Christine Howes is a Bristol based printmaker who specialises in wood engraving, lino cut and wood cut prints. Her favourite subject is anything to do with the natural world – wildlife, plant life, landscapes and insects. She loves working from direct observation to create beautifully intricate and sensitive images. Christine generously contributed the article below which describes her working methods and how a wall in Cornwall was the focal point for a whole body of work.
THE STONE HEDGE – Reduction Linocut
During the past few years I have become inspired by a wall in North Cornwall. It may be as many as two hundred years old. Every spring and summer I spend a few weeks looking at the huge range of plants that grow between the stones that look grey in the winter months. It seems like magic to me that such colour and diversity can burst forth so that in June the entire wall is covered in blossoms of Valerian, Campion, Blackberry, Pennywort and Foxglove. I read that six hundred flower species, seventy grasses and three hundred common mosses, not to mention lichens and ferns can be found in a Cornish hedge. In fact the wall is a stone hedge, having some soil inside, and I have made drawings and watercolours of some of its contents, leading towards several print projects.
The journey to my wall prints began with a desire to learn the names of the flowers to help me to identify and remember them. My first drawings were quick studies in line and watercolour wash in my sketchbook. Later I observed them more closely and omitted the line.
One day I sat next to the wall and made a watercolour of the stones. As I sat there I saw bees that entered the foxgloves and seemed to live in the cracks of the wall. Butterflies flitted around me and hours went by. One early morning I spotted a noisy group of greenfinches feeding on blackberries that grew from the wall. The brambles arched across the wall and the early light shone palely on the birds, lighting them up from the side.
THE GREENFINCHES – Reduction Linocut
The several prints I have made from the wall are mostly printed by the Reduction method. If you are new to this way of printing it is best to try two colours only at first. Think of your print as having a paler background colour, and also a darker shade or colour on top of that.
You can also use areas of white in your design where the paper shows through, by cutting these areas out first. It is difficult to visualize until you have a go! Make a rough sketch in two colours plus white first.
BLACKBERRY BORDER – Reduction Linocut
I transferred the design onto the lino using tracing paper and carbon paper. Then I cut away all areas of the design that I wanted to be white. I rolled the first colour, pinkish red, onto the lino and printed about twenty or more on Zerkall Smooth paper and also a few proofs on newsprint. Then I cut away all of the flowers and unripe blackberries and some edges of leaves from the lino. These were the areas that I wanted to stay in the first colour – pinkish red, when the second colour was printed on top – green. After I had printed green on top of all of the prints, I cut away areas on the lino that I wished to stay green and then printed the third colour – black. It is important to let the prints dry in between printings, for two to three days. I used a Pfeil relief fine tool size L 12/1 and it cuts well.
BULLFINCHES – Reduction Linocut
I have now made prints of two types of British finches, the Greenfinches [above] and also Goldfinches. I rarely see Bullfinches except about once a year on the Cornish wall. Looking from a window I saw a pair of Bullfinches perching on a small branch and feeding. I was stunned by their colours and those of the branch, so when they left I went for a closer look. I noticed small pieces of the red plant scattered on the ground underneath. The plant was Herb Robert and has tiny pink flowers. They had been eating the tips of the plant or seed heads. I made a sketch of the bright red leaves and tried to work out a relative size for the birds.
When I came to print the Bullfinches I took a while to decide on the order of the colours, as with oil based ink each colour affects the next one. I printed the pink of the birds’ breast first and used it as light on the plant. Then I printed the red of the stems and leaves as these were the most important colours to get right. After this I printed grey for the wall and a deep blue-green. I decided that after looking at the four colours it was unnecessary to print black.
I was born and grew up in Bristol. I specialized early and took A level art at a technical college with a large art department. I went on to art college for five years in Kingston upon Thames where I did a B.A. in graphic design and later to do an M.A. at Central School of Art, London. I worked freelance in illustration in London and also in Australia for three years. After a long career as a book illustrator in publishing, I began to teach privately and to take some courses myself in printmaking. I attended a class run by Peter Reddick, a master printmaker and generous teacher. He taught woodcut and wood engraving and worked for many years as an illustrator using wood engravings to illustrate the entire works of Thomas Hardy for the Folio Society.
WREN AND LICHEN – Wood Engraving
Wood Engraving is the most difficult of the relief methods but extremely rewarding. The image is engraved into small blocks of the hardest wood. As the tools for this must be very sharp it does not require strength but control. The wood used is traditionally end grain box wood but there are alternatives available. This little wren was carved in pear wood and measures only ten centimetres across.
I have recently worked on some wood engraved landscapes of North Cornwall and a new linocut print of a short eared owl.
I joined Spike Print Studio as a professional member and am now proud to be a member of their board of directors. I run regular courses in Relief Printmaking at Spike Print Studio, Bristol, teaching Linocutting, Woodcutting and occasionally wood engraving. I take part in the North Bristol Art Trail and BS9 art trail.
I will be exhibiting my work at The Botanic Gardens, Bristol on 14th and 15th May 2016 as part of the BS9 art trail in Bristol.
My prints can be seen at Coldharbour Framery and Gallery, Redland, Bristol.
See more at: – www.christinehowes.co.uk