Fourteen views of the Isle of Wight

In 2012 I was commissioned to create fourteen views of the Isle of Wight for a new health centre in East Cowes. Here is some of the work in progress

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In 2012 I was commissioned by Healing Arts on the Isle of Wight to create fourteen views of the Island for a new health centre in East Cowes. These prints are extremely large Japanese watercolour woodblocks as you can see from the work here. (To learn more about this traditional Japanese technique which I was privileged to study in Japan please follow the link). My brief was to bring a sense of space and light to the Health Centre while celebrating some of the Isle of Wight’s many landmarks. Here is some of the work in progress.

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To create such large woodblocks I have had to use carpenter’s birch plywood. It is stable, inexpensive and easily available. It is also extremely hard and can splinter if my tools are in the least bit blunt. Here you can see part of the many blocks that make up the image of West Cowes harbour. Each print measures 120cm by 70cm and the average number of printing blocks for each piece is around the fifty mark. That takes me three or four days to cut and two long full days to print.

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I have used gentle and muted colours in contrast to this busy townscape. The crane that dominates the image is a well known landmark and ‘listed historic object’, for me it is a lovely pattern to balance the image. This is one half of a pair: East Cowes will sit alongside it in the Health Centre, sharing the same stretch of wall.

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Here I am printing the underlay of the chalk cliffs for the Tennyson Down print. Japanese printing often involves printing a single block several times to build up colour and shading. I use normal watercolours and a paste of boiled rice flour (this acts as a sort of glue for the paint, ensuring smooth sheets of colour). A print such as this can have eighty or ninety layers. There is no printing press involved and each layer is hand burnished with a bamboo disc to take the impression.

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Perhaps the most Japanese in appearance, this print is a late summer evening portrait of the downs and cliffs. I often use a linear design for clouds and sea, composition, colour and shape being the most interesting aspect of any print to me.

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Each of the fourteen prints begins as a master drawing. I always draw in line, even in sketch books, rarely using any textures or shading. Nor do I work in colour as all of those things are addressed when I am printing. Think of this drawing of Freshwater Bay as the paper pattern for the woodblocks.

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This is the final print of Freshwater Bay with its beautiful cliffs and rock pools. My treatment of the water is fairly formal and is a nod towards the style of some Japanese masters.

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Quite different from the rest of the collection, this print is for the mother and baby room at the centre. It is more of an illustration and allowed me to have a bit of fun with the fair while staying true to the landscape at Blackgang.

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The Needles, probably the most iconic of the Island’s landmarks, these cliffs contrast beautifully with the snuff and ginger colours of the cliff in the foreground with its tufts of grass and thrift. There is a companion print of Alum Bay with its multicoloured sand cliffs which can be seen in the slideshow below.

Please take a look at a slideshow of the finished set of prints.