Gosh. Tempus fugit. The last few months have not been conducive to making art for a number of reasons, but I’m trying to remedy that in earnest now. I’ve been lucky to receive an unexpected windfall from an uncle who was instrumental in my childhood exploration of ideas and mediums.

I remember vividly the ‘chinese’ painting set we explored in Granny’s living room. We painted Harlequin ducks from a small instruction leaflet, with the to-me revolutionary principle of loading a brush with two colours to create a blend/gradient. He was a talented artist – much better than I am – and particularly skilled with pencil drawing. If I’m not confusing my uncles he did memorable copies of da Vinci’s Vitrivian Man, and Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus that lingers in the memory. So not shy of taking things on, and a little more ambitious than my ‘copy artists off Instagram’ style.

I’ve added the funds he left me to the various tools, materials and ideas that I inherited from my mum. At the risk of becoming a collector rather than an artist I’ve added a few ‘nice-to-haves’ to my equipment list –

  • Cricut (the intention is to make stencils and possibly cut onlays directly from patterns);
  • heated typeholder (another absurd auction bid to complement the equally unused Marshall blocking press from the same source);
  • set of handle letters (York 30pt). The perennial challenge of attending SoB events in person is not walking away with empty wallet;
  • small brass cube from Arthur Green (see above);
  • set of Henry Taylor chisels;
  • a rather cute (and fortunately functional) miniature low-angle block plane;
  • a pair of sewing frames – I resisted for five years, which is a good effort.
  • (as part of a kit sent by Jeff Peachey) a large file, a rasp, scraper and a burnisher;
  • various Dremel bits and pieces.
Heated typeholder equipment

Basically other than the cube these purchases mean I’m exploring a bit more – historic book structures – particularly with wooden boards, and continuing to accumulate tools to improve my finishing options.

As part of my continuing obsession with Ben Elbel’s structures I’ve also added to my paper stores – some interesting textured papers from GF Smith (including a fake leather which is really tactile); some gorgeous Hannemuhle for end papers, and a range of different Zerkall Ingres papers – possibly for print, more likely for endpapers. My plan chest drawers are now stuffed full. And I need to remember that…. make things! Use the materials!

I’ve also taken a conscious decision to ‘go back to school’. While I enjoy Eduardo Tarrico’s and Susana Dominguez’ online courses, there’s nothing like live interaction with a tutor, and being able to ask questions while I’m making mistakes learning. To that end I took a couple of remote courses with US tutors last year – Karen Hanmer’s leather decoration course, plus Jeff Peachey’s toolmaking course – which worked up to a point. The latter was probably wasted on me – I simply didn’t have a firm enough idea as to what I would like to make tool-wise (other than ticking ‘do a Peachey course’ off my bookbinding bucket list).

I’ve been struggling with time and motivation in most areas of my life – alongside working, and studying for a Masters, I’ve also become a UEFA C qualified coach (that sounds grand, it’s the lowest level grassroots football coaching qualification) and so the energy, patience and concentration to do ‘proper’ craft work is often lacking. But it’s good for me, and I enjoy it most of the time, so I’ve opted to return to try and do more ‘deliberate practice’ binding. So I’m spending the best part of three months doing one evening a week with Karen via Zoom (as part of her BiblioTech course examining the history of the book through various different structures), and in-person studio work with Mark (Cockram) at Studio 5 – the aim here is to get confident enough to enter competitions.

This should mean that I have time on Tuesday evenings as I wait for the time difference to unwind to perhaps organise my thoughts and document a bit more progress. Not for anyone else’s benefit. For me. And in honour of those who are no longer with us.

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