04 April, 2014

Dame Rosemary visits the exhibition

 Yesterday afternoon, Dame Rosemary Butler, the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, kindly paid a visit to the exhibition which she was entirely responsible for making possible. We must again say how enormously grateful we are for bringing all this about - and for her enthusiastic appreciation of the results.

Above, she is talking with Frances and Robert Macdonald (Where Many Shipwrack) and below she examines his new book, The Diary of a Dead Officer, with John Abell.

In the photograph below, she is discussing his book, The Abstract Garden, with the poet, Philip Gross.

02 April, 2014

The Old Stile Press on exhibition in Cardiff Bay

This remarkable (if slightly over-dressed!) edifice is the Pierhead Building, the historic centre of Cardiff Bay, which used to be the office of the Harbour Master when the Welsh capital still had its docks. It  now stands next to the Senedd - the home of the Welsh Assembly - and houses historic exhibits, conferences and other events . . . including, throughout the month of April, an exhibition describing the activities past and present of The Old Stile Press. The poster to be seen by the main door at the extreme left of the photo below advertizes this fact!

We were invited to stage the show when we had the pleasure of meeting the Presiding Officer of the Senedd, Dame Rosemary Butler, a year or so. She was kind enough to think that Wales should know more about our activities.

 The Futures Gallery is housed in a beautifully spacious and airy room on the first floor and we managed to erect our carefully planned show quite painlessly - with the help of our son Daniel with his picture-hanging skills and after penetrating the most efficient-seeming security procedures.

I hope that the following photographs will give some idea of what visitors will see . . . but, best of all would be if you could visit in person! From 10.30 - 4.30 every day for the rest of April.

PLEASE DO follow the instruction below the next photo (which I do not know how to countermand!) bacause there are LOTS and LOTS more good things to look at!

11 March, 2014

John Abell's "Book Day"

For John, his "Book Day" was when he came to Catchmays Court to see, and handle, the sample copy of the Main and Special editions of his great work, hot from the binders. 
I had previously printed small editions of some of the mighty woodcuts from the book and John signed and annotated this (one of my great favourites) to remember the occasion.


 The group from the previous post had reconvened, with the addition of Beith, an artist friend of John's, and a fine time we had admiring the binder's workmanship and, above all, the magnificence of John's images. 

 We were seeing the cover for the first time -

 and elements of the Special Edition, such as the portfolio of superb images that do not appear in the book

 and the recess in the bottom of the box that fits, for each of the fortunate owners of the Special Edition, one of the actual linocut blocks used in the printing of the book

When the party had left, I was able to set about the necessary photography of the book and the results can now be seen on our website - with full details.

As the double-page spread is so wide, only a general idea can be given of the full sweep of the great images on the usual 'slideshow' so I have taken a number of photographs of 'details'. Some were posted earlier and a couple are given here. 

I could not resist including a good number more on the webpage as I was fascinated to find how powerful an experience it was to look at a large woodcut and then to zoom in on just the expression of a face or the brilliantly effective woodcutting to depict a coil of barbed wire.


So, now I will leave you with yet another photograph of John Abell being justly proud of his handiwork

and, finally, one of Bill Garnett . . . also studying John's book but, for some reason, looking like a Renaissance saint!

25 January, 2014

Signing the book, a bit of lunch and some collating

The final piece of printing had been done, the sheets folded and inserted to form sections. John Abell had now to sign each copy of the colophon page before the sections were collated into books. Happily this coincided with John having finished cutting the two lino blocks planned for the cover, so a trip to Catchmays Court was organised to include our mutual friend, Bill Garnett, of Pomegranate Fine Art.

  As John signed, I slipped the page into its section and we talked . . . about . . . what more appropriate than "what shall we do for out next book"! These photographs show the aftermath of all this, a little lunch, during which the pile of signed sheets was pushed ignominiously to the edge of the table!


The next day saw Frances performing her lonely dance round the piles of sections to produce ever-growing piles of collated copies - ready for transport to the binders. That is when I have completed the final printing, of the cover blocks.

 As mentioned in an earlier post, I hasten to take photographs of the blocks themselves so that the effect of the artist's original coloured drawing can be seen and remembered when the black ink of the printing obscures it for ever.

19 January, 2014

Good Progress with The Dead Officer

 I can hardly believe it, but the lengthy slog of printing The Diary of a Dead Officer is almost at an end and the binding process can begin. John Abell is at the moment cutting blocks for the papers that will cover the book and the printing of these should be my final task.

Frances has been folding sheets as they are completed and recently has begun to insert sheets into others to form sections. This is one of the most exciting moments in the whole process as I begin to see images and passages of text in their true relation to  one another - rather than to what was next to them on the press.

The above is the 'emblem' that appears, very effectively, on the book's halftitle . . . pointing atmospherically towards the rest of the book.


 This photograph was taken of John during a recent visit to Catchmays Court . . . during which I was able to show him my printings of his linocuts which (as you may remember from an earlier post) he will never have seen printed before!

Rather than photographing complete pages, I have today directed my camera at various details of blocks and have taken advantage of some 'stage-lighting' provided by the winter sunshine.  You will therefore not get a full idea of what the book will look like but the power of these images will, I am sure, make an appropriate initial impact. 

06 November, 2013

After the Oxford Fair

We spent last weekend at the major Book Fair in Oxford and had a good and successful time. We had restricted what we showed to recent publications and some 'Specials' of earlier titles where we still had copies. Sales in both categories were encouragingly brisk and the sample printed pages from The Diary of a Dead Officer (see previous post, below) made a tremendous impact.

As I woke on Monday morning I had a lovely sense of freedom to do many things but, when it came to it, we two poor oldies realized that we were too utterly exhausted from all that talking etc that we could not manage to do anything except, in my case, to haul my camera around for a bit in what happened to be a gloriously golden Autumn day.

One or two people at the Fair had been kind enough to say that they have enjoyed my photographs on the blog . . . so I am encouraged to post these now. Then back to the press!

26 October, 2013

The Diary of a Dead Officer

The time has come, we think, for us to reveal what is happening in the printing office at the moment . . . or, rather, what I have been printing away at for many weeks now, while Frances tells the world about the already wonderfully appreciated The Third Thing and Ralph Kiggell, now returned home to Bangkok, makes plans for the book to be promoted and exhibited in a number of his far eastern galleries.

Above you will see the titlepage of our new offering which gives most of what you need to know about the text. There have been editions of this remarkable and moving text but not many . . . and I do not know of one where the words have been balanced by equally powerful images.

That clearly is the particular strength of this publication (planned, for obvious reasons, for publication in 1914) [ . . . or, even, 2014. Thanks for pointing that out, Natalie]. John Abell's wood and linocut techniques have become simply more and more hard-hitting since we first met the young artist a couple of years ago. He has since won prizes and the acclamation of many who have seen exhibitions of his work - often woodcut images of incredible complication and four or five feet square - printed laboriously by the artist himself with the back of a spoon. Five hours labour per print is the going rate, John says!

It did not take the OSP long, as I think you may imagine, to bind this artist to us and agree a text which would be appropriate to his skills and the times.

I have been working for some weeks on printing the text (in Bodoni type and a dark green ink) but I have just reached the excitement of beginning to print the images. It is this that I thought I would photograph for you today.

First of all, here is a lino block, fresh from John. It bears his unique brand of 'drawing' . . . very bold and in a handful of crude coloured markers. As the lino is pale, you can hardly see the cutting  but it has by this stage been completed, in all its detail. You will note that it has not been 'proofed' in any way. John never does. Somehow he is able to know exactly what the cuts he makes will look like.

Look carefully at this 'drawing', for it is about to disappear, for ever. Below, you will see that the rollers of my press have inked the lino before the press makes an impression, in exactly the correct place one hopes, on the page which already has text printed on it .

. . . and this is the result of that inking. (The two scruffy pieces of paper below the block, by the way, are there to warn me if the pressure on it from the rollers is forcing the block down the bed of the press.) Here is the printed result.

 Here you can see the image in a bit more detail and . . .

 . . . and here the image is seen in relation to the rest of the type on the spread.

There is still a long way to go but I hope I have whetted a few appetites to see the completed book, sometime early next year I hope. I, for one, am absolutely thrilled with how the book is developing . . . and so was John when we showed him the first printed image!

23 October, 2013

Burnt Sugar

This year I have not been overdoing the 'wonders of Nature in the Wye Valley' brand of post . . . but I thought this might be an exception. Breathtaking to see it in this peak of brightness - especially as the day on which this photo was taken had seen torrential rain for hours on end.

I do not know whether e-smell has been invented yet but I certainly don't have an ap for it. If I did, you could enjoy, as we did, the extraordinary smell of burnt sugar that comes from the leaves that have fallen to the ground.

It is a Cercidiphyllum japonicum and I planted it a number of years ago. More recently I planted a Liquidamber quite near to it and that is also doing well, in an adolescent sort of a way. In a few years time the double act should be quite something!