christmas on dartmoor, part 1

Stuart and I went to stay with the writer and illustrator Philip Reeve, his photographer and musician wife Sarah and their son Sam over Christmas. We ran about making so many different things that I’ll have to put them into separate blog posts. But to start, here’s a linoleum print I made of the Reeves on the moor. Dartmoor must been one of the most beautiful places in the world. And very windy! With BIG hailstones.

I played around with converting the print to colour, but I think I still like the black and white version best.

Several people have asked me how I do lino cut prints, so I thought I’d show the different stages. It started with a pencil sketch, and an ink drawing. It was just supposed to be a little drawn thank-you card, but I saw the ink drawing and thought it might look even better cut into linoleum, which comes in sheets that you can buy at art supply shops. It takes awhile to cut the lino (basically making a rubber stamp), so it’s a perfect thing to do over the holidays.

Just as I was starting to trace the drawing onto the lino with carbon paper, I remembered that it’s going to print backward. (I ALWAYS forget this, argh!) And I really wanted Philip striding off to the right, not the left, so I scanned the drawing, flipped it backward in Photoshop and printed it out to trace. I left my nice tools at the studio, but I had a box of cheapie cutting tools I bought once in Chinatown for a fiver, and they worked okay.

The fun part is rolling ink onto the lino block, that’s when all the bits I haven’t cut away show up black, and I can see better what I’ve done. But the ink looked worryingly blobby, and I realised I’d been storing it at all sorts of varying temperatures, and using it might be problematic.

Yup, the ink wasn’t going to be helpful in any way. It went on too dark, too light, and even made these funny little shadows where the liquid seemed to be seeping away from the pigment. I knew it would look way better if I went and bought some oil-based ink, but it’s holidays, I just had to make do with what I had.

I covered the table (where we usually eat our meals) with freshly inked prints, and Stuart asked, ‘Where are you going to put those to dry?’ Heh. That’s why it’s good I didn’t used oil-based ink, because these prints dried on the living room floor overnight, and oil ink would’ve taken days and days. And I kind of like the rough look of slightly malfunctioning printing.

And here are our lovely hosts! I tease Philip about his ‘Sepia World of Reeve’, and it’s true, he doesn’t just wear a lot of browns and warm grey tweedy things, he and his family are surrounded by tea-toned landscape.

Well, except the lovely mosses make some places very green, not sepia, such as this lovely gully in the hills, where we all had our picnic lunch. ‘Wooder Goyle’, it’s called, what a great name for a storybook villain… oh wait, there’s already a Goyle in Harry Potter, darn.) Here’s the sketch I made after lunch.

I didn’t really know how to draw all that moss, so I just tried to get the overall shapes of things, and it didn’t come out too badly. Although the next day, three huge hailstones got stuck down the middle of my sketchbook and left a warped melty patch in the middle of the drawing. The sketchbook’s not very flat now.

Hurrah, Stuart decided to draw, too!

I’m always amazed at how well Stuart’s drawings come out, considering he almost never practices. (If you like, you can see a couple more of his rare sketches, from Oxleas Wood and Seldovia, Alaska.)

Here’s Philip’s drawing, and you can see a larger version here on his blog, A Dartmoor Sketchbook.

I love all the different shapes of the tors, the rocky outcroppings you find scattered about on Dartmoor’s hilltops. These ones look like tall stacks of pancakes.

We got to go on a hike with some of Philip’s relatives, here’s a jolly family photo! That’s his sister in the purple jacket, her partner in the red, and his dad in the the green.

A few more photos from our hikes: On this day, the sun was making each rounded tussock of grass stand out so amazingly.

And I love the mossy stone walls, I keep expecting a hobbit to pop out at any moment.

We were lucky to have such mild weather, but Sarah Reeve took some photos another winter when the moor was covered in snow, including this same rocky outcropping. (Have a look, these photos are lovely.) You see Sarah’s photos popping up every so often on Philip’s blog.

Thanks so much for including us in your Christmas, Sarah, Philip and Sam! More pics coming soon…

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