A print to commemorate the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620

This blog was written to accompany the online exhibition at God’s House Tower in Southampton ‘Navigating a New World: Mayflower 400′ launched in December 2020. It includes a number of artists prints from Cowprint Artists’ Group including my own print and cards ‘Downwind off Cape Cod’. We hope that the exhibition will open at GHT later in 2021.

Prints and cards available at GHT

I had spent over two months during the winter 2019 developing a number of ideas for my print when I finally decided to develop one specific idea to try to capture the sense of arrival the Pilgrims might have had approaching Cape Cod. I tried to imagine the scene on November 10th 1620, when, having faced treacherous seas off the Monomoy Shoals and strong head winds in a valiant attempt to reach northern Virginia, the Mayflower’s Captain reluctantly ordered her sails to be freed and to return downwind to seek the shelter of Cape Cod Harbour. It would have been bitterly cold on deck but a small group gather, hearts filled with the mixed emotions of trepidation and excitement of what lies before them. This scene brings back memories of my own adventures sailing across the Atlantic, and the stark contrast in experiences of that journey 367 years later.

Refining the design and transferring to the plywood block

In order to create a realistic image I needed to find some photos of a square rigger sailing and managed to find video footage online of the Mayflower II sailing off Brixham (where the replica had been built) in 1957 and from this I began to sketch out what the Mayflower might have looked like under full sail. I had also researched what Cape Cod actually looked like when approaching from the sea, both from recent photos and from descriptions in a seventeenth century English Pilot as well as Mourt’s Relation, an account of the plantation settlement, believed to have been written by Edward Winslow, one of the leaders of the Pilgrims, a few years after they had settled in Plymouth, Massachuesetts.

Cutting the design into the plywood veneer

I used plywood veneered sheets for my printing plates as I wanted to use the wood grain to create texture in the print, given that the Mayflower was a traditional wooden boat. It is important to select a grain that will work with the desired effect and for the finer cuts the grain should go with the direction of cut to avoid bits chipping off. Having finalised my design I transferred this to tracing paper and traced a mirror image onto a plywood veneer plate. This would be my key block holding the black outline of the design. I then transferred the design to a second plate which would hold the blend of colours forming the background of the sea, sky and the Mayflower. I then started to cut away the veneer that I didn’t want to print using very sharp bladed wood cut tools. Once both designs had been cut into the plates I proofed them, test printing them and refined the designs ready for editioning.

Proofing and refining the printing plate
The two plates ready for editioning

In order to get the smooth blend of colours representing twilight I arranged a number of different coloured inks across my inking plate and using a combination of rollers to blend the inks to get the colours I wanted. This was quite tricky and impossible to replicate from print to print as the more you blend the inks the more they change colour. This meant having to start reblending the inks from scratch several times to keep the colours as I wanted. I was also keen to use the orange colour to represent the timber of the Mayflower’s mast and deck which meant carefully removing the dark sky colours with a cotton bud and re inking the mast and ship with an orange / brown ink. Once the ink was dry I inked the key plate, taking care to get the registration correct, and printed this over the impression from the first plate to create the final print.

Blending the inks and applying the ink to the plate

‘Erosion’ selected for Southbank Printmakers Mini Print Open Exhibition 2019

Editioning

I saw this exhibition promoted on Instagram and thought I would give it a go and was thrilled to find out my wood engraving print ‘Erosion’ was selected. The exhibition opened on 1 May and runs until 2 June 2019 at the Southbank Printmakers Gallery, on the Southbank near the Thames (Gabriel’s Wharf), London. One of the prints was sold before the exhibition opened which made me think I ought to finish editioning the print pretty quickly.

I had been thinking about getting a platen press for a few months allowing me to print onto a heavier weight paper at home. I would love one of those beautiful antique Albion table top presses but they are very expensive and difficult to find so I looked on eBay for a cast iron copying press. I managed to find a bookbinder wanting to sell on a Waterlow and Sons, London Wall press at a reasonable price and picked it up last week. It is a rather odd lemon yellow colour over painted with black but, having given it a good clean, it seems to be in good working order and maybe one day I’ll strip it back and repaint it… one day!

My workstation set up in my studio

Having searched the web for any information on using a book press for printing I found a few threads on wetcanvas.com on how to set up a sliding board with a registration plate to make it easier to put the block under the press. I was really pleased with the results – getting better prints than using a galley press.

Registration plate located centrally under press

I used the small polypropylene board that came with my Xcut Xpress with a polycarbonate registration pate marked up with a cm grid on top.

I experimented with different pressures and found that a single sheet of newsprint with a layer of craft felt on top gave a good result. I used a few blocks of softwood and a card registration plate on top to aid placing the paper ready to print.

The press has short screw handles (some have large brass knobs on the end). This seems to be its original design – may be it was a work horse press so didn’t need to look ‘pretty’! I did try putting some extra pressure on with a cut off scaffolding pole but that seems to create too much pressure in the far left hand corner so it seems that I can put on enough pressure without it.

Editions done and hung up to dry

‘Erosion’ selected for St Barbe Open 2019

Im really excited today as St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington have selected this wood engraving for their forth coming Open Exhibition which starts on 23 March and ends 2 June 2019. This is only my second wood engraving, completed on an introductory course at the Red Hot press, Southampton in January 2019 with tutor Jutta Manser. This is also my first entry into an open exhibition too! Cant wait for the exhibition!

For many years we have walked the coastal path along the edge of Hamble Common looking out on to Southampton Water and to the New Forest and Isle of Wight beyond. Each winter the storms batter the soft clay and shingle shore line and clumps of the grassy banks gradually fall into the water and are washed out to sea. This winter I joined Hamble Conservation Volunteers to do occasional beach cleans and was surprised to see how far the banks of the Common have been eroded. What was really fascinating was how the clumps of grass work their way down the beach with each successive tide, gradually being eroded and appearing like tufts of hair rising above the incoming tide. This wood engraving image tries to capture the scene looking back towards the shore, across the shingle beach, as the tide comes in to claim more of the grassy clumps.

After finishing the course I set about editioning the wood block which was much harder than I thought it would be; getting the press set at the right height/pressure and just the right amount of ink to avoid loosing the crisp lines of the engraving. After a bit of practice I got the hang of it and managed to get some decent editions done.

For more information on the print see https://kayabrown.co.uk/portfolio/erosion/ and for my first wood engraving ‘Koi Carp’ see https://kayabrown.co.uk/portfolio/koi-carp/