Moths, part 2, 2021

The ‘real’ moths of the Solway are going to be joined by six fictional moths based on illegal night-time activities.

They are based on an incident last year when, during lockdown, someone dumped two televisions, a glass TV stand, a dart board, a shattered bathroom mirror, speaker and two vacuum cleaners in the ditch in the wood nearby.

I am in the process of creating moths using Rorsach ink blots, layering up colour. I am using colours and forms that connect to ideas of sickness, pollution, corruption, otherness. The coated paper and the viscosity of the ink creates dendritic patterns that in turn look like feathers, ruffles, veins, staining or fur. The patterns mirror each other in minute detail.

The work becomes performative. I concentrate on the gestures and the pressure of my fingertips. I take the paper over to the window and look at the sheen of the ink, how it drips when I tilt the page. I work quickly, making branches of a evolutionary tree where one moth generates another in form and colour, speeded-up mutations dependent on the ink on my palette and brush. I create a moth-house of fluttering, varied shapes that are shuffled around like playing cards.

I reject very few moths. I do not know the outcomes and leave the judging until I have completed a series.

The weighting of my criteria for keeping a print are varied but can be categorised with these questions:

  • Does it look like a real moth?
  • Is it too pretty?
  • How would it survive alongside the illegal activity? What would be its food, its behaviours? What smells, lights, chemicals would attract it?

As usual, I am drawn to making this work with others. I think it’s the openness of the activity. I shy away from saying that it can reveal how calm/agitated one is feeling, but the concentration and focus requires a meditative state of mind.

I like the ink moths as objects in themselves.

I now need to select 6 moths, create scientific names, common names and descriptors for them. I need interpret them as reduction linocuts and print them onto the partners of the pages already printed with real moths and use letterpress to print the text. Then binding the books. Edition of 10. This will take a while.

We stole flight, 2020

Magpie feathers from wood printed with letterpress and then returned to the wood.

Some people class magpies as vermin and actively trap and shoot the birds, despite magpies being a protected species.

Magpies feature in the story of my Chinese name, they make a bridge after death to join the two lovers across the Milky Way. They are not seen as thieves or chatterboxes but instead bring people together.

Printing on leaves, 2020


my body bends to the familiar paths but
I only know the shapes
from certain angles

I will always be an intruder

I cannot tell the structures;
surface is not narrative

the deer have started following
the paths we have made

I am the first to walk the path;
my face is tickled with cobwebs

this is not a safe space

only I know the shapes
from certain angles


I collected the hazel leaves fresh from the wood at the turning of the season. They stood out golden and green when most leaves had fallen and were turning brown and russet. I was working against time. I kept them cold and cool. I assembled the lead type, changing words and rearranging phrases as I went along. I printed on the leaves, aware of the tone and contrast of the text against the surface of the leaves.

I returned the leaves to the wood after scanning the leaves. They will slowly decay with the other leaves to make leaf mould for the next generation of trees.

Moths of the Solway Firth, part 1, 2020

A series of moths of the Solway, created from discussions with Dr Liz Still, entomologist who works at Watchtree. Reduction linocut, printed on Chinese Xuan paper. Paper size 20 x 15 cm.

Elephant Hawk-Moth
Eyed Hawk-Moth
Garden Tiger
Manchester Treble-bar
Merveille du Jour

I’ve also printed these onto slightly thicker paper, as part of a bigger project.

Discussing craft with L

This is part of an ongoing discussion with an artist friend L about craft and making, sparked off by listening to an episode of Thinking Allowed on Craft and Community with Richard Sennett and David Gauntlett.

[…] That’s really interesting. I listened to it again but found the dissonance of the two speakers frustrating. They obviously had different agendas and I think what Richard Sennett is saying is more interesting to me. Still a lot to think about.

I’ve made a list of what craft is for me, some of which overlaps with what you’re saying.

-shared knowledge, community of practice, generational, family, time-based

-function/outcome/use as opposed to idea/concept/communication

-manual, tactility, hand-eye-mind

-material – an intense awareness of materials and their manipulation/transformation – working with rather than against, not a struggle

-‘beauty’ hem hem

-somehow embodying organic, natural, true processes, seen as more true, has more integrity, innate, not synthetic

-outside of time, utopian, a past that never existed

-subsuming of id into continuity, monastic, persistence, focus, dedication

-values and economies – monetary, private, domestic, personal, gift, exchange, love, possessible, inheritable, heritage

-elevates the owner, allows owner to signal perceived positive values

-blankness – not communicating ideas loudly, a vessel for other meanings

-creativity but in small ways, perhaps more problem solving, slow gradual reaction to changes as opposed to conscious decisions taken by one person

-origins are obscure, no prioritisation of the ‘original’ as opposed to the ‘copy’

-fragility, sense of knowledge lost as opposed to mechanisation and technology

-time – when buying a crafted object, you are buying someone else’s time and the perception of that as a value in itself, not recognised by all, sets you apart from ‘the crowd’

-gender – condescension if done by middle-aged, middle class women in their spare time. A ‘hobby’, not serious, superficial.

-class and power relationships. Who buys craft, who appreciates craft? What the social position of the maker in relation to the buyer?


Been thinking about Walter Benjamin and ‘aura’ and how print as reproductive medium sits within that. And craft.

As you can gather from the above that I’m ambivalent about craft, but often on whole more positive about craft than art. Doesn’t try to answer big questions, just goes on regardless. Less attention-seeking and the contexts in which crafts sit and are seen are more varied. It doesn’t make itself ‘other’ as much as art?

Artistic Licences, 2018, ongoing

geltsdale 2018 - 18c

As part of the RSPB Geltsdale Exhibition, I used letterpress to print 76 Artistic Licences for people to take away for free.

This project is ongoing as this has been, and will be, incarnated in several versions:

v 1.0, May 2018, draft version with different bullet points, not editioned

v 2.0, June 2018, version for Art Teachers with bullet points left blank so that teachers and students can customise their own licences. At a workshop at the Morland Studio,  Art Teachers printed as many  licences as they wished.

v. 3.0 October 2018, version for RSPB Geltsdale with different bullet points, 76 licences with chits to complete and be retained by Vega.

v. 3.1 February 2018, further licences to be printed as required for Carlisle Library exhibition.

Further versions are planned involving the use of profanities and mail art.


Creative Commons:
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, 1992

Elements, 2018, update

The Elements labels shifted form and I decided to make the Air cards into ‘Sky Labels’.

376 hand-set letterpress printed on handmade labels.


The instructions are as follows:

Take a sky label.

Take it home.

Pin it to the sky.


I also used the letterpress to print 36 words of the elements of ‘Growth’, ‘Soil’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’ onto hand-made paper. I framed 24 of each as part of the exhibition. They were pinned to the backing board using lills pins, used by entymologists, botanists and bead artists to secure objects. Fitting.

geltsdale 2018 elements soil and growth

Printing Nature, RSPB Geltsdale, 28 November – 31 January 2019

Thought-Experiment or ‘lumps of it round the back’

A couple of months ago I wrote a brief outline for a book called ‘Thought-Experiment’:

Thought-Experiment is a series of approaches to the theory of printmaking. It is not a book about techniques or how to make prints but an exploration of ideas and how an artist intensely engages with materials to create objects and artefacts.

Walter Benjamin investigated how value is affected by mass-production and re-production. Hand-made prints are in-between and embody tensions that unique works of art cannot.

1. ‘Lumps of it round the back’ – multiplicity and potential

2. Value

3. Printmaking as ritual

4. Variations

5. Ephemera

6. Time

First I want to talk about the pleasure of printmaking.

Running the print studio has made me begin to understand how people want to create/carve out a space for themselves that is personalised and full of joy. Printmaking is an activity that is hard, requires a lot of equipment and forward planning, learning and reflection. Yet people keep coming back.

Printmaking for me is about making the best use of a series of materials that are finite, but multiple. I am excited by the fact that from some card, a roll of self-adhesive vinyl, glue and other seemingly random things I can make a collagraph plate, and then I can create multiple impressions from it. I can play with being nonchalant but at the same time precious, giving some aspects of the print more or less focus as I create it. Whether it is a representation of something or not is beside the point.

I spoke recently to someone about the ‘Christmas present moment’ when the printmaker pulls back the paper and sees the print. Sometimes there is complete delight on people’s faces, and at other times they have to really look at it and work out what they need to change. I have always made sure that people who come to the studio are the first to see their print as it comes off the press. They do the reveal and I watch them.

I suppose ‘Lumps of it round the back’ elides into this idea of pleasure for me that is very personal. I can run the risk of messing up and being able to do it again. And again, if necessary. It’s an insurance policy, a safety net and it promises an even closer approximation to the realisation of my mental image of what I would like to achieve. I will never get there, but I can continue working towards it until I get it right.

But it’s also to do with integers. I can push these lumps of things around in my head until I can configure them into something that is satisfying to me both conceptually and as a physical object. I don’t know how many I will need, so I prefer to have lots. It’s not a choreographed dance with me, more like a continual process of improvisation and reflection.

I think through printmaking. I create prints that are objects to think with and I find pleasure in sharing them with people who use them as such. Which will lead me onto 2. Value, which I have yet to write, but will involve looking at Fluxus, exchange and subversion.