My hands are sore and currently covered in tape like a boxer. This isn’t the result of some terrible print related disaster, just a consequence of having to get used to cutting much harder wood. I have a commission, such a lovely one, to fill a health centre on the Isle of Wight with fourteen huge watercolour woodblocks. I’ve had to adopt a semi industrial approach as they each measure over a metre wide and my artist’s lime ply (the usual stuff I cut) simply isn’t big enough. I’m using sheets of carpenter’s birch ply and boy is it hard.
My hands will toughen up. They already look like hands out of a schlock horror movie: ‘Hands of Satan’s Bride’ perhaps. A bit harder won’t make much difference. Birch ply is a good material for the job: cheap, available in large sizes and delivered to my door by a slightly confused, but energetic man in overalls who said kindly that it takes all sorts and that he expected I knew what I was doing. Good job he didn’t stay to watch me balance precariously on a swivel chair trying to make accurate cuts with a razor sharp chisel on the far side of the width.
The aim of the commission is to bring space, light and air into the building. It’s a great health centre, but a little austere and short on windows. I’ve come up with fourteen wide airy views of the Island from the obvious, the Needles, Alum Bay and Osborne House to the industrial, East and West Cowes, with a funfair, windmill and a couple of monuments thrown in. The sea features a lot, not really surprising, but in different ways: waves crashing onto the shore at Gurnard, slopping swells at Cowes, choppy bay at Alum and great calm stretches at Tennyson Down. It’s been a real learning curve for me, bedded down as I am in the rural landscape, but I am loving it. Give it a couple of weeks and maybe my hands will too.