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.
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.
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.
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.
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.