New Ground: Part 2

cdc752b7-98d3-4db6-b187-addd70c4bfc6My exhibition with ceramicist Charlotte Morrison is now up and running at Inspired By…Gallery in Danby. It is open daily 10.30am – 4.00pm until Christmas Eve and then it reopens for the 1st-4th January before becoming weekends only throughout January. The prints on show are a mix of collagraphs, intaglio photopolymer prints and a set of monotypes combined with drypoint. I had lots of ideas for images to create but, as usual, time restrictions and other commitments meant that I had to go with the ones that just couldn’t be shaken whilst postponing some of the others for another time. It would mean writing an essay for me to describe all of the images on show and to explain their origins but there are a few key pieces that I’ll mention here. Charlotte has created some beautiful collections of vases, cups and jugs based on old pathways, drovers roads etc. in the North York Moors national Park. Visit her website to see more of her work.

The first pieces to be made were based on a very foggy run that I went on with my partner and our dog. We parked at Sutton Under Whitestonecliff and ran to Gormire, up through Garbutt wood and onto Sutton Bank, along past the Glider club and down via the white horse, through the plantation to Hood Hill and back via Sutton bank and Gormire. Doing a large figure of 8. The ethereal woods and soft focus views triggered off a series of photopolymer prints developed when I was over at Algarden Printmaking Studio in Sweden. For more details, see my previous blog posts Seeing the Wood for the Trees & Photopolymer Experiments Continued….This is a small triptych that evolved:triptychI also spent months designing and cutting a collagraph plate inspired by the birch copse at the base of White Horse bank and of roe deer that I saw in the area. The birch forest was not too much of a problem as I had had previous success with creating a collagraph plate of one last year but I wanted a small group of deer and the grouping, positions and sizes (not to mention direction) took a lot of fiddling about in order to get it just right. The way that I work is that I’ll sketch out the forest and then I’ll sketch various deer in different positions and then trace them off onto pieces of paper that I can move around on the forest drawing. I’ll photograph all of the combinations so that I can compare them on my laptop and then I use photoshop to flip them to see what the plate will look like when printed (collagraphs print in reverse).


This is just one example of many attempts. Working like this also helps me to spot flaws in my design such as wonky trees, dodgy perspective and badly drawn anatomy! I ended up completing the drawings in Sweden but then decided not to make the plate until I returned home as it is such a time-consuming process and I wanted to spend the studio time developing my photopolymer work. The final piece was proofed in March.

Passing ThroughOne of the key things about the project was that I was revisiting some of my favourite running routes and I wanted to allude to that in the imagery. Three places that I went to numerous times had quite different flora and topography and I decided that I could use this to make a series of prints. I set aside extra time on one of my visits with Paul Harris (who filmed me throughout the year) so that I could collect plant material from three of the sites. When I got back to the studio, I carefully pressed the different leaves and flowers in the pages of a phone directory and left them for a few weeks to dry. In the meantime, I studied an OS map of the areas and drew out the contours for the hills from where I’d collected the plants. Scratching into pieces of plastic, I created drypoints of the contours.

Over the course of a couple days, I printed the plant matter by rolling ink onto a piece of perspex that was the same size as the drypoints and by laying the plants onto the ink and putting them through the press. When I removed the plants, they left their impressions in the ink and I then printed that onto paper. I did this over and over again, changing the colours and tones of the ink and over printing the plant impressions until I had built up a number of images. I then inked up the drypoint plates and printed them as the last layer of each print. Whilst they were drying, I chose the best two sets of prints from the many variations. I painted blocks of MDF and pasted my chosen prints to the blocks using ph neutral bookbinding paste. The blocks were mounted within white box frames and hung as a series.

IMG_3818Gormire Lake:

007Hood Hill:

008Hawnby Hill:

010I’m using colours that reflect the incredible heather moorland at Hawnby for the last of these three prints. Not colours that I normally use but ones that found their way into another of my prints for the exhibition.

The Winter LakeThe Winter Lake was inspired by the view from the Cleveland Way above Whitestone Cliff. I often heard and saw flocks of jackdaws coming into roost on the cliff face above the lake and during the winter months, the birch trees around the lake were leafless but the twigs created a beautiful purple shade. The lake itself is very distinctive in shape and I couldn’t finish my work without creating at least one view of it.

There are many more prints on display including collagraphs inspired by some of the birds that I observed such as wrens, yellowhammers and skylarks but the last two pieces that I’ll include here are ‘layer collagraphs’. They are created by printing four separate collagraph plates with the aim that they will reflect the details of specific places. Textures, patterns and cross sections that I hope will give an impression of Gormire and White Horse Bank during winter and summer:

summer Winter

I have really enjoyed the year spent researching, visiting the places and creating new prints. I’ve also had a really interesting insight into film-making because photographer Paul Harris has been coming out on location, filming me at ArtisOn, visiting my studio and watching whilst I make some of the work and he has created a really beautiful piece of film as a profile of my work and life as a printmaker. Please do watch it if you can, I think it reflects the whole process very well and the film work is stunning: Hester Cox – Profile of a Printmaker by Paul Harris.







Open Studios

I can’t believe that it has been two months since I posted! It’s been such a hectic time and I have been sending my prints to exhibitions all over the country but right now the big event is North Yorkshire Open Studios. Today was the first day and I had a lovely time but more about that in a minute. First I want to say that, despite being ridiculously busy, I made myself take time off for a couple of weeks at the end of May and combined a visit to my Mum in Cornwall with the opportunity to have a holiday with my boyfriend, Brian, and his dog Harry. We spent the first week running the northern part of the coast path from Bude to Land’s End. 140miles in 7 days and a lot of upping and downing! Well, we ran the downhill bits and the ‘alongs’ but walked the ‘ups’ due to carrying backpacks with our camping gear in and it was a holiday after all! It was a fabulous week. The hard winter has meant that everything is flowering at the same time so we ran through seas of bluebells, thrift, primroses, foxgloves, sea squill, red campion, sea campion and orchids. It was so beautiful. We followed that with a lovely relaxing week with Mum in Penzance. The result is that I feel recharged, inspired, fitter and ready to face the next lot of exhibitions 🙂


During our visit, Open Studios Cornwall was taking place and it couldn’t have been better timed because it gave me plenty of food for thought for my participation in North Yorkshire Open Studios. I also come away with studio envy!

The first batch of artists that we visited were in Penzance at Trewidden Studios. It was a very rainy day so we ducked from studio to studio but we were still able to admire the wonderful setting of Trewidden Garden where former stable blocks house the artists’ studios. I was so pleased to finally meet Peter Wray and Judy Collins. They used to be based in Yorkshire and I often have students on my collagraph courses that have been taught by Peter. His methods are very different from mine, being sculptural and abstract, and I love the fact that our work exemplifies just how diverse a medium collagraph is! The image below is a print by Peter called ‘At The Edge’ (please see St.Ives Society of Artists for more of his work). He and Judy teach courses at Hand Print Studio.Image

There were lots of artists at Trewidden but particular highlights for me were the very original abstract sculpture pieces by Susanna Bauer who uses natural objects combined with crochet, weaving and stitching. This is called ‘Trans-Plant No.3’. I’d liked to have had a chat with her but she’d nipped out when we were there.

Trans-Plant No.3

I also really liked the work of Jane Ansell, who does interesting collaborative pieces, projects and mixed media artworks, and the painter Mark Spray.

In contrast to the rather wet but wonderful afternoon at Trewidden, our next Open Studios visits took place on a beautiful sunny day in Lamorna. I had no idea what I was going to see but Mum assured me that there was a wealth of talent hidden away in that neck of the woods. With an open mind and a spirit of adventure we headed up a sunny farm track….


…and discovered the first treat of the day, Peter Perry. Some of his larger oil on canvas landscapes were almost abstract and really atmospheric.


Whilst we were admiring his work, Harry played in the log pile! Dogs seemed to be very welcome at all the studios that we visited although he narrowly missed a cat attack at textile artist, Sue Marshall’s house!

We then strolled down the hill to the stunning house and studios at The Spinney where Baz Mehew, Stephane Rouget, Louise Thompson, Sarah Adie and Maureen Kennedy had their stone pieces, ceramics and paintings. Baz, Stephane and Sarah had a selection of stone carvings on display, some of which had shamanic and totemic influences. I had a lovely chat with Louise about her ceramic work and her recent foray into painting. She was very modest about her paintings and saw them as a starting point needing further development but displayed alongside her ceramic vessels, you could see the connection between the two methods of working and they complimented her three dimensional work beautifully, making the land and seascape influences more apparent.

The next stop on our tour was to Stephanie Cunningham. She is a ceramicist who makes stoneware sculptures based on animal and bird forms. Visiting her required an idyllic stroll through her garden past her raised beds full of vegetables and fruit, her cat sleeping in the sun and her inquisitive collie dog. We found her sitting in her little studio at the end amongst her sculptures and maquettes.


I love this piece called ‘Dog in the Wind’! Stephanie and I chatted about our experience of working alone tucked away in our studios and how important it is to network with other artists for support and to share ideas.

I think it is interesting the contrast between the two days of visits with the first being to a group of many artists in a studio complex and the other being artists working within their houses or in studios/sheds/summer houses in their gardens. I like to work alone and require solitude to enable me to become absorbed in my printmaking and to create meaningful work but I do miss the social interaction that comes from going out to work. North Yorkshire Open Studios is a great opportunity to share what I do and to meet the people that enjoy my work. Having been on both sides of the Open Studios experience, I recognise what a great idea it is! Not just the artwork itself but the objects, furnishings and collections that exist in each artist’s studio spaces offer a glimpse into the mindset and creative world of that artist. I took photos of my studio just before I opened for the first day of NYOS’13. Here is one with my press and a few of my treasures in the background. The reindeer antler is a gift from a good friend who was working down in South Georgia for a couple years. I find it impossible to be in the countryside and not come home with some pebble, bone, feather or stick!


Generally for most of the year artists are hidden away in their studios and the galleries do the work of selling what they create so it isn’t very often that you get to meet the people that like and buy your work except maybe at previews. For me, previews and private views tend to be highly strung events where conversation is snatched and it is difficult to have a thoughtful discussion. It is good to have the time to chat about my ideas and to explain how I create my prints.  Printmaking can be such a mysterious thing to a lot of people and many have no idea what a collagraph is or how it is made and I love the fascination that my visitors have with the printing plates and press.


The above photo is of my living room which has become the monochrome gallery showing work from my residencies at Nidderdale Museum and in Sweden plus my ceramic pieces.

Open Studios isn’t every artist’s cup of tea. I know some that baulk at the idea of letting strangers into their private world and it does require a fair amount of trust and confidence but, despite needing solitude, I’m also a gregarious person so having two weekends of the year when I do nothing but meet people and to talk about what I love doing is brilliant and always leaves me on a bit of a ‘high’, although a bit exhausted!


All sorts of people come to visit, friends, complete strangers, collectors, people who are just intrigued or happen to be passing, printmaking enthusiasts, students, people that are doing an Open Studio tour (and I happen to be on their route) and those that have travelled many miles just to see me. Last year a group of elderly local ladies visited me and told me tales of when they’d been friends with the previous occupant of the house forty years ago and they were delighted to have a good look around and find out what ‘that lady at No.3’ does all day 🙂

The event is brilliantly organised by Art Connections and they’ve been doing a great job of publicising it and enabling people to discover over 100 professional artists across North Yorkshire. They sum it up beautifully on their website –

“A free event that combines culture, breathtaking views and a chance to hone your navigation skills. From the remote hills of the upper Dales across the Vale of York to the North York Moors and the Yorkshire coast, a wide range of painters, printmakers, jewellery-makers, sculptors, potters, textiles artists, photographers and other visual art professionals will be inviting members of the public to see new work in the making and discover how this diverse range of artists create their work”


So if you fancy a look, I’ll be open again on 9th, 15th & 16th June from 10.30am to 5.30pm.  You could combine visiting me with a trip to ArtisOn which is the fab art centre just outside of Masham where I teach printmaking workshops. They are hosting four artists during the weekend, Josie Beszant, Ian Scott Massie, Rosie Scott Massie and Charlotte Morrison and just down the road from me at the Stables, Old Sleningford, Mickley, are Anna Poulton and Stuart Whitehead, whose work definitely shouldn’t be missed. You can get the details from the NYOS website


Extreme Printmaking!

It’s been a busy few weeks. Last week was an exciting mix of workshops and meetings and culminated in the Connections North Seminar at Harrogate Studio Theatre. This concentrated on the artists residency opportunities available to artists in North Yorkshire . Arts Connections had invited me to speak about my experience of doing my printmaking residency at Ålgården in Sweden. Others giving presentations were representatives from the Finnish, Scottish and Swedish centres as well as Sarah Smith, a fellow artist who did a stone carving residency in Sweden, and a representative from the Arts Council of England. It was an exciting and inspiring day and I was especially pleased to see Christina Lindberg and Anna Mattsson again.

This week I have been mainly outdoors!

A few months ago Paul Mosley, Hackfall Officer for the Woodland Trust, asked me if I would be interested in running an Inset day for teachers at Hackfall Woods with the emphasis on printmaking outdoors. Always up for a challenge and with Hackfall  being a favourite place of mine, I agreed. 27th March seemed a long way away and I was sure that on the day I would be leading a group of teachers happily making prints in the sunshine as the birds sang. Suffice to say that, as the snow fell and then fell again, I have been worrying about the workshop for some weeks!

I’m a bit of a perfectionist and tend to be meticulous in my lesson planning so I knew that the only way to ensure success was to do a dry run of the workshop the day before it took place. That way I could ensure that everything would work in the current weather conditions. So I can actually say that I spent two days printmaking in the snow 🙂

Using ArtisOn as a base, Paul and I met our 12 teachers along with Hackfall volunteer Sue Cockcroft, who was invaluable as a printmaking assistant. We then set off to Hackfall in the minibus. Paul had explained the idea of story sticks and a couple of the teachers decided to have a go. Story sticks are a way to engage a child’s attention right from the start of the visit by getting them to look for found objects to attach to their stick using rubber bands throughout their walk. This provides a visual record of their journey through the woods. Apparently it stems from an aboriginal practise.


I then discussed the Geoartcache project that I was commissioned to do by Chrysalis Arts for North Yorkshire Open Studios last year. I’ve created a trail in the woods that combines printmaking, book art, wildlife and folklore. Further details are on the Geoartcache website. Originally the trail consisted of 10 caches and the book cache but it has been adapted to allow for the caches that have gone AWOL due to flooding, storms and skulduggery! There are now six stamp caches and the book cache so do go and have a look if you are in the area.


Slipping about a bit, we headed down the hill for a spot of bark rubbing and the chance to ‘meet a tree’ before heading to the ‘beach’ to do sun printing (ha!). I love sunprinting and it has so much scope as an educational tool. It is based on the principles of cyanotype which was discovered in the nineteenth century and became popular with engineers as a low cost way of reproducing their designs as ‘blue prints’. Anna Atkins used it to record her extensive plant and seaweed collection and these were collected together in what is generally considered to be the first book published with photographic illustrations. She is also considered by some to be the first female photographer although that is open to speculation with Constance Talbot (Henry Fox Talbot’s wife) often being cited as the first (amongst others). Anyway, the process is great for combining science and art and I soon had my teachers creating photograms by looking for interesting found objects such as leaves, twigs, feathers and sand to create images with. They then laid the objects on the light sensitive paper and placed a piece of perspex over the top to hold them in place whilst we waited for the weak sun to do its work.


Fortunately, you can sunprint even when its cloudy so within ten minutes the exposed parts of the blue paper had turned a very pale bluey white and the paper was ready to be developed in my little tub of river water,


The chemical in the parts of the paper that have not been exposed to UV light are water soluble and wash away leaving the paper white whereas the UV exposed parts turn a dark blue. The blue deepens as the paper dries to become a beautiful cyan blue (a clue is in the name).


I layered all the developed prints carefully in small sheets of blotting paper to dry and we headed along the muddiest path in Hackfall to check out one of my geoartcaches, ‘Waterdog’. I retold the story of St.Cuthbert and the otters and demonstrated the stamp and then we headed to my favourite folly, Fisher’s Hall, for a spot of monoprinting. I love this folly. Its a magical and meditative spot where you can sit and watch the river whilst listening to the birds. Here it is earlier in the year.Image

I had to use oil-based water soluble relief printing ink from Lawrence Art Supplies as my speedball inks didn’t perform very well the day before because of the cold.


Everyone managed to make some lovely monotypes despite cold fingers but we decided that plasticine printmaking at the pond might just tip some of the less hardier members of the group into hypothermia so, instead, we headed up to the banqueting house to admire the view across the valley and in the other direction, to Mowbray Castle.


Chris was waiting with his minibus at the car park to take us back to ArtisOn for lunch. Sue Palin spoilt us with three delicious soups and bread followed by scones and two kinds of cake 🙂 Full up and a bit rosy cheeked from the snow, I then set about showing the teachers how to make prints and stamps from funfoam, how to explore textures of found objects by printing from plasticine and the amazing things you can do with relief collagraph techniques. None of which need a press or any expensive materials. Here’s one of my collagraph sample boards:


The teachers getting stuck in to making stamps.


All in all it was an excellent day and proved that the weather should be no obstacle to having a good time! In fact I distinctly recall the first workshop that I ever did for the Woodland Trust which involved me leading a group of printmakers around Hackfall in the pouring rain to gather inspiration for two days of collagraph printmaking. The results were amazing and reflected the weather.

Melanie Blades 1

So, if anybody is now keen to come printmaking in the woods, Paul is running a Family Day at Hackfall on the 10th April, 11am – 4pm. There will be pond dipping and I will be based in the Rustic Temple doing printmaking. Adults and children are welcome to come and have a go. For more information visit the Hackfall website. Booking not required. Hope to see some of you there and perhaps we will have some sunshine! 🙂


Telling Tails

I’ve just had a little flurry of activity with regards to exhibitions and I now have my prints on display at Feathered Friends, Cambridge Contemporary Art & Bird’s Eye View, Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery.

On Wednesday last week, glass artist Jane Littlefield, gallery manager, Alison Holt, and I hung the Telling Tails exhibition at Rural Arts in Thirsk. In the beginning it was quite a conundrum to work out how to display Jane’s beautiful three dimensional glass pieces and my prints together but with the use of plinths for Jane’s work, the walls for mine and the rearrangement of all the lovely ceramics, textiles and jewellery in the gallery, I think we came up with a very pleasing exhibition.

003 006 017 022

Jane has developed a really interesting way of working with her pieces consisting of multi-layered painted glass images that create a three-dimensional collage. The glass is hand painted using traditional stained glass paints and translucent enamels that are fired in the kiln. The work refers to Jane’s experience of the Peak District in which she lives and works. 

010 020 023


Both of us are inspired by nature and stories and we often depict the same birds and animals such as crows, hares and owls. I am very fortunate to live in a rural place and I see lots of wild animals and interesting birds but it is the ones that appear throughout history in poetry, folklore and myth that tend to grab my attention most and are likely to make it into my collagraph prints.

We held the preview for the exhibition on Friday night and I’m pleased to say that plenty of people came and we now have a couple red spots! 🙂

This little roe deer collagraph was the first print of mine to sell:

Roe Deer

By coincidence, this year’s North Yorkshire Open Studios meeting (to distribute promotional materials and discuss the event) was held at Rural Arts on Friday and I have collected my brochures ready to send out to anyone that would like to visit me in my studio. I love taking part in North Yorkshire Open Studios because it is a chance to meet people that like my work and also to show how the prints are made. I will write about that in more detail nearer the time (it is over two weekends in June) but in the meantime you can visit NYOS’13 at their website and facebook page and if you would like me to send you a catalogue, you can send me a message with your postal address via the contact page of my website and I will happily send one out to you.

I am now off to continue making a very detailed collagraph plate of a fox in a birch forest. It is inspired by the beautiful forests that I saw in Sweden. If it goes well, I’ll write about it soon!

March Hares and Feathered Friends

As usual, blog posts from me tend to be a bit few and far between but I can report that I’ve been steadily getting back up to speed after my slow January and I’ve delivered work for two exhibitions that have just started. Both are bird themed shows. The first is at The Craft Centre and Design Gallery in Leeds and features my prints along with those of Janis Goodman, Pam Grimmond and Mike Smith. It is on until the 29th June 2013 so there is plenty of time to visit.

The second exhibition is at Cambridge Contemporary Art and is a group show with prints from Janis and Pam again and also Carry Ackroyd, Jane Ormes, Simon Griffiths and Fiona Watson to name but a few. ‘Feathered Friends’ continues until 1st April 2013 but both galleries have my work permanently in the browsers for anyone that misses these shows. I’m now finishing the preparations for my exhibition ‘Telling Tails’ with glass artist Jane Littlefield at Rural Arts in Thirsk. We both share a love of the natural landscape and  the stories and folklore that surround the wildlife that inhabit it. Jane creates beautiful three dimensional glass pieces such as this hare:


The exhibition runs until the 31st May 2013. Incidentally, if anyone would like to attend the preview it is from 7-9pm at The Old Courthouse, Rural Arts in Thirsk, RSVP by email to I will have some brand new prints on display as well as a selection of recent collagraphs.

This is my new barn owl, ‘The Silent Sentinel’:

The Silent Sentinel

The exhibitions and events that I’m doing are mounting up for 2013 and will include North Yorkshire Open Studios, group shows at The Found Gallery in Dunbar and The Blue Tree Gallery in York, Art in the Pen at Skipton, The Harrogate Art Show and The Simplicity of Colour at The Gallery in Masham. I’ll post details as each show comes up.

My workshops are now coming up thick and fast. I’ve just finished my collagraph course at Number Six in Pateley Bridge (we’re already planning more for the autumn) and have started the beginners collagraph course at ArtisOn in Masham where I am also teaching ‘Printing without a Press’ next week on the 8th March and ‘Natural Forms in Linocut Printmaking’ on the 23rd March. Phew…that will do for now!

On an entirely different note, I’ve been doing some more hare watching when I’ve been out fell running. We’ve had plenty of snow and this is a lovely brown hare that I managed to find by following its footprints.


The most exciting was my first ever sighting of mountain hares in their winter coats! I’ve just this weekend successfully completed the High Peak Marathon with my team mates ‘The High Peak Scuttlers’ and we ran a fabulous route from Edale which traverses the Derwent watershed. I’d been told that there were mountain hares living in the area and sure enough, I got my first glimpse of them at Bleak Low on a recce run a couple weeks ago.

winter hare

Amazingly, we actually saw lots of them and on the race itself, we were crossing Bleak Low again as the sun came up and we got a fleeting glimpse of a couple. In the space of just a couple weeks the hares are beginning to lose their white coats and are looking browner.

For all those intrigued by what I get up to when not in the studio, here is a photo that my boyfriend and fellow team member at The High Peak Marathon took. It was taken just after we had safely navigated the frozen bogs in moonlight and picked up the Pennine Way to the Snake Road crossing. It was as cold as it looked but the hot tea at the checkpoint soon revived us.

I’m off to continue work on my altered book for The Library of Lost Books now. More on that another day!