I have made drawings for as long as I can remember and I'm sure that I have been making prints for most of my life, even if I didn't realise that was what I was doing. I first made tiny woodcuts when I was fourteen, but then left wood to experiment with other forms of printmaking, mainly linocuts.
When I engraved my first block it was more like remembering a process rather than learning it. It seems that this is what I was destined to do. The scale suits me - I was always something of a miniaturist - and I enjoy the detail that I can work in, the medium seems to suit my subjects and I particularly enjoy working in black and white.
Black and white
I developed my taste for black and white from my love of old books. My favourites were illustrated by early heroes like Ernest Shepard, who drew the original pictures for Winnie the Pooh, and some had wood engravings in them. The thick intense blacks on old heavy paper set something in motion which is still going on in my work and choice of paper. My taste for detail also comes from Shepard.
Almost all of my prints are printed in black ink on white paper. I concentrate on form and texture. Very occasionally I will colour a print with watercolour washes. These - usually very small - prints add a little variety in exhibitions. I enjoy and admire coloured engravings printed from many blocks, such as the work of Jeroen van Duyn, but I have never been tempted to try this.
I've never based my engraving style on anyone in particular - it follows from my drawing style as much as anything. I have always enjoyed the work of Gwen Raverat and I found her prints in Cambridge bookshops from time to time. There is a little influence there. George Tute as well - I don't copy him but if I see something in one of my prints that he might have engraved then I'm mightily pleased. Simon Brett has a such a good way of grading his tones and I've learned a lot from him by reading his excellent book "Wood Engraving How To Do It" (ISBN 1-85183-045-6).
Peter Blake is a big influence - not through his occasional engravings but through his approach and choice of subject matter. He has made me feel that I can draw or engrave anything I want and it will be valid. The last influence that I will quote is Carel Weight, who sadly died in 1997. He encouraged me a lot when I was starting out and he had such a talent for placing figures in a landscape which I try to learn from.
I'm pretty much self-taught as an engraver. I used an old book by Grigson to guide me and I was "shown the ropes" by a colleague called Pat Townsend who was a pupil of John O'Connor and Blair Hughes-Stanton at Colchester. After a lot of practice and some initial success, I enrolled in two courses taught by Sarah van Niekirk, now the Chair of the Society of Wood Engravers. She taught me a lot about planning my work and I have slowly but surely learned to consider my prints more carefully as I prepare them.
In the same way that I have always drawn the things around me, I am happiest when I base my prints on familiar subjects. these include my family, gardens, local wildlife and landscape and anything else that interests me. If a location holds a special meaning for me then I am likely to include it in an engraving. I am also increasingly interested in the relationship between people and the rural environment.
I often work in series - perhaps only adding one new print to a series each year. I am happy to return to themes and explore them further. The most developed series is "Brothers" which normally include my two sons. Sometimes they are being themselves but sometimes they represent me and my own older brother who was tragically killed in an accident at the age of 10. In a way, some of these prints are my last way of including him in my life.
Groups and Societies
Although no longer a member of the Ely Watercolour Workshop, I was its founder, in that the group initially developed from the students of my painting class. I am an elected member of the Cambridge Drawing Society - a prestigious group who once had Gwen Raverat as President. I am very pleased to be a member of the Wood Engraver's Network - a group of engravers based in North America. It is an honour to be associated with so many fine artists and I always look forwards to receiving their 'bundles'.
The greatest honour, however, was my election to the Society of Wood Engravers in July 1997. It allows me to follow in the footsteps of so many great engravers.