Research Sketching-Costumes

My favorite part of doing any kind of historical or genre art is researching the appropriate costumes. In my magazine illustration days it didn’t come up much; mostly I was drawing doctors, nurses, businessmen and contemporary kids and grownups of all kinds. 

With subject matter like Dickens, costuming the characters not only correctly, but in a way that tells us about their personalities, is part of the job description!

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BLEAK HOUSE cover illustration

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes–gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

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Ancient Japanese woodblock set

The final, 12-color print and one of the woodblocks from this incredible set.

As I’ve been exploring the world of hand-made printing techniques of various kinds, more and more I find myself looking at, investigating and writing about woodcuts. There’s a good reason for this, apparently!

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The Ghost’s Walk

Mrs. Rouncewell, Rosa, and Watt Rouncewell

She seats herself in a large chair by the fast-darkening window and tells them: “In the wicked days, my dears, of King Charles the First–I mean, of course, in the wicked days of the rebels who leagued themselves against that excellent king–Sir Morbury Dedlock was the owner of Chesney Wold. Whether there was any account of a ghost in the family before those days, I can’t say. I should think it very likely indeed.”

Mrs. Rouncewell holds this opinion because she considers that a family of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost. She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper classes, a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim.

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Mr. Krook

Krook, of Krook’s Rag and Bottle Shop

As it was still foggy and dark, and as the shop was blinded besides by the wall of Lincoln’s Inn, intercepting the light within a couple of yards, we should not have seen so much but for a lighted lantern that an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap was carrying about in the shop. Turning towards the door, he now caught sight of us. 

‘Hi, hi!’ said the old man, coming to the door. ‘Have you anything to sell?’ 

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Chiaroscuro Woodcuts

As a rule I’ve stuck to just one-color linocuts mainly because my printing setup at the moment is fairly primitive. What I want to talk about here is going to be about woodcuts, but the same rules apply to linocuts and the process of pulling prints.

The main thing to solve when doing more than one color in a hand-pulled print, is getting the colors to line up. In any multi-color printing process, this is called “registration” and it applies to pretty much all color printing, whether it’s magazines, cereal boxes, or your inkjet printer. You know when you put a new ink cartridge in and you have to print out that one sample page? That’s so your printer can register the colors.

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Why Linoleum?

There are a few materials that have been traditionally used for coating with ink and pulling prints by hand. The most common, linoleum and wood, have no intrinsic quality that makes them suitable for inking and pressing paper onto to make a print. Any flat surface will do, in fact there are many other mediums (steel plates, copper, even potatoes!) that are used one way or another for making prints.

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