For more than thirty years at The Old Stile Press we, Frances & Nicolas McDowall, have been working with artist/printmakers to produce books of great beauty, hand printed in limited editions. Full details can be found at our website (link below) but we hope that our friends will visit here regularly to see what is going on at the Press.
Earlier on we mentioned the fact that House and Garden wanted to do an article about us (in a series about people who do things or make things) and that we had been interviewed and photographed. The article was duly published (in the December issue, so it should still be in the shops) and we have heard from a nice lot of people who are new to all this and were interested to look on our website and choose stuff to buy. We also heard from a lot of already friends who had somehow seen the article and were spurred to say hello!
The photographer, Andrew Montgomery, had kindly said that, after the publication of the article, he would send us a disc of the photos saying that, with a few entirely understandable exceptions, we could do whatever we liked with them. Here, therefore, are the three main ones which we are very pleased to have.
I must however give one very strong caveat. If anyone out there starts to look not at the figures but at the 'things' lying around and whatever is happening on the press &c in order to learn how things are done at the OSP, please let them not waste their time!!
Andrew is a wonderful photographer but not much of a printer . . . more like a set designer in some costume drama for a film. When he saw clothes pegs hanging from the roof he wanted something hanging from them. Old discarded proofs from an earlier book looked colourful even though there is no circumstance under which they would be hung up like that! I will not continue but would simply say that almost nothing is as it should be. The image of me peering at a sheet that appears to be coming off the press looks really great BUT, I have never before been at that end of the press in my life and no printed paper would emerge from that end of the press and so on and so on . . . but, again, they are really lovely photographs and we thank him profoundly.
Now here's a funny thing . . .
I remember, as a boy, being fascinated when I was shown, in the National Gallery, the painting entitled The Ambassadors, and received an explanation of the curious object in front of the two gentlemen. On subsequent visits, I remember purposely going to the side of the painting and squinting at what, from there, was clearly a skull in elongated form. I cannot remember the theories as to why it had been included like that by the artist but I certainly enjoyed it when my knowing little act had the effect of causing others, young or old, to sidle round to see for themselves!
Why do I mention this now with a reproduction of the painting? Simply that, after inserting Andrew's disc in my computer, I sought to print out one of the photographs. All seemed to be going to plan until I started to see what was emerging from the printer . . .
I am not really interested in why or how this happened except that either computer or printer had clearly had some sort of seizure. I am however very intrigued to see my own head [I am not quite sure how easy it is to view a computer from the side but it is easier if you click the image bigger] appearing in exactly the same way as the skull in Mr Holbein's painting!
I decided to photograph this a few days ago - because the light suddenly struck me as good - but it has been standing under a cherry tree in our garden, giving pleasure to all, for a decade at least.
Frankly I have seen damaged sculptures of kouroi in the The British Museum and The Louvre with much less presence than this and I could kid you with tales of expensive dealers in illegal exports and/or digs at dead of night or even of famous British sculptors with a 'thing' about 5th century Athens . . .
. . . but I will come clean! We two were enjoying a rare holiday, all that time ago - in the Yorkshire Moors. I cannot recall exactly where but I remember we were told that from there, on a good day, you could see the sea off the east coast of England and the west at the same time. [Could that really be? Were we being taken for a bit of a ride?]
Anyway, we were quite high up and found ourselves on a hillside which was literally strewn (like bodies on a terrible battlefield that went on as far as the eye could see) with pieces of limestone pavement, presumably littered there by some glacier or another. [OK, so I am NOT a geologist!]
This was a remarkable enough sight but my eye was suddenly caught by one single piece of this rock. It was not particularly close but was propped up slightly by the fact that it lay on another so that the all-important line of its 'neck' was visible. I went to it, stood it upright and walked back. At that moment it HAD to come home with us.
Two points to make. Firstly, I had brought home pieces of rock from holidays practically all my life. Great hunks of serpentine from Cornwall, a large but beautifully broken 'pebble' from a beach in Ireland and various treasures from France, Greece etc.
The second point, and I hasten to make it, is that all this was before there were laws in this land designed to stop beautiful natural landscapes being denuded by insensitives with great lorries ripping up stone for sale in garden centres for suburbia's water-features. Yes, I put my hands up to thieving this piece from the nation but we did only take the one piece and I am sure that it has given more pleasure to our visitors here, quite apart from ourselves, than it would have given if it had lain all these years, anonymous among its millions of fellows!
We found a base (from our own land!) and pinned the one to the other and placed it under the cherry tree. Since then, I have been continually amazed at how satisfying a piece of sculpture it is. It is my experience that most pieces of 'found sculpture' may look wonderful from one angle but, from most others, just look like a hunks of rock. This one looks spectacularly good from pretty well all angles.
Anyway, that is enough of me going on about it. I will simply give a random sequence of the photographs I took the other day and I hope they will please and interest. It may be, of course, that you see the thing just as a random hunk of rock . . .
Our first thought is whether there is anything suitable in the book that is 'on the press' or in preparation at the moment. [The Benjamin Britten A Christmas Sequence was so long in coming that it served for TWO Christmases!]
Thus it was logical to think in terms of Clive Hicks-Jenkins who has long been making studies towards a definitive style for our edition of Peter Shaffer's play EQUUS. These heads may or may not appear in the book as the style continues to develop. The images in the book, however, certainly won't have blue backgrounds!
This was my idea and (as I said to Clive in an email giving him a courtesy preview!) 'I enjoyed painting 400 unique little abstracts - just in the correct place on a large sheet. I reckoned it was fascinating how each of the heads changes character minutely depending on the background'.
Clive happily approved of what I had done and added "I like the way the brush strokes give a feeling of wind and movement in keeping with the mane-blown subject. And the colour too is perfect, turning the beast into a creature of the high air, as in Pegasus, as well perhaps as of watery depths, as personified by the Scottish Kelpie!"
Here, then are three cards, more or less at random. You can make up your own mind whether the horses change character or mood!