Monday, 30 September 2013

Goldfinger at Greenside

Ravilious: Wood Engravings - Excerpt

Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath 
Country Life, 1937 

Well-known 1930s food writer Ambrose Heath wrote this guide for Country Life, combining seasonal recipes with tips for the country gardener; the illustrations correspond to particular months. In his introduction Heath laments the decline of the smaller country house, noting that 'The domestic problem is, of course, far more serious than it is in the towns.... Where forty years ago a servant would have gladly walked five miles into a village to meet a friend, she will not now cycle even two miles to see the pictures.' Staff shortages and the straitened economic climate have evidently forced housewives to cut back, and Heath offers recipes which are simple and inexpensive compared to the 'Mrs Beeton school of cooking’ - although Potted Pigeons, Gibelotte of Rabbit, Brain Fritters, Eggs in Jelly and Herring's Roe Fingers may sound exotic today. Ravilious was an expert fryer of bacon but sought assistance as he researched the engravings. 'Mrs Beeton has been a help,' he wrote.

This is an excerpt from Ravilious: Wood Engravings, which will be published this autumn by The Mainstone Press.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Ravilious: Printmaker at Pallant House

Robert Gibbings as 'Ganymede', 1931

Following the small but perfectly formed exhibition of Paul Nash prints, books and ephemera from the Clare Neilson Collection, Pallant House Gallery is preparing for an autumn show devoted to Eric Ravilious's work as a printmaker. The museum's De'Longhi Print Room is ideal for this kind of venture, being fairly small and walled with glass display cases, and it will be fascinating to see Rav's wood engravings and lithographs side by side.

On 7th November I'll be giving a talk on Ravilious's work as a wood engraver, in which I will discuss some of the pieces on display in the exhibition. The lecture should be a lot of fun - as with the 'Ravilious in Pictures' books I'll be going behind the scenes of various designs and images to talk about his inspiration, techniques and life.

Submarine Engineer, 'High Street', 1938


During his short life Eric Ravilious (1903-42) was acknowledged as a brilliant wood engraver, at a time when the medium was enjoying a revival. This lecture explores the evolution of a remarkable talent, from his earliest engravings to the marvellous book illustrations, prints and designs that he created at the height of his career. The lecture promises a visual feast of wood engravings, along with ceramic designs such as the Alphabet and the Boat Race Bowl, images from 'High Street' (his 1938 book of shops) and 'The Submarine Series' (1941), as well as archive photos, sketches and work by other relevant artists. All in all an engaging portrait of a supreme craftsman.

FFI: Pallant House Gallery
       The Mainstone Press

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

'Ravilious: Wood Engravings' Out Soon!!

I'm excited! My book on the wood engravings of Eric Ravilious is heading for publication on October 20th, and I can't wait to see it printed, bound and wearing the spectacular jacket shown above. The book has 80 pages, measures approx. 25cm x 19cm, and should retail at £20. Obviously we can't fit all Rav's engravings in a book this size, but we have included at least one that has never been published before, and there are plenty of other treats. I'll post an extract or two over the coming weeks, meanwhile here's the official blurb:

Although a brilliant watercolourist, inventive lithographer and talented designer, Eric Ravilious (1903-42) was above all a wood engraver. It was in this demanding medium that he first found artistic expression in the early 1920s, and over the next two decades produced some of the finest engravings of the age. And what an age it was! Starting shortly before World War One, a succession of talented artists and designers explored a medium whose most famous British proponent, Thomas Bewick, had died almost a century earlier.

In his lifetime Ravilious was acknowledged as a modern master of wood engraving, and for Ravilious: Wood Engravings we have selected illustrations that show the evolution of a remarkable talent. Ravilious thrived on the limitations imposed by the medium, squeezing entire scenes into the tiniest vignette. Some of the engravings have the mysterious quality of his watercolours, while a wry humour animates others, such as his portrait of publisher Robert Gibbings being carried off by a giant cockerel. Running through the book is a sense of the pleasure Ravilious took in his work, which he approached with great skill and a light heart. While staying with his parents in Eastbourne he would cut his blocks with their canary fluttering around his fingers, and subsequently he always whistled when he worked.

When Ravilious died on active service as a war artist in 1942, at the age of 39, he had already achieved remarkable success. His short but spectacular career is described in a full-length introduction, which also sets his achievements in the context of the interwar years. Accompanying each illustration, meanwhile, is an extended caption designed to illuminate the engraving in an informative and entertaining way. In a manner familiar to readers of Ravilious in Pictures, author James Russell sets out to discover the places that inspired Ravilious, explore the remarkable books he illustrated and meet the people he portrayed. Ravilious: Wood Engravings is both a collection of beautiful, surprising pictures and an entertaining portrait of a wonderful artist and his world.

If you would like to order a copy of Ravilious: Wood Engravings, or require any further details, please contact Liz or Tim at The Mainstone Press on 01362 688395 or email

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Northern Sky

The old harbour at Lerwick, Shetland
Last week I visited Shetland for the first time, researching a forthcoming book on artist and designer Peggy Angus. This is an exciting project, which I will post about in more detail soon, but I was in Lerwick to talk with Peggy's daughter Victoria Gibson and other members of the family. Victoria designs fabulous jumpers and other forms of knitwear, which you can order online or buy at the Spiders Web shop in Lerwick. Some designs are available at the Peerie Shop and Cafe, which is run by her daughter Emma, alongside all manner of cards, ceramics and other treats. The coffee is gorgeous...

Like most hopeless romantics I have enjoyed periods of obsessive Nick Drake-ism, and could at one time play this one on the guitar. I've always loved the high, pale skies of the northern summer, though I'm less keen on the dark, low skies of the northern winter. I know you can't have one without the other but as the years go by that winter apartment in the Canaries sounds increasingly appealing...

There wasn't much time for sightseeing, and I missed the Northern Lights - damn! - but I did look at the sky quite a lot, particularly on the ferry. On the way home the captain kindly took us around the island of Bressay to look at the gannet colony on the cliffs of Noss. It was the most beautiful evening imaginable, and as we headed south for Aberdeen we were followed by gannets and fulmars, which cruised along only feet from the observation deck. I couldn't resist trying to take a picture of one, although I don't think I'll be winning any prizes...

Aberdeen, with expensive looking oil company workboat

Leaving Aberdeen, only 12 hours to Shetland

Now, where's the shipping forecast when you need it?

Dawn (ish), southern Shetland

Approaching Lerwick, still pretty early

Looking from Lerwick across to Brassay, but the sky steals the scene - again

Heading home, dusk this time

Can I have that sky painted on my ceiling, please?

Gannet cliffs on left. Sky becoming ridiculous

About a million gannets, but too far away to see

Here are a couple...

They don't have clouds like this in Bristol

Probably a gannet

Now that's definitely one... Next stop, Aberdeen