Colour coded

How to handle your pallet on many layered prints

This weekend I spent printing one of my fourteen giant watercolour woodblocks for the Health Centre on the Isle of Wight. It was never going to be easy: Japanese watercolour woodblock is really designed for perhaps A3 or less, not for over a metre wide. However, the medium does, provided your nerves are steady and your arms long, allow for printing on any scale as there is no press to limit size.

West Cowes, Isle of Wight
West Cowes, Isle of Wight

The main thing, in my opinion, is to get the colours right. No good having a foreground dislocated from the background or lose the sense of distance in a squash of mismatched pigment. I’m stuck with doing this in my head as I go along because I find that the more I plan, the more the life of the print seeps away. To this end I have many, many little glass tea light holders (thank you IKEA. And while I mention the Norse god of home solutions, you can buy sheets of heavy glass with ground edges, perfect for mixing inks, for a song at IKEA just now. Just look for ‘Malm glass top’). The holders are filled with what my lovely Irish father-in-law describes as ‘Laura’s designer sh*t colours’. They get gradually more and more mixed up as I go and result in what I hope is a subtle print of correctly balanced colours. Not so easy this time with dozens of separate little abstract shapes – is it a bird, is it a plane? No it’s the back of a warehouse… You get my drift.

I do test colour and the way to do this with a Japanese print is to take a test sheet of paper (you will of course keep all the trimmings from cutting down your papers to size. Also good for posh shopping lists and guaranteed to impress when you go to pick up your sushi ingredients. Believe me, the Japanese will notice). Put a blob of mixed watercolour on one side of the paper. Take your finger and smear the blob across the paper. It is the smear, not the blob which gives the true result. You also end up with a neat reference sheet which, if you are a better person than me, you could make colour mix notes on as well.

There is a partner to the print here of West Cowes. No prizes for guessing that’ll be East Cowes and for that I have to echo the colours, though not in the matching handbag to shoes way. That would be too obvious. The trick will be to get the pictures to relate, not match. The good news is that there are fewer warehouses on the East Cowes side…

The Great Escape

I have a confession to make. I am bypassing Christmas this year. I just haven’t got the time and in our house, if I don’t do it, it doesn’t happen. That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen. The men are more than capable of making a Christmas dinner (but not as we know it: it would be a one pot meal which would strangely involve every utensil and container in the house). They could brave our sleeping swarm of cluster flies in the attic, find the decorations and even put them up. Wrap presents, listen to carols, panic buy cranberries. However, they won’t and that’s fine: I have spent the last thirty odd years conditioning them into believing that I’m the only one capable of the mystery of Christmas. I am at heart the suffering woman from the ads on telly…

Back in the day I’ve boned out and stuffed geese with freshly chopped fruit stuffing, given thoughtfully hand tailored gifts in home printed wrapping paper, arranged bespoke table decorations and generally done everything that Kirstie Allsopp claims she does, but I suspect is actually done by a crack team of craftspeople. Enough, been there, done that: this year I’ll be in the studio working on my prints.

I have discussed this with the family who tell me that a) they love all that Christmas stuff but b) only when I do it and c) not to worry because my mother-in-law is saving the day and is feeding us all in spite of already having visitors from America. She’s ace in a crisis, even if it is one generated by her daughter-in-law’s need to focus entirely on cutting woodblocks for the next month.

It’s all actually been very liberating even if it’s only me that I have liberated myself from in reality. That’s not to say that next Christmas I won’t be back to gilding fondant stuffed sprouts with edible nativity scenes. Depends on the work load…