Inky adventures in printmaking and letterpress!

When two processes collide!


As I enthused in my last blog post, I had discovered the intaglio illustration process of etching and drypoint, aided by a five-evening introductory course at the SpikePrint open studio at Bristol Harbourside.  Whereas I have enjoyed trying my hand at the popular linocut and woodcut relief processes, neither really came naturally to me.  Etching and drypoint processes allowed me to easily scribe detailed imagery onto a plate, and then created moody shading effects by selectively rubbing the Ink off the plate prior to printing on an etching press.  The process of drypoint, in particular appealed to me, with its velvety etching lines and the fact that, unlike etching, no nasty chemicals or plate preparation are required.  Drypoint can easily be created even on Perspex sheets as well as zinc or copper plate.


So armed with this new technique, I was keen to employ this process when creating a book, but then the issues started!  Letterpress, along with natural partner relief printing techniques such as linocut, woodcut and wood engraving, facilitate easy repetition of the printed work, expecially in the hands of an experienced printer armed with an Arab or similar treadle press. Intaglio processes however, by their very nature are very different, each individual print requiring the time-consuming careful rubbing of the image plate and the dampening of individual paper sheets before the two are united in the etching press.  Even using my basic galley press, I can create up to 30 single colour letterpress prints in one hour, but just four good intaglio prints in the same amount of time.


Another issue to contend with, relating specifically to the creation of drypoint prints, is the fact that the useful life of each plate is very short, especially if Perspex sheets are used.  This is due to the fact that the characteristic burr, thrown-up by the etching needle, holds much of the ink that makes up the print.  This burr is fragile, and after as little as three passes (using Perspex) through the etching press under high pressure, breaks-down, and the image quality noticeably degrades.  The use of more resilient copper plate improves matters but only slightly, permitting around ten prints to be taken before breaking-down.

In the end, I decided to add the drypoint images into my latest book ‘A Little Boke of Iford’ by resorting to scanning and inkjet printing the original drypoint prints, and using letterpress for the rest.  Whereas this overcame this problem, I could not help but feel that the value and magic of creating a handmade book, had now become somewhat compromised by an unwelcome modern-day printing process, more associated with day-to-day quick prints of documents and family snapshots, than something as special as a handmade book.  Despite having now printed a small book that I am generally pleased with, I feel that my next project to include intaglio content, must include original original prints instead, despite the increased time and effort involved (even for a very small edition), either by using drypoint or acid etch processes.  After all, had time to create a book been an issue at all (which it is not), then even letterpress would have been the wrong solution, and the whole lot could have been churned out on a laser printer in seconds, a brief but totally soul-less activity!



Long time – no Blog!

Right, I’ve just managed to locate my WordPress password and log back onto my much-neglected blog site after an absence of just over one year. Quite a lot has happened over the last 12 months, not least my continuing to explore my intaglio printmaking side following an excellent short drypoint and etching course run by Jo Hounsome at Bristol’s SpikePrint studio early last year. These mediums have allowed me to create prints inspired by great printmakers such as Janes McNeill Whistler and Ernest David Roth who recorded the beautiful architecture of Venice in etchings during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Hard ground etching of Venetian windows

The last 12 months has also seen the start of my involvement in BSpoke16, a local Art Fair held just north of Bristol, set up by local printmaker Kathryn Williams. These fairs, as well as giving the obvious benefit of selling my work, are a great opportunity to meet up with other sellers and gain a valuable insite into what items of my work, clicks with buyers.

My stand at BSpoke16

My stand at BSpoke16

Also, in recent weeks, I have been concentrating on my second book, made up of letterpress type (Bodoni of course!) and printed scans of my early drypoint prints. A small Boke of Iford, is my own small tribute to Harold A. Peto, who in the early 20th century, created an Italianate Garden masterpiece in the grounds of the newly acquired Iford Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. Recently, I managed to unearth a collection of photographs taken at the Peto Gardens, during a visit ten years before. I have always wanted to created something inspired by this visit, and my engagement with the process of drypoint has given me the opportunity to do this in a book.

Peto Garden drypoint

Peto Garden drypoint

I am hoping to complete this project in the coming couple of months, so will provide an update as soon as all pages and covers are printed and bound.

Exeter does letterpress!

Two weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be asked to assist the printmaking staff at the small (but beautifully-formed) Double Elephant Print Studio at Exeter, in their aim to add letterpress to their current skills repertoire. As well as providing in-house training on a wide variety of printmaking methods, Double Elephant are very much involved in a number of local outreach projects, perhaps the best known being ‘Print on Prescription’ which enables mental health services to access affordable printmaking on a regular basis. This service was the subject of a recent article in the Winter 2013 edition of Printmaking Today magazine.

My brief was to come down to Exeter to work with the team for two days using the letterpress equipment the studio had managed to collect to date. Upon arrival, boxes full of metal and wood type, furniture, composing sticks, quoins and keys etc, were eagerly bought out of storage. Soon, armed with a sizeable galley press with a newly recovered roller, the studio’s trusty Albion press, and a cluster of Adana’s, some varied and interesting work quickly began to emerge at the hands of eight experienced printmakers. We even printed a book (well, the cover of one anyway!). I have added some photographs from the very enjoyable weekend workshop here:

For more information about the Double Elephant print studio, why not visit their website.

Some autumnal inspiration

After a much-needed  studio clear-out and the sale of a number of items including a small Adana press and book press, I was able to make space for, and buy a Polymetaal JM-25 desktop etching press from the helpful people at Intaglio Printmaker in London. The arrival of the press could not have been at a better time, and neatly coincided with a number of outings to photograph and collect autumn leaves that were in the middle of undergoing some amazing transitions from green to beautiful combinations or reds, yellows, and browns.




This was an opportunity to try my hand at creating some small collagraph plates using some collected leaves, onto which I applied a base intaglio colour followed by light rubs of autumn colours on top to pick-out the high-points of the leaves, notably the leaf stems and veins.
The inked plates, damp sheets of 210gsm BFK Rives blank and press blankets, were then run through the press. Despite its small size, the Polymetaal press was great to use, and made it easy to judge the right amount of roller pressure to be applied to the plate. Because of the way the plates are inked-up using multiple colours at once, you never quite know how the resulting print is going to look. My early attempts varied a great deal, but permitted me to alter my plate wiping and rubbing technique until I got close to the end result I was aiming for. Here are three versions of one of the collagraphs prints I created.

Oh dear!

Oh dear!





The press also allowed me to give drypoint another go, following my first attempts using the book press (see previous post). I used a 3mm thick perspex sheet to create a drypoint of a dried Nigella plant. Being transparent the perspex plate made it easy to copy the original artwork placed underneath. After applying raw sienna etching ink onto the plate and wiping off the excess, this went through the press, and here is the result.



One think I have learnt is that a key skill when creating intaglio prints, is to be able to gauge exactly how much of the ink to wipe off the plate prior to printing, to achieve the desired effect. I now have a growing collection of various plant parts and leaves that I will be using to create some more drypoint and collagraph plates in the coming weeks.

Drypoint plate on the press

Drypoint plate on the press

Putting on the pressure – an attempt at Drypoint

All printmaking techniques I have used to-date, such as linocut and woodcut have been ideal for making prints requiring large blocks of colour but not huge amounts of detail.  So when I wanted to try my hand at printing something with great detail (cuttings of various plants from the garden in this case) I decided to try a very different technique.  Inspired by Nourishment,  a series of meticulously-detailed etchings of common weeds created by Micheal Landy back in 2002, I started to look at  intaglio processes, and found that the Drypoint  would be a perfect process to try.  For a beginner, Drypoint offers many advantages including a lack of need for any acid plate etching, as well as an ability to scribe designs directly onto perspex sheets that permit the original artwork placed beneath to be easily copied.

For my first attempt at Drypoint, my only materials used were as follows:

  • Sheet of 3mm perspex plate
  • Steel Drypoint scribing tool and sandpaper
  • Tube of etching ink
  • An old plastic loyalty card (to spread the ink onto the plate)
  • A supply of surgical gauze
  • A book press

After creating some test etchings using the tool and various grades of sandpaper, the sharp edges of the perspex plate were smoothed-off at a 45-degree angle.  This is vital to prevent the plate from cutting through the dampened paper when pressed.  The plate was then covered in etching ink, which was then worked-into the etchings with the gauze, using a simultaneous pressing and rotating motion.  A clean piece of gauze was then used to gently lift the ink off the plate to reveal the inked etchings underneath.

Removing the ink from the plate

Removing the ink from the plate

This was the part of the process I was most fascinated by, and soon realised that there is a real skill in judging exactly how much ink to remove from the plate, especially if you want to create effects such as a dramatic sky on a  print of a landscape.  With the plate prepared, it was laid onto a board to go into the press before a sheet of dampened (left in tray of water for 15 minutes and patted to remove excess water) BFK Rives paper, was placed on top.  Lastly, a small press blanket was then placed on top of the paper.

Wiped test-plate ready for printing

Wiped test-plate ready for printing

My first two prints, showing very faint results, made me realise exactly how much pressure needed to be exerted by the press to get anything like an acceptable result.  After re-inking and re-wiping the plate, the next prints were put under as much pressure I could exert using the big cast iron press without it starting to skid across the workbench (the press weighs in excess of 60kg!).  The final attempt with increased pressure gave a better result, however it seems that the only way to get a really good result is to use an etching press which is designed to exert the huge amount of pressure required by this and other intaglio processes (that’s a big hint to Father Christmas if he’s reading this post!)

Ta da! - first results

Ta da! – first results

If you want to learn how to try out the Drypoint technique for yourself, check out this great video produced by Double Elephant Print Studios at Exeter.

UWE and ME!

Photo - Paul Laidler

Photo – Paul Laidler

I’ve just spent a fun couple of days at the Print Centre at the Art and Design faculty of the University of the West of England (UWE for short).  Along with a small number of other like-minded letterpress practitioners , I was invited by Angie Butler and Hazel Grainger to a two-day ‘LENvention’ or to give its full name, a convention of the Letterpress Etiquette Network.   The purpose of this event was to play a part in the research being carried out by Angie as part of her P.hD studying the influences of letterpress in the book arts practice.

After introductions and presentations if was off to the letterpress area to look over the Vandercooks, Columbian and other assorted presses and to gaze in wonderment over the type collection that ranged from 10pt boring (Times Roman) right the way up to 20 line Yee-Harr (PlayBill)!

To the Vandercooks!

Busy at the Vandercooks!

Then is was aprons-on as we paired-up and set to work on our various inky projects interspered with tea, coffee, sandwiches, large condensed sans-serif letterpress cake and some in depth discussions on the practise of letterpress in all of its forms.  What was especially valuable about the event was the ability to interact and work with other practitioners who all had their own distinctive approaches to the project in hand.  Hopefully, I will be able to tell more about the final project outcome in a later post.

Forme all set and ready to print

Forme all set and ready to print

Angies P.hD research is an ongoing activity , so it would be great to continue to play a part in her work (especially if there is more cake involved), as well as meet up again with the other LENvention participants in the coming months and years.

Eco-enlightenment with Lynn Bailey

While trawling through numerous web sites seeking inspirational examples of intaglio and collagraph printing, the last thing I was expecting, was to learn about natural pollution filtration processes. However, that’s exactly what happened when I found the web site of Lynn Bailey, artist printmaker and co-founder of the Double Elephant Print workshop in Exeter, Devon, UK.

After graduating with a BA in Fine Art, Lynn began experimenting with various environmentally friendly printmaking techniques, etching in particular. Lynn’s concern for the environment has not just been confined to techniques used, but is also key subject matter for her colourful works which effectively blend a wide range of printmaking techniques including drypoint, collagraph, screenprint and etching. As well as producing beautiful prints, Lynn effectively educates the viewer about the environment, in particular the power of weeds and natures amazing ability to triumph over man-made pollution caused by landfill.

Silver Weed Offspring

Silver Weed Offspring
(image used courtesy of Lynn Bailey)

Weed Killer II

Weed Killer II
(image used courtesy of Lynn Bailey)

Lynn’s collection of work entitled Wonder Weeds includes a number of prints created using collected weeds that have been inked-up and monoprinted onto a blind embossed plate. Of course being weeds, their printed forms break out of the border of the embossed plate with impunity. Other prints in this series represent weeds flourishing despite mans attempts to tackle them with weedkillers.

The Works IV

The Works IV
(image used courtesy of Lynn Bailey)

Another of Lynn’s works that caught my eye is a piece entitled The Works IV. Here, collagraph, monoprint, chine colle and relief printing techniques are bought together to produce a striking impression of the pollution filtration process in action. Scanning the print from left to right, the orange-red water and its pollutants, represented by aluminium cans and other debris, enter the reed bed system at the centre of the print. The debris was created by relief printing onto tissue paper tinted with rusty soil collected from the actual spring that had emerged from the landfill before being cleansed by the reed bed. The reed bed at the centre of the print is created using collagraph techniques, and continuing to the right of the image, the cleansing of the water emerging from the reed bed is highlighted by the growth of new green vegetation. This was again created by monoprinting actual weeds.

If you want to see more of Lynn’s colourful and informative works, why not visit her website at or see it for yourself at the forthcoming Devon Open Studios event that runs from the 7th to the 22nd September. More details about this event can be found here can also purchase some of Lynn’s very competitively priced prints, or even hand printed tote bags for a mere £9.00 each at her on-line Etsy shop.

Clevedon Pier Linocut


Clevedon Pier in Somerset celebrates its 100th year this year, and it has always been my favourite local coastal landmark, so was obvious subject matter for a new linocut.  It was also an ideal opportunity to practice the popular rainbow-rolling technique (after buying a roller wide enough to cover the background!).



I used black ink for the pier on my original proofs, but this was way too overpowering against the more delicate lighter background colours, so the final prints used dark brown instead.   Whereas the rainbow rolling worked pretty well after a few attempts, this project was not without its problems.  The original choice of  brown ink used for the pier came out very blotchy and two weeks after its application is still very tacky. Luckily I had an old tin of dark brown Adana ink that I could turn to.  This gave much better results and dried within a few days.

Now that these prints are dry, I’m going to get the best ones framed and put some up for sale in my online shop.

Brick by brick – loaf by loaf


Whenever I print a new poster, card or print, I always wonder about their fate once completed and stacked in a neat pile in the corner of the studio.  Is this a print that’s going to fly off the shelves or another one that ends up being either stored away, or being given away to family and friends.   When printing my latest run of ‘Make Bread Not War’ posters, I was completely unprepared for what would happen next.

Within hours of presenting my latest creation to the active letterpress printing community via socia media site Twitter, I had received great interest in these posters from ‘Homebaked’, a community Bakery based in Anfield right next door to the home of the mighty Liverpool Football Club.  Before long, I was in touch with Lynn Tolman, Artist, activist and Anfield resident and arranging for a batch of posters to be sent to Anfield to be sold in their bakery.  It rapidly became apparent that Homebaked was no ordinary bakery and Anfield was no ordinary neighbourhood.


The community of Anfield, along with a number of others in northern England, have been subject to the Housing Market Renewal scheme, otherwise known as ‘Pathfinder’ put into motion by the last Labour Government.  Whereas the plan was to demolish existing housing and replace with new and let market forces create a demand for new housing and inject new energy into the local economy, the reality has not quite turned out that way.

With the rate of demolition not being matched by that of new building, communities such as Anfield have now found themselves in a kind of twilight zone with its remaining residents  looking on at streets of boarded up but generally sound Victorian terraced properties, not knowing the fate of their neighbourhood.

However, the residents of Anfield are fighting back and with the assistance of artist Jeanne van Heeswijk, the Liverpool Biennial arts festival and architects URBED,  are now taking firm control of the future of their neighbourhood.


A cornerstone of this inspiring regeneration process is the re-birth of Mitchells Bakery, a long-standing local landmark and family business that eventually closed-up in 2010. As well as being a bakery, Mitchells was a popular meeting point for football fans from all over the country to meet-up at match days.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign the bakery now has its own oven and as well as providing bread, Homebaked are planning to make pies, pizzas and cakes for match-day crowds, and even host their own bread making courses.


It’s great to know that any sales of my ‘Make Bread’ posters will contribute in a small way to this inspiring cause.  Making some money selling a product is satisfying but knowing it is also helping a very worthy cause as well really makes it worthwhile.

Why not read more about this project at the 2up2down website and pledge your support too!

All photographs used by permission – Lynn Tolman / HomeBaked /2up2down

Celebrating the book in Stroud


On Friday 7th December I took the short journey from Bristol to Stroud and the ‘The Book – a Celebration’ event organised by local printer Dennis Gould, at the Old Town Hall.  Besides giving an opportunity to view a great collection of  favourite books of selected Stroud residents, todays event included an very informative and entertaining talk by John Randle, proprietor of the famous Whittington Press, and wood engraver Miriam Macgregor who joined the press as a compositor in 1976.

Miriam started the talk by describing the craft of  english wood engraving (a skill John observed as being well-suited to the masochistic psyche of the english artist!), before introducing us to the colourful watercolour stencil technique of Pochoir, a medium used to great effect in a number of the Whittington Press’s publications.

Wood engravings by Miriam Macgregor

Whittington Press publication with wood engravings by Miriam Macgregor

Pochoir illustrations by Miriam Macgregor

Whittington Press publication with pochoir illustrations by Miriam Macgregor

John gave a talk on the history and work of the Whittington Press which was established back in 1971 and is now based in a (now very much extended) groundsman’s workshop in the grounds of Whittington Court, as few miles outside Cheltenham.  Since its highly-successful first publication ‘A boy at the Hogarth Press’ in 1972, the Whittington Press has produced a constant stream of beautiful publications using traditional letterpress printing techniques, and  today has plenty of forthcoming titles on the way.

John Randle and Miriam Macgregor

John Randle and Miriam Macgregor

John also introduced us to the presses very popular publication ‘Matrix’, a yearly collection of articles for printers and bibliophiles, and explained how this publication has been invaluable as the life-blood of Whittington in the financially-precarious world of the private press.

Following this informative talk, I had a great opportunity to meet up with other local printers including Roderick Shaw of the nearby  Nonpareil Press and Pat Randle of the Nomad Letterpress over drinks and cakes at the nearby Star Anise Arts Cafe , the walls of which were suitably adorned with the unique letterpress posters of local printer, football poet, and cycling enthusiast Dennis Gould.

Finally, a really big thanks to Dennis for putting together such a great event for book enthusiasts, book makers and printers alike.