leaves from the studio floor

I despair of ever getting my attic studio here at Ty Isaf into any semblance of order. But the good thing is that every now and again I find things that I thought long lost, scattered in drifts in corners. Here are some drawings, and the images they gave birth to.

This lined-page of drawings was made when I was custodian at Tretower, and the painting was developed from them.

Life-study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink study for the Barnfield Sonnets, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Pencil study for richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Pencil study for The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

Ink and wash study for The Affectionate Shepheard, and the image as it appeared in the book.

the Barnfield sonnets, part 2: the dummy copy


Above: image for Sonnet VI

Below: a detail of a page from the project book, showing the way I planned to dispose the five colours… yellow ochre, turquoise, mid-blue, green and brown… throughout the edition.

Each rectangle denotes a page, the letter followed by a number being the abbreviation for the type of image and its number within its group. The types of image are as follow: P = portrait, L = landscape, N = nude (full figure), HF = half figure. Below each rectangle is the sonnet number. The red dots were added as I completed images, so that at a glance I had a sense of where the project was. (I stopped adding the dots as the book neared completion.) The colours were chosen to help create various seasons and moods. The mid-blue… printed quite heavily on white… defines the images as though by silvery moonlight. The green is spring-like, optimistic and youthful, while the turquoise suggests the blazing light of high summer. The yellow ochre conjures the sun, and the brown, the sense of shadows on warm skin and stone.

Above: a double-spread from the book showing text and image for Sonnet II. Early morning light gilds a pollarded tree while the moon still hangs high in the sky.

To guide the process of the project, once I’d finished making the page images, I provided Nicolas with black and white photocopied copies of them. He in turn made photocopies of the text lay-out, and then pasted a to-scale dummy copy of the book on the paper we’d selected, so that we could get a feel for how it would eventually look and feel. The sonnet numbers in red on the following images were just to guide us, and didn’t appear in the edition.

Below: Sonnet IV. I’ll never know how this one slipped past all of us, incorrectly numbered by me. It’s in the finished book, and so went un-noticed by everyone concerned throughout the compilation of the dummy and proofing, the manufacture of the blocks and the printing. Between us all, Nicolas, Frances and I must have looked at it a hundred times before the book got to completion. If any of the others noticed they said nothing to me. (Maybe everyone is distracted by the lissome-looking young man.) When I finally spotted the error a year or so ago, I could hardly believe my eyes. Strangely I find myself not upset by it. I should be, but I’m not. I’d be upset about a misspelling in the printed text, but the incorrect Latin numeral is in fact a quite typical error for me, and makes me smile at myself. I just know that I would have been so happy when I made those four, elegant downward strokes, sandwiched top and bottom by horizontal lines and finished with a stop, that the actual meaning would have been secondary to my satisfaction at the placement of the marks. It’s like a little temple sitting on a hill. Would I change it now, if I could wave a magic wand? I think perhaps not.

Below: the image as it appears in the book.

A daub of oil pastel on each image of the dummy copy indicated to Nicolas the colour required for it. The images were created in two blocks… colour overprinted with black line… and there were carefully-judged misalignments between the line and colour blocks to create the effects I wanted.

This vignette of a glove with an elaborate lace cuff sewn with bells, seen here in the dummy copy, is the first image of the book. The glove, like the shoe and the boot, has historically held a place in the iconography of sexual desire. A sixteenth century gallant might sport the glove of a paramour pinned to his hat, a conceit I’d illustrated in my earlier Barnfield book for the Old Stile Press, The Affectionate Shepherd.

The glove vignette from the Barnfield Sonnets was cleverly reworked by my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, into a repeat pattern for the endpapers of my monograph, published in 2011 by Lund Humphries.

I knew from the start that I wanted the book to be chunky in the hand, with a generously-sized text. I wanted too a heavy paper, rather like the paper I remembered from some of the books of my childhood. The particular book of my early years that became my model for the project… though I never showed it to Nicolas as I imagined he might think me mad… was this one, published in 1947. (I was born in 1951, but books stayed on the bookshop shelves for longer back in those days.)

The images were black line, printed over a single colour per page.

Sonnet VIII: black line over a single colour per page

Thirteen years after I made the images for it, I still enjoy taking down and reading my copy of Richard Barnfield’s Sonnets, which is a good sign.

Above: endpaper design for the book

The book is available directly from The Old Stile Press, and may be found on the Press website HERE

the Barnfield sonnets, part 1: the project book

Above: sketch for Sonnet I

Some of you have been kind enough to tell me from time to time that you enjoy glimpses into my sketchbooks. What we have here is less a sketchbook than a project book: a cheap, lined, spiral-bound exercise book into which I taped the many scrappy drawings made for an illustrated edition of Richard Barnfield’s Sonnets. (The Old Stile Press, 2001.) In some of the project book drawings I was trying out line techniques over blocks of colour. In the book this was achieved by printing each image from two relief blocks, one inked in black and the other in colour. In the project book the images are made by laying line-drawings made in ink on clear plastic, over paper worked with coloured pencils. In each instance here I’ve added an image of the page as it appeared in the finished book.

Below: the finished page

In the book the sonnets appear on the left side of each page opening. They aren’t numbered on the text pages, but the numbers appear within the illustrations. (The one above is hiding in the moon.)

Below: sketches for Sonnet II

Below: the finished page

Below: sketches for Sonnet XII

Below: the finished page

Below: sketches for Sonnet XX

Below: the finished page

Below: sketches for Sonnet XVII

Below: the finished page

Below: sketch for the Tailpiece

Below: the finished page

Below: sketch for Sonnet VII

Below: the finished page

Below: sketch for Title Page

Below: the finished page

Below: sketch for Sonnet III

Below: the finished page

Below: sketches for the cover

Below: the ‘peep-hole’ slip-case with the book within


In part 2: the dummy copy and the book of my childhood that inspired my approach to this project. Prepare to be surprised!

a fragile survivor

Page from Richard Barnfield’s Sonnets, The Old Stile Press 2001

I don’t know many artists with tidy studios. It’s not in the DNA of most of us to be wedded to the swept-clean floor and the ordered work-table, though there are the exceptions. I remember being in awe of the Zen-like minimalism at the late Maurice Cockrill’s Dulwich studio when Peter and I visited him many years ago. But though I aspire to order, the reality is that my own studio is a tip, and I long ago stopped worrying about the drifts of dust from my pastels covering every surface, the bat-droppings underfoot and the dark corners where I dare not look too closely. I make occasional forays to create clear space around the easel, and that’s about it. I keep the shelves of my ‘drawing-space’ as ordered as I can,  though the reality is that whenever I need to find something in a hurry… a particular steel mapping-nib or the refills for the beautiful propelling pencil made for me by Anita Mills… I spend far too long hunting in piles of ‘stuff’.

Increasingly I know that at some point I must begin the business or sorting and archiving material. My birthday is next week, and you don’t get into the sixth decade of life without beginning to think on what needs to be done. Today, looking for a particular drawing in the studio that a friend had asked me to find, I detached a related one from a wall where many are blu-tacked, only to find it had been put up over a tiny ink drawing that had ever since been hiding beneath. I carefully peeled it from the wall.

Such a fragile little thing, this. It’s ink on acetate over an underlying slip of paper marked with a faint crayon drawing of shadows. The tape has bonded with the paper and marked it on the reverse. This was one of hundreds of drawings done in preparation for Richard Barnfield’s Sonnets, which I illustrated for The Old Stile Press. It will have been made some time in 2000, as the book was published in 2001. Not that long ago then. But for the ‘shadow drawings’ I used the thin paper interleaving the sheets of acetate as supplied, and it’s turned the colour of used baking parchment in the intervening years.

I thought nothing of these trial Barnfield drawings when I made them… there were so many… and I certainly wasn’t considering the conservation aspects of what might happen to them. It came as a bit of a surprise to find this one hiding under another drawing on the studio wall, and I had a brief moment of sadness to find the paper so stained and tissue-fragile. It’s certainly a wake-up call in terms of knowing that I really must begin to archive the studio’s contents, though that in itself makes me feel a little sad. Time passes so quickly. But fragile though the original drawings may now be, the book is still a splendid thing, printed by Nicolas on heavy paper, and the illustrations as bright and clean as when they came off the press.