Papaver Ultramarinus

A wood engraving on lemonwood printed with Lyme Bay Press No 1 Printers oil based ink on 145 gsm Zerkall printing paper.

This is my submission for Hot Bed Press’s 20:20 Print Exchange 2021, inspired by Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ published in 1958; a book I have been meaning to read for over thirty years, and at last I have, prompted by recent events in Afghanistan. Although the book doesn’t mention opium poppy fields that are now grown extensively across the region, nor the Lapis Lazuli which is mined there, these two ‘treasures of the Hindu Kush’ come together in this wood engraving, one in the engraving and one in the vibrant ultramarine coloured printing ink.

The name of the print is ‘Papaver Ultramarinus’; latin for ‘ultramarine poppy’. The word ultramarine comes from ‘oltramarinus’, meaning ‘beyond the sea’, so named by the 14th and 15th century Italian traders who brought it back from the mines in the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the west where it was famously used by the Renaissance painters, such as Michelangelo, who ground it down to make a brilliant blue coloured pigment.

This is the largest wood engraving I have done so far and the most complex to resolve, particularly in which engraving mark making techniques I should use to make the poppy fields recede and to represent the rock strewn mountain backdrop. I also decided to remove the sky as it I wanted to depict it as cloudless and so with no engraving marks, making a strong silhouette of the mountain.

The block has been made by Chris Daunt, a wood block maker based in the heart of Thomas Bewick country in north east England and is actually made from two blocks of the same size glued together. I have orientated the join line down the centre of the block where I felt it would have least impact if it was to open up. I have been very careful not to use any lighter fuel to clean this block as a result.

The edition of 25 no. prints has been produced as part of a group submission of 20 no. entries from Cowprint Artists’ Group, based in Southampton. The print exchange started in 2009 with just 10 printmakers from Hot Bed Press in Salford exchanging prints with 10 printmakers at Red Hot Press in Southampton (where I have spent the last few years developing my skills!). It has been tremendously successful with now 100’s of printmakers taking part through their workshop or printmaking group.

The 3 no. artist’s proofs are for sale but the rest of the edition will be part of the print exchange, and so could turn up in someone’s box of prints in the UK or possibly as far a field as Russia or Hong Kong! Whoever receives them I hope they will enjoy the print!

Edition size: 25 (plus 3 no. artist’s proofs)

Image size: 100 x 100 mm

Paper size: 200 x 200 mm

Price: £70 (artist’s proofs only)