Continuing on…

The Derrybawn project is sluggish, as you may have noticed. But not dead yet. Sketches for Arkay Sonney and Bloddeuwedd are still in progress, though not complete.

I have two small pieces ready to be made into printing plates, but haven’t done that. I haven’t gotten some of my new 2009 photos of Ireland reproduced yet either. Lots and lots of potential, but little real progress.

However, I have provided four black and white designs to a printer for professional reproduction. The images are fuzzy, as I was in a hurry and only trying to get quick images done.

Maeve’s Spear is a simplified, smaller version of an original ink and watercolor piece I created a few years ago. The original is a very large piece and the design is the one most people have asked me to create as a print.

Maeve's Spear scratchboard

Maeve's Spear scratchboard

Spiral Raven is a simple, but dramatic design, and may be destined for t-shirts or other items.

spiral raven scratchboard

spiral raven scratchboard

The Kells Bird is an older design, created for notecards. It has come out of the archives for a new breath of life.

Small scratchboard print plate

Small scratchboard print plate

The Key Panel was originally made for notecards, but never was used. Out of the archives and into the market, it seems. This design was made with a lighter, crosshatch technique to add texture to the flat design.

Key Panel Scratchboard

Key Panel Scratchboard

I have also widened my circle of possibilities through writing some articles about my travels and possibly getting them published. Working on that, anyway.

Daily sketching continues. I have some interesting pieces done as projects for a sketching class in D.C., which I will provide when I get my scanner back up and running.

In my quest for seeing new things, I went to the National Zoo on Tuesday this week. I tried sketching the animals as they went about their morning routines. I despaired of catching the sinuous slink of the clouded leopard, with his eyes as clear as rose amber glass in the early sun. I couldn’t keep up with the pair of small-clawed otters as they tried to get closer to the tourists watching them.

The red panda hid behind a branch, and the Giant Panda cared little for my efforts, as he continued to munch on his breakfast. I watched the cheetah watch me for a while. He stalked, loose-limbed around his enclosure, walking back behind bushes when he heard screaming children and coming back to pace close to the fence when they were gone. He watched me carefully, but seemed more irritated by the occasional click of the power generator in the corner of the enclosure.

I tried to catch them all. Much more difficult to catch than people drinking coffee.

Anyway, I’ve decided to continue a version of the Derrybawn project through 1-6/2010. The potential is there, and I still need to do everything I started out to do, but the early part of the year has fewer distractions than the summer and fall.

Bloddeuwedd and the Arkay Sonney will carry over to the new year, along with my small Brambleponies print and a print of a willow tree I began as a gift for a friend. I will also document the final result for the Maeve’s Spear, Spiraled Raven, Key Panel and Kells Bird pieces that I submitted for professional printing, as well as any new black and white art. Reproductions of photos will also be documented and any new plates will be shown.

My goal is to have at least 12 new designs in reproductions for the Potomac show in June 2010.
A secondary goal is still to gather up the threads of my grant proposal, which has gathered new steam as friends have mentioned they may obtain a Letterpress and have been discussing using it to lure me to Pennsylvania to make my prints.

Additionally, I will be using the new prints to revamp my Etsy website.

Hmm. Is that enough for one project? As always, biting off more than I can chew.



Frustration, Inspiration and Friends (bW)

Back to the Derrybawn Project.

I was convinced to spend Tuesdays down in DC a few weeks back. I needed to get out of the house, I was frustrated in the lack of progress on a number of projects, and my house is a depressing wreck as my roommates and I struggle with home renovations.

One day a week, finding new coffee shops, wandering through museums and walking through new neighborhoods, is a good thing.

I start my Tuesdays early, heading out with my roommate when she leaves at 5 in the morning. I found a new coffee place to sit and sketch recently, near the DC Metro stop at Eastern Market. A waiter named Josh has the whole thing down perfectly. Check to see if my coffee (or tea) is low, and otherwise let me sit in the early morning sun and watch the world go by. I think he sneaks looks at my sketches when I’m not paying attention.

Then I pick a museum. Recently it has been the Sackler Gallery, near the Smithsonian. A display on early Chinese bronzes and jade has finally sparked a bit of inspiration in my quest to finish my work on Bloddeuwedd.

For those not familiar with the early Shang Dynasty in China, it is the first dynasty to be documented archaeologically in Chinese history. An earlier dynasty, the Xia, is not documented through archaeological finds, and is often considered a mythical construct. The chronology of these dynasties is provided in the writings of Xiu Lin, and in the Bamboo Annals. The Shang Dynasty is believed to have lasted from about 1600BC to about 1046BC, and was followed by the Zhou Dynasty.

The display of Shang artwork is really amazing. Early bronze vessels and jade pieces are wonderfully complex and dramatic. Animal forms are stylized and shaped in elegant curves. One of the primary motifs in decorating ritual vessels is the Taotie mask. You can search for information on this in Wikipedia. It is a style of mask-like face, created in bold relief, of stylized pieces which are filled in with fine, decorative line designs. Eyes, nose, mouth, wings and claws, all are reduced to bold shapes and contained in clearly defined spaces. The parallels to Northwest Coast Native American art were inescapable.

The Shang masks were primarily of unknown creatures, perhaps demons or spirits. But a few were definitely meant to be natural animals. My favorite is a pear-shaped ritual wine vessel, with a mask of an owl on it.

One of the other things I really find fascinating about the Shang artistic style is the line filler between elements of the Taotie masks, which are tiny spirals. It is extremely difficult to get detailed pictures of the fine designs, due to the emphasis of photos on the larger mask motifs. But I am hooked on the idea of the owl mask and spirals for my Bloddeuwedd piece.

I’m definitely working it out.

It is a good thing someone was kind enough to push me to leave my cave and limp down to DC for the day, forced to walk through museums until weary and worn…

Friends make it all worthwhile.


And sometimes things change


Halfway through the Derrybawn project and I’ve come up with a few new wrinkles. I definitely got in a bit too deep with this project, especially considering that all of my summer travel has been included in it, making it difficult to get a good run at anything.

So I’ve reconstructed the project a bit. Prints are still the focus, experimenting with various printmaking techniques. And I’ve kept the fairy theme. Sometimes you have to appeal to your favorite fans. And it continues to be fun.

I’ve done the linoleum block plate for the Boobrie. Very nice. I have a sketch for the Arkay Sonney. Also very nice. Working up a drypoint for that one. I also have a preliminary sketch for Bloddeuwedd which I will continue to refine.

But the other Celtic fairies will probably have to wait for another time. While on vacation I had a hard time focusing on the rich research and symbol laden development of the other fairies I had picked, and I hadn’t made decisions on all of them. However, being on the road, and looking for some light-hearted sketching, I’ve come up with some other, less serious fairies.

I had used some of my photographs of butterflies to develop some fairy art last year, and I had also worked with designs of dragonfly wings. So, in a moment or two of whimsy, I added them to some sketches of horses and when I did some sketching and photography of wild blackberries this year, I had my brambleponies almost draw themselves.

In testing some acrylic plates for drypoint printmaking, I have found that the acrylic does not hold the burr of the stylus and the lines will not have the characteristic softness of drypoint. However, engraving tools do not leave the side burr, so I will experiment with engraving the brambleponies on acrylic.

I also have some excellent new photographs of butterflies from my most recent trip, as well as some studies of herbs and leaves from my garden. Also, inspired by my dip into fairy art, I have included prints of butterflies and flowers in my shop on Etsy. I had been very focused on Celtic art for so long, I hadn’t thought to include my non-Celtic photography in my print sales. It has been a change of view as well as a change of style.

So there have been some things moving along, moving forward, moving moving moving…
My plan for prints to sell at Christmas seems to be a workable thing.

My work to resurrect the Derrybawn printing press is a bit slow off the mark, but it will be a long term thing. At least the studio cleaning thing is progressing.



Some printmaking terms

Just a few notes, so we all understand what I am talking about. This is a very quick overview, with little detail. Be sure to ask if you have any questions.

BLOCK PRINTING: This is a technique in which the spaces are cut away and show up as white or the color of the printing paper. The raised areas are inked. Plates are carved from just about anything that will take the carving. Stone, linoleum, rubber, wood, potatoes, etc.
….Woodblock: a block printing plate carved from wood
….linocut: a block printing plate carved from linoleum

INTAGLIO PRINTING: This is a general term for the techniques which require gouging into the surface that will hold the ink. Ink is pressed into the grooves and gouges, and wiped off the raised areas. Dark areas are created with fine crosshatching, or closely spaced dots which print black if done properly.

….Drypoint: A stylus of steel or one tipped with diamond, is used to draw directly on an untreated plate. A burr of metal is thrown to the side of the line drawn, and the burr also holds ink, giving drypoint a characteristic fuzziness that is eventually lost as the plate is reprinted. Copper and zinc are popular plates, but laminated cardboard and acrylic sheets are also used. The burr makes this style of printing very limited in the number of plates that can be run. Drypoint can also be used to fix small details in printing plates of any kind.
….Engraving: A sharp, specialized tool called a ‘burin’ is the primary tool for engraving. The excess metal is not thrown to the side as in drypoint; it curls up ahead of the burin, and then is cut off with a sharp scraper to leave lines for the ink that are sharp and clear. Lines in engraving are usually thicker than in drypoint, though some engraving tools can produce very fine lines if used lightly.
….Etching: Etching is the use of acids to bite into the plate and create the lines which hold the ink. A plate is covered with an acid-resistant coating such as wax or roisin. Then lines are drawn with a sharp tool through the coating to expose the plate. The plate is then set in a bath of acid, and the exposed lines are eaten out. Varnish can be applied to cover up marked areas when only a light line is required, and the plate can be set in the bath multiple times to create varying depths of line.
….Solar Etching: Solar etching plates have a specialized coating. A transparency with the drawing rendered in opaque ink is placed on the coated plate. The plate is exposed to direct sunlight, which goes through the transparent areas of the drawing and hardens those areas of the plate. Protected, opaque areas of the drawing keep the plate soft, and the soft areas are rinsed away with water. The entire plate is then exposed to sunlight to harden everything. Either block printing or intaglio techniques can be achieved on a solar plate.
….Aquatint: This is a technique of dusting a plate with fine particles of rosin, and heating the plate to melt it in place. When the plate is set in the acid bath, a fine speckling is created instead of crosshatched lines to create shifts in tone. By altering the time in the bath for the plate, subtle shifts in tone can be created with soft edges.
….Mezzotint: This is a very grueling technique in which the entire printing plate is covered with fine pits that hold ink, to create what would be an overall printing of black. Then, with burnishers and scrapers, the highlights are smoothed back out to be wiped clean of ink when the plate is printed. The plates are ‘rocked’ with a ‘mezzotint ‘rocker’, which has the look of a flat chisel with a curved edge blade. Sharp points along its edge create the marks in the plate. It is rocked back and forth across the plate, over and over again, until the plate is covered with pits that hold ink. There is a great deal of control over the tones in a mezzotint plate, and the dark areas are rich and velvety.

And there ya go. Lots of things can be used to make prints. Sculpting clay can be baked into hardened plates after the design is created. Objects can be fixed to a base plate and inked, creating a raised design, or Collagraph. Leaves and seeds can be inked and pressed to paper, and so can fish.

My cats have so far refused to take part in any experiments of cat-printing, however…



Cutting Linoleum (Sb)

I’ve been on the road and otherwise occupied with sundry things during the month of July, but I’m back and getting back to work.

One of the first things I did was to drag out the old stack of golden linoleum I had at the back of the studio. I ordered some in bulk when I bought my etching press two years ago.

Common ‘battleship gray’ linoleum ages relatively quickly, and can harden over the course of six months, leaving a brittle crust on the surface which is hard to carve. Regular linoleum is made to do that because it is a floor covering. After an initial softness, making it easy to lay down, it hardens to resist damage and wear.

This makes it great for printing plates, as it will age to a harder surface after it has been carved. But you can’t really store it for very long.

Dick Blick sells two kinds of linoleum made for the art industry. Wonder-cut, which is their softest version with the longest hardening time, and Golden which is between the harder gray and the softer Wonder-cut for shelf life.

Why not buy Wonder-cut? If you are going to shelve the materials for an undetermined amount of time, such as a school classroom, it is fantastic. It will remain soft for much longer. But if you are going to use it within a year or two, remember that it won’t harden for you either. Your plates will remain soft and liable to be damaged easily.

I meant to use the linoleum within a year, so I bought large sheets of Golden which matched the maximum width printed with my etching press. Thus I could cut it down to odd sizes if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I did not use it immediately, and I was initially unsure as to its current condition.

Luckily, though the top sheet was exposed to air and light, and not soft, the other sheets, which were wrapped in plastic and protected from UV light are still nice.

Judicious application of heat increases the softness of the linoleum as well. I use an old shrink wrap gun, much like a heavy duty hair dryer, to apply heat to areas of the block. A hair dryer would probably work too, or a small heater like they use to apply embossing powders to inks. Laying the block in hot sunlight, on a radiator or on a warm electric griddle for short time works as well. I put it on my car hood once, in August. Worked great.

Clothing irons or things which would apply heat on contact would probably not work as well, as the linoleum gets sticky if it is too hot. Don’t heat it too much or you will have a hard time touching or working with it.



Scottish Boobrie (Sb)

Scotland has a vast array of fairy beasts for me to sort through to make a single selection. I decided on the Boobrie, to add some variety to my choices. There are a lot of water creatures in Scottish fairy lore, reflecting the culture of a land with vast stretches of coastline and a large number of islands.

The Boobrie is a monstrous bird, described by sources as having the shape of a Great Northern Diver, (or Loon in the U.S.) with large, clawed feet. Some sources describe it as only a foot tall, while others state that the prints of its webbed feet are as broad as the span of a stag’s antlers.

It is said to haunt the fresh waters of Scotland, and also described as stealing livestock from the cattle boats that move between the islands and Scottish mainland.

Sources seem to agree that the beast enjoys both fresh and roasted meat. It is often associated with the ‘each uisge’ or waterhorse, and some sources state that it is, in fact, another shape used by the waterhorse.

The Boobrie has been included in ‘natural histories’ of the British Isles up through the mid-1800’s. This supports my roommate’s theory that natives of the rural areas of the Isles enjoyed passing along tales of amazing sorts to the wandering scholars and linguists of the Victorian era.

There is a description in John G. McKay’s “More West Highland Tales” of a man whose child was taken by the Each Uisage, and his revenge. This consisted of heating a set of giant hooks until they were red hot, and luring the beastie to the shore with the smell of roasting sheep. The hooks were plunged into the sides of the monster, keeping it from escaping, and by morning there was nothing left but large quantities of slimy jelly on the shore.


I’m hoping to work up a woodcut plate for this piece, keeping the design simple and bold. I”ve done a sketch for the plate, using stylized Celtic elements rather than realism.


Bloddeuwedd of Wales (bW)

The fourth branch of the Mabinogi tells the tale of Bloddeuwedd, (pronounced Blod-Eye-With) the flower maiden.

Llew Llaw Gyffes was the son of Arianhrod and Math. Arianhrod was unhappy with the presence of the child in court, and placed three curses upon him. Some say that she was unhappy because the child represented the shame of her husband calling her virginity into question, and requiring it to be tested magically. Others state that there is evidence in the story of the child being the son of her brother, Gwydion, and thus a reminder of the shame of incest. As the stories are collected from older sources, compiled in the medieval period, it is possible that the incest aspect, found in other Celtic tales, was written out and a more medieval conceit of a challenge to virginity was overlaid.

When the child was born, Gwydion took him away from court and had him fostered. Without a name, he was brought to the court. His mother cursed him to remain unnamed unless she named him. Gwydion tricked her into naming him. She cursed him to remain without a weapon until she armed him. Gwydion tricked her into providing him with a weapon.

She cursed him to have no wife of the races of the earth. Math, and the ever-resourceful warlock, Gwydion, created Bloddeuwedd from the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet, and nine elements. She was beautiful, and her name translates as ‘flower face’.

Bloddeuwedd did not wish to be the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and she conspired with her secret lover, the huntsman Gronw Pebr to slay her husband.

For all his curses, Llew Law Gyffes was hard to kill. He could not be slain by day or night, not indoors or outdoors, not on dry land or water, not while riding or walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made.

Bloddeuwedd was able to convince her husband to show her how this could possibly be accomplished. He told her he could be killed at twilight, wrapped in a net, with a foot on a cauldron and a foot on a goat, and stabbed with a spear forged over the course of a year during the time everyone was at mass. Some translators prefer to state that he could only be slain with his own spear.

Gronw Pebr waited with the spear, and stabbed him. He was not slain, but shifted shape into an eagle and fled the scene. Gwydion returned him to human shape and healed him.

For his part, Gronw Pebr was slain in the manner he would have slain Llew Llaw Gyffes. Bloddeuwedd was turned into an owl by Gwydion, so that she would never be greeted by those of the daylight again.

No one seems to know if Llew Llaw Gyffes ever married again…

While an illustration of the assassination attempt would definitely stretch the skills of any artist, and I may try it at a later date, I am concentrating on the flower face and owl aspects of Bloddeuwedd’s beauty.

Oak flowers, meadowsweet and broom. Let’s see how we can manage that. I plan to lay it out on a scratchboard surface, using a high contrast/stylized floral design. This one will probably be professionally reproduced and I will hand color it myself.



Derrybawn Project

I was going to do a quick retrospective of the success or failure of the Angelus Project and my targeted goals.

But instead, I’ve started up the new project. Perhaps that speaks for itself. ‘Daughter of Lir’ is still on the drawing board, so she will be finished. I’ll add her to the Angelus Project posts as I work on her.

In 2003, I found one of the most amazing and beautiful places in Ireland. Derrybawn means ‘white oak’ and is the name of the forest around the site of Glendalough, a valley in the Wicklow mountains of Ireland. The valley contains the ruins of churches, beehive huts, mining village huts, iron age ring forts and an array of paths with waterfalls and wildlife.

In 2007, when I quit my full-time day job, I had a plan to obtain a government grant to start a printing press for art prints and small run books. The name I selected for this branch of my art endeavors was ‘Derrybawn Press’. It isn’t moving forward at the moment.

So, for the second half of 2009, my new project will be directed at organizing and building up some capital to put this plan into motion.

First of all, I have begun the work on six designs of Fairies from Celtic lands. These designs will be illustrations of some of the Fey folk. I will be striving to develop these designs as plates for printing. Some I will pull myself, and some I may have printed at a professional printer in black and white, so I may hand color them.

Second, I plan to work on my grant proposal, researching the costs and requirements for my press and the methods of creating a grant proposal.

I plan to work with as many different types of printing as possible, within my ability to do so. Much like the Angelus Project, the Derrybawn Project is a bit more than I think I can handle, but should take me places I haven’t been before.



Arkay Sonney intro

The Isle of Man has many fairy tales unique to its culture. I was trying to focus on some lesser-known tales, and trying to keep a nice selection of different subjects, not just animals or just small, perky humanoid creatures, but some of each. I’m not really a specialist in ‘fairy lore’ but many of my friends are, and this project will hopefully bring them some chuckles.

Today, ‘Arkay Sonney’ translates from modern Manx to English as ‘hedgehog’. Literally, it means, ‘lucky piggy’. In older tales, it described the mystic pigs that bestowed good luck on those who could catch them. They were described as small and hairy, (hairy pigs?) and very quick. They are mentioned in a book of Manx Fairy Tales, written by Sophia Morrison in 1911.

My roommate and I went to the internet to find out what sort of pigs would be common to the Isle of Man. Pigs aren’t always the same, and I assumed that the mystic pigs would be some sort of fantastic version of domesticated pigs brought to the island at some point.

We quickly found that there actually had been a unique species of wild pig on the Isle of Man, called “Purrs” which went extinct in the 1700’s. They were described as grey or grey-brown, with black spots. They were small and lean, very fast, and “much like the wild pigs of the African coast of Guinea.” A story contained in a collection of tales from the Isle of Man, written by Joseph Train in 1845, describes the ‘Last of the Purrs’ as the last wild boar becomes a fantastic monster that raids nearby farms for livestock to eat. He is chased from his cave by locals and their fiercest hounds, and driven over the cliffs to his death on the rocky seashore.

I was very interested in these little, wild pigs of the Manx mountains. But what did it mean that they looked like wild pigs specifically from Guinea, rather than the wild pigs of Europe?

The University of Michigan has an Animal Diversity website, which includes descriptions of the various breeds of wild pig on the coast of Guinea. The pigs of the coast of Guinea, to include bush pigs and Red River Hogs, are small, fast and hairy. They have the most amazing (for pigs, anyway) long hair and long, elegant tufts on their sweeping, pointed ears. They have upright bristles on their backs and long, pointed snouts. Red River Hogs have dramatic, white patterns on their faces.

So, now I have a description of the mystic pigs for my art as small, hairy/bristled, grey or grey-brown, long-nosed, with black spots, and perhaps some facial markings and long, tufted ears.

This should be fun.



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