Thursday, 31 December 2020

Forgotten treasures


my Instagram "Advent Calendar", beginning with the cheery robin 
bottom right and finishing with the Nativity top left
© Teresa Newham

From the beginning of December until Christmas Eve I posted an image on Instagram every day as an online advent calendar. I usually get one for myself, but couldn't find any I liked, so I thought: Why not dig out some of my older Christmas/Winter-themed artworks instead, and share them online? 

Harpenden Common in the snow
photo © Teresa Newham

Putting the calendar together was a lot of fun, and I found plenty of work which doesn't often see the light of day nowadays: I'd love to make a watercolour of a snowy Harpenden Common, and it may be that this ten-year-old photo would make a suitable starting point. I'd almost forgotten it . . .

Christmas Carol cards
© Teresa Newham

When posting the calendar I also suggested a Christmas carol of the day; which was easy for this trio of watercolour Christmas cards which originally had the words of Silent Night, O Tannenbaum and O Come all ye Faithful printed inside them.  I've always thought of the little red-haired girl as me, even though I don't have red hair. Or a dog.

linocut Christmas cards
hand printed by Teresa Newham

I was somewhat surprised to find that I'd made ten linocut Christmas cards over the years; sadly I don't have a decent image of the first one to include here.  Foolishly I limited the edition for that one so it's a bit of a collector's item - I sold the last one a year ago and didn't keep one for myself.  You live and learn.

miscellaneous watercolour Christmas cards
by Teresa Newham

It was good to revisit some of the watercolour Christmas cards I made before I started producing them in  linocut.  I still have some of the originals, although the dove and the poinsettia have both found new homes.  And I'd forgotten all about this experimental snowscape from 2010, which was one of three I made back then. I really should get round to making some more wintry art!

snowscape - one of three similar
watercolours by Teresa Newham

Saturday, 19 December 2020



hand printed linocut by Teresa Newham

For this year's Christmas card I decided to make a linocut of the Nativity.  It incorporates the whole of the Bible account of Jesus' birth - Holy Family, star, shepherds, kings - although in the Bible they are not all present at the same time.  When we set up our own Nativity at home we always position the kings to one side until after Christmas, as technically they didn't reach Bethlehem until Epiphany (6th January).

For this, the tenth linocut Christmas card I've produced, I returned to traditional lino, using the Swiss Pfeil linocut tools I got for Christmas last year. This year I'm in the process of sharing all of the cards on Instagram, along with other Christmas-themed artworks, on a sort of daily Advent Calendar, where I also suggest a Christmas carol of the day.

The carol I'm suggesting for the Nativity image is "The First Nowell", because it mentions shepherds, kings and the star:

The first Noel the angel did say 
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay; 
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, 
on a cold winter's night that was so deep. 
Refrain: Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel. 

They looked up and saw a star 
shining in the east, beyond them far; 
and to the earth it gave great light, 
and so it continued both day and night. [Refrain]

And by the light of that same star 
three Wise Men came from country far; 
to seek for a king was their intent, 
and to follow the star wherever it went. [Refrain]

This star drew nigh to the northwest, 
o'er Bethlehem it took its rest; 
and there it did both stop and stay, 
right over the place where Jesus lay. [Refrain]

Then entered in those Wise Men three, 
full reverently upon the knee, 
and offered there, in his presence, 
their gold and myrrh and frankincense. [Refrain]

As Christmas approaches - one of the strangest and most unsettling Christmases we have surely ever experienced - I pray that the Christmas message of peace, hope and love may strengthen and bless us all: wherever we are, whatever our faith, no matter how difficult our circumstances.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

getting to grips with Japanese Woodblock


making a start with the cutting
© Teresa Newham

November has been a busy and often chaotic time in the studio. I've been printing my Christmas cards - you can see some drying in the photo above - and I've been taking part in the Herts Visual Arts Christmas Showcase*, so I didn't expect to make much progress with my Japanese Woodblock project this month.

Transferring the design to the ply
© Teresa Newham

Luckily I've been able to break it down into small tasks: the first one was  to make the master tracing, which has to be completely accurate.  The next stage was to transfer the design to the three plywood blocks with carbon paper.  

the three blocks ready for cutting
© Teresa Newham

I've now started cutting the outline on the background block.  It's a very different technique to linocut; you hold the Hangito knife in your fist and pull it towards you, using just the tip.  I started with the background because I can either print it very faint or not use it at all, so my mistakes won't show.

the technique takes some getting used to . . .
© Teresa Newham

The plywood was easier to work with than I'd thought, and the Hangito fit my hand well.  My main problem was remembering which side of the line I was going to be clearing out, as the angle at which you hold the blade depends on this . . .

the hangito is used to outline each block
© Teresa Newham

Once I've cut the outline I shall clear a channel around the block using some of the other tools - which I haven't used at all yet - and then move on to the other two blocks.  With Christmas fast approaching, my time in the studio could be limited, so I've written myself some notes to remember when cutting!

writing myself instructions to come back to
© Teresa Newham

* The Herts Visual Arts Christmas Showcase runs until the end of December, with around fifty local artists taking part.  There's an online exhibition, live virtual demonstrations, and lots of seasonal inspiration as well as the opportunity to buy gifts. Follow us on social media for all the latest info.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Lingering Light

lichen on a log
© Teresa Newham


As another lockdown loomed, a friend and I spent a sunny afternoon exploring a nearby golf course. Plenty of people were out and about, while the golfers themselves were making the most of their last chance to play for a month.  

fairy ring off the fairway
© Teresa Newham

We turned right along a bridle path to avoid them, and found toadstools curving around the base of some trees in a fairy ring. We carried on to Harpenden Common and returned through the Prickle Dells, where the fading sun lit up the oaks growing on the crazily undulating surface.

the Prickle Dells on the Common
© Teresa Newham

A few days later the fine weather tempted my husband and I down to the golf course again. This time no golfers were allowed, but there were throngs of people: families walking or cycling, dog walkers, everyone taking their daily exercise in household bubbles or with their one permitted friend.

low sun through trees
© Teresa Newham

We turned left this time, enjoying the last of the sunshine as we wandered around an area which we'd never visited before, and found some more toadstools; the red one with white spots is fly agaric, which always reminds me of the day when I had to sit on a pretend one while I was sworn in as a Brownie . . .

fly agaric - a "proper" toadstool
© Teresa Newham

Further on we found ourselves in the lanes, and took the long way home as the light faded and the temperature started to drop.  The last of the sun was still shining on the trees; every now and then a group of walkers emerged from a footpath, dogs or children in tow.  It was a beautiful afternoon.

late sun on trees, Ayres End 
© Teresa Newham

We have some lovely scenery in this part of Hertfordshire, and, weather permitting, we hope to go further afield as Winter approaches. There's always somewhere new to discover; plenty of paths not yet taken.  Who knows where we might end up?

Hertfordshire sunset
© Teresa Newham

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Mood Indigo


linocut Christmas cards in indigo on white
© Teresa Newham

It's a reflective time of year, as the clocks go back and the nights draw in.  Less daylight means shorter studio sessions; and as I'm trying something new I've taken plenty of time when considering how to go about things. I made several attempts to turn a sketch of an acer leaf into a design for a Japanese woodblock print, and was delighted when I finally hit upon something I was happy with.

evolution of a design
© Teresa Newham

 At the same time, I've been selling Christmas cards in aid of the church building fund: unable to do this after Mass, as I normally would, I sent out an email and was delighted by the response.  Someone asked if I'd print the design in indigo on white card, and it was interesting to see the result; I think they look rather smart.  

mixing the right colour
© Teresa Newham

My next Japanese Woodblock challenge was to work out how to transfer the image for cutting - at which point I realised that while my lovely design fitted onto the block, there wouldn't be enough room to cut the kento registration marks without running the risk of splitting the wood.  And there would be no margin down one side. That led to quite a bit more careful contemplation . . .

looking at various options
© Teresa Newham

One end of the studio was full of drying cards; at the other end of the table my sketchbook lay open reproachfully as I tried to work out a solution to the problem.  I considered buying bigger blocks, or printing the leaf anyway, regardless of the margins.  Then I realised that with a bit of careful positioning I could use some stick-on kentos for this first attempt, as they take up less space.

the drying end of the studio
© Teresa Newham

My notebook is now full of reminders and suggestions for various blocks and colourways, but at least I have what I hope is a workable plan.  So it's been a busy time in the studio; I think I've managed to avoid falling at the first hurdle as far as Japanese Woodblock is concerned, but we'll see.  You have to start somewhere!

the way forward
© Teresa Newham

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Fields and foliage


a field glimpsed through a hedgerow
© Teresa Newham

Summer finished early this year, with a damp and chilly Autumn taking its place. I continue to walk the surrounding lanes in almost all weathers, dodging the rain, with a camera at the ready.  The walks are so much more interesting at this time of year - as long as you have the right clothes - and shoes!

Autumn shadows
© Teresa Newham

When the sun has been out it's been quite low in the sky, throwing some wonderfully atmospheric shadows; when it hasn't been shining it's still been possible to capture some splendid foliage in all its glory. A great deal of timely rain during the summer has resulted in lush hedgerows.

foliage and fencing
© Teresa Newham

My favourite field (yes, I do have one) has changed in the space of a month; freshly ploughed and sown during September, it's now displaying the first signs of growth.  I almost always take a photo when I pass it or cross it, and have made various sketches of it; now I'm thinking it would make a good subject for a linocut.

my favourite field
© Teresa Newham

I've spotted a lot of holly in different stages of development while I've been out walking; all of it providing vitally nutritious food for birds as the weather gets colder and the nights draw in.  I realised with a jolt last week that it's almost time to put the clocks back - how did that happen?

holly in all its glory
© Teresa Newham

Ivy is a major source of nectar for insects right now - is it my imagination, or is it flowering more lavishly this year? We have plenty at home but there's even more in the surrounding countryside; it's good to know that the bees still out and about won't be going hungry this year!

flowering ivy
© Teresa Newham

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

An unusual way to spend September


taking over the dining room
© Teresa Newham

The annual September routine is now well-rehearsed: after a hectic August framing, mounting and labelling work for #HertsOpenStudios, we clear the dining room of ornaments, rearrange the furniture and set up our exhibition in there and in my studio. The bunting goes up on Saturdays and Wednesdays and we welcome our visitors.

mounted photos wrapped for sale
© Teresa Newham

But not this year.

Thanks to Covid, Open Studios has been online, with just a few hardy souls opening to the public in a handful of Covid-secure venues.  The participating artists spent August making videos for social media and preparing to post throughout September on the daily themes.  It has been just as hectic, but with a completely different emphasis.

I love using the tab driver!
© Teresa Newham

Should I even bother with mounting and framing, I wondered? Well, we will be able to exhibit again at some point, and in any case, I advertise pieces for sale on my website, so the work needs to be ready. And it gave me the chance to use my favourite bit of framing kit, the tab driver, when I put the paintings into their frames.

framed watercolours ready to hang
© Teresa Newham

So as things turned out, I've taken over the dining room this September, after all - just not in the usual way.  I've spread out in there and taken my time.  Paintings, prints and photographs are now securely in their frames or mounted for display. Everything looks lovely! I just wish you could see it . . .

prints ready for sale - two framed, one mounted
© Teresa Newham

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Demo with dragonfly


reduction linocut by Teresa Newham

#HertsOpenStudios should be a time for having a chat and cup of tea with visitors, while showing them new work and demonstrating techniques.  Instead, I've been posting daily themes and finishing this reduction linocut, based on a photo I took of a female broad-bodied darter on a cane in the garden.

design drawing from last year's photo
© Teresa Newham

I took photos as I went along for a mini video for the theme "Metamorphosis", to show how the original photo became the finished print. On impulse one day I stood my iPhone upright on top of a biscuit tin and filmed myself lino cutting, and posted it to my Instagram and Facebook Stories:

Having never used Stories before, I was staggered by the response, receiving messages and likes from as far away as Colombia. So I took some videos of me printing, linked them and speeded them up, and posted a second video:

While I haven't gone live with my demonstrations, the videos are a great way of sharing the process, which is what the virtual Open Studios is all about.  Only just half way through the event, I've learnt so much about video as a medium - and done a demonstration after all!

Monday, 31 August 2020

Virtually ready . . .


HVA publicity - it's a significant year
© Herts Visual Arts

The countdown is nearly over! tomorrow the 30th - and first-ever virtual -  #HertsOpenStudios will begin.  Forced online by coronavirus, organisers and artists alike have been obliged to re-think how we do things, joining Instagram, learning new skills and having a shedload of fun in the process.

Powerpoint slides for my Artist at Work video - based on photos from this blog
© Teresa Newham

Throughout September, you'll be able to access the event from the comfort of your sofa via the Herts Visual Arts website , or follow the latest news on Instagram and Facebook. From 1st - 30th September, there will be the opportunity to explore a new daily theme each day, ranging from Celebrating Colour (1st Sept) to Past, Present and Future (30th Sept).  If you prefer, go straight to the HVA Galleries page to browse by artist, genre or theme. If you've missed a theme you're interested in, you'll find them here.  

stills from my studio tour video - even a piece to camera!
© Teresa Newham

Many of us have been busy preparing videos: of our studios, our work and what inspires us, and how we make our art.  It's been a steep learning curve, teaching myself how to use Powerpoint and video editing software; finding the courage to face the camera myself and the ruthlessness to edit footage so that my studio tour is watchable.

the Meet the Artist video was easier - I'd made two already!
© Teresa Newham

Our work isn't finished yet, as many of us will be posting on social media on the theme of the day; for me that means finding appropriate photos and making some short videos - my sketchbooks are still patiently waiting for their turn to shine!  The artists have also been set a challenge to put on some kind of live event during the month. I'll have to think about that one . . .!

sketchbooks - still waiting for a video of their own
© Teresa Newham

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Wabi Sabi


© Teresa Newham

And what exactly, you may ask, is wabi sabi?  I came across the concept for the first time while reading Christine Valters Paintner's The Artist's Rule, but in many ways I've been attracted to it since I started taking an interest in photography.

© Teresa Newham

Wabi sabi is a Japanese term which refers to the melancholy beauty of impermanence, imperfection and humility; and if you're drawn to a photo of a scruffy shed door or a painting of an elderly fishing trawler, because they have more character than shiny new things, then you like it too.

© Teresa Newham
Add caption

The exercise suggested for this particular chapter of the book was to "take your camera for a walk", and I found plenty of examples on which to focus - literally - in the local lanes.  Nature, after all, is in a state of constant flux . . .

© Teresa Newham

Spring and Autumn are particularly good seasons to find wabi sabi in nature, because they are times of obvious transition; and although it's still only the middle of August, there are clear signs that Autumn is on its way.

© Teresa Newham

These two photos are among my favourite examples: the weeds next to a railway bridge doubly so, as the "perfect" photo wouldn't include that little triangle of blue sky, while the poppy seed heads in my garden are a daily reminder of the beauty of wabi sabi!

© Teresa Newham