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Staying Warm

With the recent rise in energy bills in the UK, and increasing concern over the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, the topic of staying warm is a keen one on our minds. The need to stay warm in the midst of a British winter is important and often impacts on our daily lives and routines. Do we find ourselves going out less? spending less time in our gardens? keeping windows and curtains closed and wearing odd assortments of clothing which keep the heat close to our skin? Yes, all of these. Apart from the very hardy among us, we have been doing these things all of our lives to some extent, growing up with the experience that getting through winter is an annual challenge we must meet. And for some, this will be more the case now than ever.

I decided early on that cold mornings in the garden studio this winter were not going to do my sense of well-being any good. Despite electric heater, fingerless gloves and fleece, the cold still gets into your bones out there somehow. I planned instead to bring as much of my lino printing practice as I could to the kitchen table. This would ultimately change my relationship with my subject matter. The kitchen environment lends itself to the subject of still life more than anything; pots, pans, cylindrical forms and the paraphernalia of human life. Cezanne would feel at home. I was not quite ready however to leave my favourite subject of the garden, with it’s flora and wildlife behind, so I brought the outdoors with me and created a still life of gentle eucalyptus stems and pussy willow branches.

It is the quiet, silvery colours of these plants that drew me in initially, as well as the structural repetition of their stem pattern. The buds or leaves are positioned at rhythmic intervals along the vertical branch creating a harmonious and pleasing visual effect. Placing them in a vase was necessary to create the uplift in the composition but the vase is not included in my final prints. For me it is all still all about the plants. The subject matter is maybe in one way “Still life” but without the traditional elements included. Also, more in the manner of botanical illustration, each plant is depicted on its own; confronting its own identity, rather than exploring a relationship with another.

Despite the eucalyptus and willow being alone in their frames, I link the two prints via the design process as much as possible so that they form a pair which can be hung together. Colours are duplicated and the same background elements are used in each, introducing a pop of yellow which activates the cool tones in the plants. The “weave” effect of the pattern is something I have used before in my prints, and to me it suggest a nurturing domestic environment. These plants are definitely indoors, and not in their natural environment, but hopefully in a happy and familial space.

An aside to any lino cutters who read this blog; I would not recommend creating this pattern when using Japanese Vinyl – it was tough work cutting across the ridges of lino as I created the design and I was fearing developing a repetitive strain injury by the end of it! Maybe next time I will create the background pattern separately using a nice rubbery piece of Esdee Softcut instead!

Once carved, the final stage of producing the prints took place back in the garden studio where I have a workbench crisscrossed with registration marks and a specialist drying rack. I had to brave the cold for a little in the end.

It has been a few weeks now with the inks slowly drying out there in the January air, but having checked on them today I can see that “Eucalyptus Stems” and “Willow Branches” will be dry enough for signing and framing next week.

If they appeal to you, keep an eye on my website shop where they will appear shortly. There are only 5 copies of each. I hope they bring warmth to the future homes where they hang.