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13 April 2014


It's 2 am on Monday but I'm cheating so that I can keep to my new resolution about posting every Sunday. I was in Camden Town this afternoon when the annual Palm Sunday procession went by, the neighbourhood donkey playing his part and about fifty people singing as they walked back to a local church.

Pal Sunday donkey

Procession, Palm Sunday Camden Town

I sat in an empty Catholic church and emptied my mind, something I find quite easy to do, in order to connect to whatever it is which is not thought and not imagination but makes use of both if the channels are free from obstruction.

What is my faith? I was brought up Catholic but cannot honestly say I am a practicing Catholic any longer. I didn't 'lose' faith but my belief never came from Catholicism, it was always in me. As I've said here before, I'm a wholehearted believer in God but doubtful of all religions. The teachings of Christ mean more to me than any others but the institutionalising of Christianity has loaded that story with so much extraneous baggage - verbal, visual, emotional, sentimental, intellectual, political - that the simple teachings themselves have become almost invisible.

Among my friends and acquaintances there are perhaps only one or two who actually practice a religion, the rest are either agnostic, atheist, or 'spiritual but not religious'. Religion is not an easy subject to talk about. It brings out surprisingly vehement feelings among those who had a strict religious upbpringing and then rejected it. I don't know any Bible-thumping or other sacred-book-thumping fundamentalists but I'm sure it must be equally difficult to have an unemotional discussion about faith with them.

Why can't God be considered separate from any religion? Religions are created by humans and therefore subject to all human foibles. God (whatever that word means which is not necessarily defined in the Bible or any other book) is not created by humans (yes, I know. Most of you will say God is also a human creation. I beg to disagree).

Well, that's all I have to say today.

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6 April 2014


Being at work every day all day on the illustrations there's not much to blog about but I still want to be part of this small community of blogger friends and feel bad about not contributing to the cyber conversation. So I've decided to post once a week, on Sundays, starting.... now.

For those of you who are not familiar with the process of printing a relief block, and those who are, I took some photos when I proofed a recent block yesterday. It is my illustration for what will be page 19 of our book of Blaise Cendrars' poem Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne From France translated by Dick Jones, to be published by The Old Stile Press.

Here's my inking table with the block on the right. Below is a new two-handled roller I just bought (for an exorbitant sum) in order to be able to cover the whole surface of my blocks and avoid fiddly, haphazard inking with small rollers.

Inking table

Brand new roller

inked block on press Inked block on the press bed. I've put two wooden runners either side of the block thus raising the heavy roller sufficiently to allow the block, plus paper plus blanket, to pass under it. That's because my press is an etching press, not designed for relief printing which doesn't require the strong pressure used to print etchings. I'm merely proofing each of my blocks so I can see what I'm doing during the process of cutting them but the final edition, text together with images, will be printed by Nicolas McDowall on his big letterpress in Wales. On his press, the ink is deposited on the block and/or type by the roller itself whereas on an etching press the metal roller only serves to apply pressure and plates must be hand-inked.

My press, ready to print. My press, ready to roll.

Finished print, page 19

And here's the finished print. Unlike this photo the actual paper is white. This is the text which will go into the space on the left:

Page 19 text

* * *

Now for something completely different. Many years ago (1973 to be exact) a book I wrote called Designing With Natural Forms was published by Batsford - it's out of print but copies can still be found in public libraries and via Amazon etc. It was illustrated with my drawings and with photographs by the late Ted Sebley. The experiment I set out to do was to focus on only four natural forms as if I'd never seen them before and then see whatever ideas came up. The four subjects were: water, a pineapple, the hand, eggs.

During the first experiment, I asked Ted to photograph a tray of water while I tilted and shook it to make various sorts of waves.

Ted Sebley photos of vibrating water A few of Ted's photos. From the one on the top right I traced an enlarged detail:

Tracing of waves detail  And then got the idea to turn it into a musical score.

Vibrating water muical composition

I'm not a musician and never followed this idea up but recently, after reading an extremely interesting post on Dominic Rivron's blog about Daphne Oram, I decided to ask Dominic (a very able musician and teacher) to see if he could do something with it. To my astonishment he actually came up with a composition that I could never have imagined, let alone created. I'm taking the liberty of copying below what he wrote in his email to me about it:

I've attached my finished effort as an MP3 sound file.

I don't have good enough equipment to overdub myself humming it ten times so I opted in the end for something I'd been into a while back: using the "low-fi" MIDI sounds that get used on computer games and the like to make original pieces. The music I'd made then was probably John Cage-influenced, with a nod to Eno and to Gamelan music.

I used the notes you'd written and gave the ten parts to ten different MIDI sounds. The first statement of your piece lasts about 1 minute 11 seconds. You mentioned in the book the possibility of playing it at different speeds, so I followed the initial statement of the piece with progressively faster (and louder) statements. Each time the music is played each part get passed to a different MIDI sound, to make a sort of "round".

I don't know if something like this can be judged by normal musical criteria (however you define these) but as a reply to what was an improbable improvisation on my part all those years ago, I find it delightful and am moved that Dominic was willing to give it his full attention - thank you, Dominic!

 (Click on the little arrow on the bar below to hear the sound clip)

And to end this Sunday-almost-Monday post here is the view from my window yesterday at dusk.

Spring is here

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12 March 2014


Each of the bus-cluster of recent troubles seems to be on the way to resolution and life is back to relative tranquility, with an added bonus of better weather. Strangely but appropriately enough there was a ladybug on my windowsill this morning

Brought on by a now redundant but initially traumatic misunderstanding, a radical decision was made concerning the illustrations for the Blaise Cendrars Trans-Siberian Express book: to use only black and white for the images, rather than multiple colour blocks, but to print the text in several colours. Far from diminishing the visual excitment, this approach powerfully enhances the harmony of text and image on each page. It also allows me to work much more speedily, with only one block to cut and proof per page.

Below are examples of proofs I've taken from a few new blocks. They don't show the actual page dimensions or layout and the text in the bottom one is only pasted in, not hand-printed and in colour as it will be in the final version. As I've explained in previous posts, I'm cutting all image blocks from vinyl floor tiles.

page 16 Trans-Siberian


page 14 Trans-Siberian

page 10 Trans-Siberian

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