the bookplate

Detail of the finished print.

A lino-print in progress is a living thing. No matter how carefully I’ve planned a block, once underway things shift to create unexpected effects and unplanned moods. Sometimes the result is so far from the concept that I have to undergo a mental readjustment to allow for the transformation twixt idea and realisation, yet to step back from this creative flux would be to hold fast to sterile facsimile and absence of sparkle.


The first tiny, scrappy  sketch.

Second stage: a cut-out.

The penultimate stage of design, made as a collage, had a jaunty bird, plump, confident and joyful, his head raised in song. In the finished print the little fellow seems far more vulnerable, his head smaller, his body frailer and his eye wide with what might be alarm. But he is what he is, and I can’t bring myself to reject him, even though he is not what I expected. Marly’s text is all about the vulnerable cast upon the choppy seas of a changed world, and if my bookplate is more in the spirit of what she created than I planned, then I accept that my subconscious knew better than my conscious mind what was needed for the job.

With the finished bookplate in place, the little bird serenades my frontispiece portrait of Thalia.

A collage, made to ‘visualise’ how the print might look..

My desk scattered with the detritus of lino-cutting. Here the final design has been drawn to scale.

A reversed scale drawing is transferred via carbon paper to the lino, and the cutting begins. I rub Conté pencil into the surface of the block as I go, to get a better impression of how the contrast between ink and paper will appear in the finished print.

‘Frottage’… rubbing Conté pencil across a sheet of thin paper laid over the block… allows me to judge how the emerging shapes are looking. By holding the paper to the light and looking at the reverse side, I can see how the finished positive  image will appear.

The finished block awaiting ink and a first proof.

The first proof.

Tomorrow I’ll undertake a little cutting back and cleaning up of the background before I start editioning, but that apart, this is pretty much how the bookplate will appear. It measures 15 x 10.5 cm.

23 thoughts on “the bookplate

  1. Pingback: up in ‘the battery’… | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. I have Thaliad, it arrived from Amazon this morning. Oh It’s a beautiful book to hold. Ho, a quick flick and wow all the little sprigs and oak leaves sprinkled through are charming too. Love the smell of a new book – don’t get that on a kindle!

    Thank you Clive and Marly the kettle’s on and the sofa invitingly comfy for an hour of reading before school run starts.

    • I know you’ll enjoy it. It was back in the Spring when Marly e-mailed me a draft of Thaliad, and I printed it out ready to read. With text on one side only of A4 it was a dauntingly thick slab of manuscript. Nevertheless, so gripping was the narrative that I tore through it at a sitting, and then made a cup of coffee and started all over again. A magical time, with images starting to form almost immediately.

      Enjoy your reading hour!

      • Oh that hour went far far too quickly, but its my day off today…but I am into the book, not just reading it; I was in the cave with the children and stretching my foot to reach the van pedals.
        We have a deep hoar frost this morning so I have been out photographing nature’s cobweb knitting and now am ready for a few more chapters in the warmth.

  3. What a handsome bookplate, and what an excellent tutorial. The scratching of the plate was a smart solution to the texture you were after. I assume you are producing the plates without a press, i don’t fancy the labor involved, your poor arm will be quite sore.

    Curious as to which adhesive you use to secure the bookplate. simple white glue?gluestick? old fashioned paste would be charming. I confess I have never really attached a bookplate before.

    You mentioned securing the linoleum to a wooden mount, suitable for hand production but i don’t think that would work for a press. So far I have only worked on unsecured linoleum, production being limited to a press. You are quite right, the linoleum can be slippery, caution required.
    I have now a few blocks mounted on wooden blocks for home hand production, eager to see the difference.

    In the process of purchasing proper gouges, equally anxious to experience the difference.

    Succinct history of linoleum (via Zoe), as you say no comparison to vinyl flooring. I was trying to explain to younger students the charms of it as a floor covering. They could only imagine the printed “vintage ” stuff from the 60’s and the 70’s.
    Well as usual wonderful post

    • For securing I used a smear of PVA on a bristle brush, dragged across the reverse top edge of the bookplate. Not too wet, or the paper will cockle.

      I glue my linoleum to thin ‘medium density fibreboard’. It’s not much thicker than the lino, and so is thin enough to go under a press, though I don’t have one. And yes, burnishing by hand is tough work. Please lend me your muscles!!!

      Glad to hear that you’re treating yourself to proper gouges. Good investment. But be sure to get an Arkansas stone too, to sharpen on. A vital bit of kit. Use a drop of oil to lubricate the stone when honing.

      I haven’t found that the ink fills-in the fine scratch lines, but then I do regularly de-clog the block when printing.

    • True, Naomi, though I’m sure that even as I type, there will be some site selling e-bookplates for e-books, just as e-cards emerged when people stopped sending greetings cards and letters in envelopes brought by a real postperson!

      There is a great pleasure in pasting a bookplate into a well-loved book.

    • Zoe, linoleum is quite simply magical, soft enough for ease-of-cutting with a gouge, and yet wonderfully robust for printing from. Made from solidified linseed oil, a process invented by Frederick Walton in 1855, linoleum is still unsurpassed as a floor-covering… which was its original purpose… and as a block-making medium for printers. These days cheaper ‘vinyl’ floorings have largely replaced it in domestic use, though linoleum is still used in commercial premises where its robustness, not to mention its beauty, makes it the better option. (Because the colours of linoleum go right through the thickness of the material, when the surface is scuffed or even deeply abraded, a light sand and polish will render the damage un-noticeable. With most vinyl floorings the colour/pattern is only on the surface, and any damage will thereafter show, a fact I learned to my cost when the black and white vinyl tiles I once had laid in a kitchen, became extremely shabby with use.) It’s often the material used for floor-coverings in hospitals, as it appears to be entirely non-allergenic. As a block-cutting medium linoleum’s organic origins are evident to eye and hand, and its qualities unsurpassed. Sharp gouges slice creamily through a lino-block, almost like working at extremely hard cheese.

      Interesting fact: Originally the newly invented material was called ‘Kamptulicon’, a made-up name deliberately similar to a brand name of an already popular floor-covering of the time. (Walton was practising the marketing ploy of riding the coat-tails of an established product.) But the name soon changed to ‘Linoleum’, derived from the Latin linum, for flax, and oleum, for oil.

      Would-be printmakers note: linoleum needs to be secured to a wooden block preparatory to working it with gouges, to give the material a rigid support. I use a PVA glue with MDF as the support. Invest in proper steel gouges and an ‘Arkansas stone’ to keep them honed. Pushing a blunt gouge against a resistant surface can cause the blade to skid, and in this way I once ended up with a gouge buried an inch deep in the soft triangle of flesh between the thumb and index finger of my supporting hand. Now I regularly hone, and never have my supporting hand in the path of whichever direction I’m pushing the gouge.

  4. A great looking book plate – I got my order in for a copy of Thaliad this week, can’t wait to get my mits on it, I’ve enjoyed seeing this publication develop via the Artlog over recent months and it’s tremendously exciting to have my copy finally on it’s way

  5. I love the textures and the sprightliness of the bird. The image of the linoblock is lovely too, could be a work of art on its own. I have found some of my deep etched copperplates to look like relief sculptures, and inked collagraph plates to look like paintings.

    So wonderful to see your work in process, Clive, that is a gift for all your readers.

  6. Yes, he does look quite vulnerable but that adds to his considerable charm Clive. That extra texture works a treat. Just have to try that. He is a joy and will grace many a special book I think.

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