Posted on

The Making of “Winter Hedgerow”

Now that “Winter Hedgerow” is completed and hanging in Chalk Gallery, I would like to share a little more of my working process which I have documented in photographs over the last year or so.

The wind-blasted hedgerows that line stretches of the A27 first caught my attention two years ago.  I had been driving to my studio in Worthing listening to the radio and finding a state of gentle awareness that so often arrives once the children are packed off to school, and I have the space and time to draw and print.  I admit that I dislike cars, and traffic, despite driving one and being part of the traffic…  The naked trees struck me as so vulnerable amidst the pollution, noise and speed.  They also seemed to say ‘winter” in a way that was so irrevocable. These sketches were my first emotional response.

I knew the subject matter did not lend itself to lino print in that there are a predominance of tangles and textures, rather than clearly defined shapes. However I am a lino printer, and I could not resist tackling it in my favourite medium all the same.  I decided to approach the lines as expressive rivers of energy rather than attempting to depict every single twig.  I felt I could still capture the cave-like dense nature of the hedgerow, and its nakedness, with the bold lines which result from my style of carving. I draw in pencil and felt-tip pen with little concern for neatness.  It feels as if I am carving an idea out of the page as I work, and I will layer up, change colour, and scribble over until the design is clear and confident to me.

Then begins the process of tracing, transferring, sometimes re-drawing and finally carving.  The lines take on a personality of their own during this process which is one of the aspects of lino printing that strongly appeals to me.  The medium and process start to dictate and tell the hedgerow how to look.  It is never an option to create a ‘accurate” copy of reality so the artist is presented with a problem to solve instead – how shall I do this? 

I use only three pfiel lino cutting tools; a large and small gouge, and one v shaped.  Again, I like restriction.  It forces me to problem-solve, and I find this is where creativity is at it’s richest.

The background needed to be a ‘rainbow roll’ in order to capture the atmospheric effects of a landscape; sky gently fading to white, and the green of the fields de-saturating to grey as they move towards the horizon.  Creating the right palette of tones blending evenly across the roller is almost as time-consuming as the carving process!

The first print was created and I initially called it “Winter on the A27” because that particular spot was still so important to me.

I had trudged up and down the hard shoulder photographing the hedgerow from different angles and had quite a collection of images stored on my computer, so I decided to develop the project.  I also felt it needed to exist in a large format to have the impact I had felt when photographing it.  Two more prints were designed; a companion piece of the same size, and a larger 30x40cm piece.

I continued to carve and print through the winter months of early 2021 finally bringing the series to a completion in March.

The last step will be to sign, edition and frames these prints ready for their new home in the Chalk Gallery, Lewes, which opens again on 15th April. 

It’s been a long project.  But it’s been worth it.

Posted on

Framing artwork

This week has found me busy framing work for the re-openning of the galleries in which I exhibit. After experimenting with various suppliers I have settled on as by far the best. I love the fact that due to their website, I have absolute control over the dimensions of the frame, the mount and the various colours and textures. When the frames arrive they are always well packaged (handy because I can re-use the packaging) and beautifully made.

As you can see from the video I take the final steps of positioning and framing the artwork myself.

It’s important to use good quality archival materials when framing an artwork so that no damage is done to the print over time. The tape used to secure the print in place is acid-free, as is the backing board. Then the back of the frame is sealed all around the edge with framers tape to prevent dust, insects or mould spores finding their way in.

Should look good for a while!

Posted on

Two Birds Looking

My edition of “Two Birds” is down to just a few prints now, and I love the design so feel rather sad not to be able to stock it in my shop for much longer. One option would be to create giclee prints of the original print (which I always keep) but while my business is still small, I am choosing to remain faithful to the handmade process and sell only genuine hand-pulled prints to avoid confusing my customers. A lot of explanation on the difference between a lino print and a giclee print of a lino can become involved otherwise!

The answer for me has been to create a ‘companion piece’ which is something I often do. This will be called “Two Birds Looking” and features the same pair, having shifted position slightly, one looking back over its shoulder as if it may have missed something. The other raising it’s head in awareness.

This second piece is a reflection on lockdown life just as the first was. The two birds always represented souls in lockdown to me; fitting together, blending into their habitat, which at once supports but also encages them. Life on pause maybe.

The second lockdown took us by surprise by having it’s own unique nuances. We thought we knew what to expect, but it was a different experience in so many ways, and once again we had to adapt and evolved to survive. “Two Birds Looking” is my homily to that time.

Posted on

Working on the Winter Series

View of the printing studio of Melissa Birch

My major project this winter has been to develop a series of prints based around images of windswept hedgerows which I recorded last winter. A year has gone by since taking the initial photo shoot but it feels like a good project to return to during the winter months when I am once again struck by the bleakness of the landscape.

Drawing of winter hedgerow in black and white

The naked hedgerows speak to me powerfully of loss, but also the potential for new growth even though we can hardly imagine it possible.

So listening to Radio Four and carving the sinuous network of lines was a good place to be while the lockdown continued in the world outside.

Posted on

Teasel Notebooks

Notebook with hand printed design of teasel seed heads

Delighted to add a new item to my Etsy shop this month which was inspired by a customer who asked after my Teasel design as a notebook. The original design is a two colour reduction lino print so I had to re-carve the block to make it work in monochrome but I’m pleased with the result. I use Caligo printing ink on the which is oil based and dries to a robust, water resistant surface.