piece of perspex as a mount and sticking it on to that with the sticky paper. Two days work as opposed to two weeks! 40E2268A-CE48-49C2-AEAF-DB520DD915FBI’d already hired the local village hall (very local, its down the lane that I live on) and I went in on Friday lunchtime armed with all the hangings, screen printing ink for fabrics, foam rollers, and lots of clean newsprint. I got three long tables out, covered them with clean paper, put radio 4 on and got to work. By the time The Archers came on, I’d printed the first hanging. I made sure to stay scrupulously clean, wash off each block after printing, so I didn’t have a massive load to do at the end, and print slowly and methodically to avoid silly mistakes. I used my long scale drawings as a map and I’d numbered each block so I knew which went where.

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After that all I needed to do was to iron all the hangings and roll them up. The next instalment will be the installation…

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!