No, really sketching every day

Seriously, sketching is like working out. Get your hand used to moving a certain way, get your eyes used to analyzing a scene or catching a sleeve crease, and make these things part of your daily life. And now, I walk the walk and talk the talk, showing off my daily sketches in the hopes that you too will work every day on those things which are close to your heart.

A bit of color. I use ‘Ink-tense’ pencils to color my quick sketches. They are Derwent brand pencils with a watercolor-pencil like consistency. But when you add water washes to make them into paint, they actually become permanent, making them less likely to smear or bleed in high humidity in my abused little sketch pads. I sometimes use a brush with an internal compartment for water when I travel, so I don’t have to carry too much. I also freely use water offered to me at restaurants, blotting my little 0 watercolor brush on paper napkins. I don’t use a lot of color as I go, but sometimes I find it helps.

shy holly dragon

shy holly dragon

And a few sketches showing how the sketch-a-day progress is improving my work in Celtic art. The first is a quick layout for a chariot, the second a quick layout for a piece on Bellanos.

two horse chariot

two horse chariot



So, the sketching is definitely paying off, giving me a better feel for putting down ideas in quick formats and keeping them dated and organized. I feel more confident in putting layouts together without as much fussing, and saving the critique for later.




Sketching every day

It has always been a point of mine to encourage others to practice. Practice art, practice music, practice writing, practice dance, anything that expresses your creativity and makes you feel in tune with yourself.

So, given an challenge to put my own suggestions to the test, I started a sketch-a-day program for 2009. On January 2, I started out. It wasn’t easy. New ideas, new sketches, what constitutes a sketch for the program?

In June, I attended a family event and my aunt from Britain, who is also an artist, looked at my sketches. There was a style of sketch she liked, rough and quick, that I used to block out ideas that would later transform into more finished pieces. She encouraged me to do more like that. Quick and light.

So starting in June, on my trip from Michigan back to DC, I pulled out a little ringbound sketch pad and began drawing other people at Union Station in DC. In the spirit of sharing and encouragement, I offer these new sketches for review. First, because it is hardly fair for me to encourage others in new pursuits without sharing my own rocky start on this type of thing, and second to let you know I am still working even though the Derrybawn project is a bit slow at this point.

The first pictures are from that initial trip from Michigan to DC in June, 2009. Before I started drawing my fellow travelers, I drew dragon squiggle doodles, leftover from my fantasy art days. I would draw a doodle of swoops and swirls and then create a dragon.

Squiggle dragon

Squiggle dragon

Some are better than others. Be kind to a fledgling sketcher.

And another squiggle dragon

And another squiggle dragon

I drew some odds and ends of illustrations for some of my sister’s writing and poetry as well.

poetry illustration

poetry illustration

And a quick sketch of Union Station, Washington DC

DC Union Station

DC Union Station

one of my fellow travelers.

Lady with suitcase and hat

Lady with suitcase and hat

And the last for this post, the view from my favorite seat at Fado, one of my sketching outposts where the drinks are great and the staff is amused by my sketching.

view from my chair, Fado, DC

view from my chair, Fado, DC


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.



Final Notes (HRK)

I enjoyed experimenting with the limited palette on this piece, and I enjoyed the design. The poem is a good one as well. But I think I would have been happier with a broader palette, enabling me to create a bit more moodiness.

So, it is finished. See the final photos in the ‘pages’ section under finished art.

And join me at the Potomac Celtic Festival to see it for the first public appearance.



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