Spring is a time of hope for me; fresh growth in the garden and new beginnings, a time of energy, optimism and hatching exciting plans, Over the last couple of years though, even the most upbeat of us has struggled to keep the flame of inspiration alive when the world appeared to be falling apart. The Covid pandemic meant the loss of loved ones and the reality of grieving when all normal channels to help the process were, in effect, shut down or severely restricted.
So, as we entered 2022 and restrictions finally lifted, it felt as if 'normal' had returned. It may be a 'new normal' as some of us are still wary of catching this unpredictable virus, but even so, it felt as if a weight had been lifted and we could begin to make plans again. Then on February 24th Russia invaded Ukraine and once more the world turned upside down.
With appalling images of the war beamed into our homes via the internet and daily television news, rage and frustration engulfed me. How would I feel if I had to leave the home and garden that I love? To pack up elderly parents and the minimum I could carry and make my escape? I wanted to do something, anything, to help. So I decided to do a fund-raiser through my Instagram account to raise money for a charity providing support on the ground in Ukraine.
I already had the Lino plate for a print that I made a while ago, titled 'Windblown'. It depicts the poppies in my garden still standing tall and proud after a night of gales and storms, and I thought it summed up the bravery and strength of the Ukrainian people. I printed some up in a bright cerise colour and called them 'Pink Poppies for Peace'
Starting with five prints, I put them on Instagram at £20 each plus post and packing, with the whole £20 going to the British Red Cross. My thought was that if I sold five then that would be £100 raised, a nice amount; by the time fifteen people had asked for one I decided to call a halt! A limited edition of fifteen were printed, with a couple of artist's proofs, and I'm very pleased to report that the whole edition sold out, as well as the artist's proofs, with a total of £395 raised. I was overwhelmed and pretty emotional at everyone's generosity and my heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who contributed - I couldn't have done it without you!
One of my escapes from the troubles of the world is my garden. It provides me with inspiration for printmaking as well as exercise that I enjoy.
The Spring flowers here at Ty Seren have been lovely this year, with the blossom on the fruit trees nothing short of spectacular. The transformation of the garden in two years is something I'm particularly proud of, and the one story that sums it up is the tale of the crab apple tree.
In the process of stripping the area back to bare bones, I happened upon a small crab apple sapling. It had been completely enveloped in the notorious thug that is bindweed, bending the poor tree almost double, and I only noticed it because I spied the tiny, bright orange apples peeping through the veil of green. What struck me was the colour combination, vibrant and so very obviously alive. From there came the idea of making small prints which focus on colour and structure, echoing the joy of finding such beauty thriving in nature. The crab apple has returned my care with an ever-increasing display of blossom, followed by fruit which the resident blackbird enjoyed last winter. It has now been joined by another two varieties of crab apple, a Braeburn eating apple, Victoria plum and Williams pear. We also have two ancient cherry trees in the garden which are still productive, and at this time of year all the blossom is absolutely humming with a fantastic variety of bees.
I was invited to show new work at an exhibition at Birches Farm, near Kington, Herefordshire, as part of Marches Makers Festival. The border area here between England and Wales is called The Marches and is full of history if you want to research it. This was the perfect opportunity for me to get to grips with my new Gunning Etching Press even though it was akin to an insecure swimmer chucking herself into the deep end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool with no inflatable arm bands …
As I began working on the prints, I thought about my process so that I could compress it into a 100-word artist statement, which is quite a hard thing to do!
'Susan Stevens-Jenkins produces deceptively simple reduction lino-prints. Current work is inspired by the appearance of spring flowers in her garden, bright pops of colour after the muted tones of winter. One bloom may be selected and displayed on the kitchen table in a cherished pot; the curve of a petal, arc of a stem or curl of a leaf may echo the line of a treasured jug or makeshift vase. Working from sketches she streamlines shapes, heightens colour and form; there is nothing shy or retiring in her bold, joyful prints.'
There you go; not a word about the scruffy sketchbooks, sweary words and miserable success rate!
However, I did get six prints that passed muster and my three favourite are pictured above.
Birches Farm is a nature reserve covering a sixty-acre site owned by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and the exhibition was held in the new visitor centre, a light and airy space which really allowed all the pieces on show to sing. A lot of hard work went into curating and organising the show and I'm very grateful to have been asked to contribute; it's a space I would certainly be happy to exhibit in again.
Photos below - apologies for the quality but it was hard to get images without reflections due to the large windows.
A regular visitor to my studio is my 9-year-old granddaughter, Myla. She loves anything arty and she's now old enough to learn about printmaking for herself. We had a little Health and Safety talk then let her loose with my proper Grown Up carving tools and a block of soft-cut lino, which meant she could make marks with minimal risk of the tools slipping as they sometimes do on harder traditional lino or Japanese vinyl (which I use). I had the box of sticking plasters ready though, just in case...
I'd given her a Friends of the Earth Bee Saver pack which contained a bee identification chart; she had been galloping about the garden trying to spot which varieties of bees we have here so I suggested she use that as a starting point for her design. She drew it out on paper then we discussed cutting away the areas she wanted to keep white, and the process of working in reverse, which she grasped immediately. She transferred her image to the lino, carved the design, chose the colour, inked up the lino and printed it, all by herself. She also helped to clean up - sort of!
I hope you will agree that the finished print is a beauty, happy and sunshiny! She's already sold one and is willing to print more if anyone would like one - just get in touch using the Contact Form on here. I think I'm going to have to watch this girl...
That's all for now. There will be another Blog in the Summer if you'd like to know what's happening in this little bit of rural Herefordshire. Please continue to stay safe, and thank you for reading.
A Seasonal change
Can you feel it? The subtle change in the air that comes with damp, hazy mornings before the sun burns off the mist; bright sunny afternoons, then the sudden drop in temperature as the sun sinks behind the trees and a chill descends.
Yes, we are officially in autumn now, with misty mornings that show up the cobwebs glistening with tiny teardrops of dew, draped over hedgerows like so many fairy chandeliers. This is when the spiders start to make their way into the house in search of their winter quarters.
I don't have a problem with spiders generally, unless they creep up on me unexpectedly, but in the hope of deterring them a little, I do place a few conkers (horse chestnuts) around the house as an old-fashioned remedy - Old Wives' Tales as my late Grandmother would say! Apparently you can also use walnuts and sweet chestnuts. I'm not entirely convinced it works, but they do look seasonally pleasing - reminiscent of the Nature Table from my long-ago schooldays. Old Bean and I celebrated the Autumn Equinox by lighting the fire pit in the garden before settling down next to it for a candlelit supper. We shared a bottle of good red wine, counted our blessings, and stayed out until dark, watching as the stars appeared in the night sky. It was simply magical.
We have hazel trees growing in the hedges in the lanes around here, but somehow the squirrels always beat me to the nuts. There must also be a walnut tree nearby, as I watched one industrious squirrel try to bury a whole one, still in its soft green shell, in the lawn. He eventually gave up and moved into the herbaceous border to have another go. Squirrels are notorious for forgetting where they've buried their nuts, and I wonder if I might get my own walnut tree growing amongst the flower border eventually? So it was a wonderful surprise when I opened the back door one morning to find a punnet of cob nuts and half a dozen eggs left on the step, a gift from a neighbour down the lane. The eggs made a delicious lemon drizzle cake, and I will shell and toast the nuts to add to home-made biscuits or just to snack on.
It has been two years since we moved here and I started tackling the garden, then just a scrubby patch of neglected ground. I look at it now with amazement, finding it hard to remember the back-breaking work I put into it at the beginning. It's so satisfying to see it still bright with colour even though we are nearly half-way through October. Of course, it's an ongoing project but luckily it's one that I enjoy immensely.
At the beginning of September, Herefordshire Art week (h.Art) began and I discovered that a sculptor, David England (www.david-england.co.uk) lives just five minutes' drive from here. We called by on one of his open days and were immediately taken with his beautiful work; so much, in fact, that I bought one of his pieces on the spot! Hares with Moon and Stars is carved from a slab of Forest of Dean Stone, which is where Old Bean was born and bred, and mined from a quarry not far from where I grew up after moving to the Forest from Wales as a small child. Sometimes all the elements fall into place and a thing is just meant to be …
Since my last Blog I have also taken part in an exhibition at the Canwood Gallery (www.canwoodgallery.com) near Ledbury, Herefordshire. I showed four pieces of work, Still Waters One, Two and Three and Storm, Borth Beach.
The Still Waters pieces (above) were about memories and how memories fade. During the pandemic and lockdowns so many people were estranged from their families and I certainly missed the chance to make memories with my grandchildren. In my mind this became a 'grey' time and as we slowly and hopefully come back to 'normal', I envisage colour coming back into our lives. I wanted these three pieces to reflect on contentment and togetherness, of past encounters and those yet to come.
Storm, Borth Beach is a reference to a last visit to the seaside, just weeks before the first Lockdown of 2020. It was a very stormy day, and as I worked on this piece I thought about it being a symbol of what was to come, although we didn't quite know what that would be at the time.
Since the exhibition at Canwood Gallery, I've been busy making work for a 2022 Calendar. As time is rather short (I am way behind schedule - other artists already have Calendars on sale!), I decided to use collage rather than carve new lino-prints for the images. Initially, I wasn't sure if I could make a collage but waded in 'just to see' and produced these two Geese, inspired by my visit to a friends lake to see the Greylag Geese fly in to feed.
I really enjoyed the process and loved the finished pictures so decided to focus on this method and make collages of the birds that I regularly see around here.
Here's a sneak preview of April's bird, the Wren. In my last blog I wrote how I watched as they built a nest in the hedge at the back of the house and I wanted to evoke the textures and colours of the hedgerows as they burst into green in early April. I hope to have Calendars on sale by the end of October but if you would like to pre-order one (or more!) please do get in touch using the Contact form on the website.
These three beauties have gone to their new home in the last week. They will be hung together on a wall of a lovingly restored farmhouse, and I am so pleased that they will make a statement triptych. Each print was made by the 'reduction' lino-print method whereby each colour layer is taken from the same block. More lino is removed from the block for each layer and each colour is printed on top of the last. This means that an entire edition must be printed in one go - once you have carved into the block for the next layer, you can't go back to print more.
For someone like me who struggles with having to deal with the whole 'reverse image' thing in print-making, it's quite an effort to get my head around! However, it's a method I love as I'm never quite sure what the final image will look like. There are only two each of these prints and the others are now in Oxenham Gallery (www.oxenhamart.co.uk) in Leominster, so if you are in the area please do pop in and see all the beautiful work in there.
That's it for now, except to say Thank You for taking the time to read this, and if you want to follow my day-to-day print-making trials and tribulations, I'm on Instagram @susanstevensjenkins.
I look forward to seeing you there!
Looking back, thinking forward ...
It's hard to believe that we're halfway through August already and it's been a year since I wrote my first blog. It won't be long until we feel the first chilly mornings or need that extra woolly jumper of an evening, and the smell of wood smoke and garden bonfires is in the air. I'm not complaining though; I love autumn, the changing colours in the garden and the bounty of the hedgerows with their jewel colours.
When my children were small, we would go foraging for elderberries and blackberries to make jam to last us through the winter. Now there's just the Old Bean and myself at home I only make one autumn jam, which is a jelly! I use a mix of elderberries, blackberries and crab apples, all gathered from the hedges in the lanes around the house. My hedgerow jelly has the most luscious colour, a clear dark purple, and the taste is fruity and smoky, and perfect on hot buttered crumpets or as an accompaniment to cold meats.
Damsons and Sloes get a different treatment, however; they're perfect for fruit gins.
Here's my go-to recipe from Susan Hill's evocative book Through The Kitchen Window, which is beautifully illustrated by Angela Barrett.
450gms Damsons or Sloes, pricked all over - it's traditional to use a thorn from the Blackthorn tree which gives us the Sloe fruit, but a pin will do the job.
Place the fruit in a large bottle or sealable jar, with 2 spoonsful of split, blanched almonds and 100gms caster sugar. Pour in one litre of gin (the cooking gin will be fine for this!). Seal. shake well to dissolve the sugar.
Leave the bottle in a cool dark cupboard for at least three months, shaking the bottle vigorously every week. Strain and re-bottle when required; if you time this right, it's perfect for a Christmas tipple.
Before we start to think about the autumn months though, let's enjoy the last of the summer sun and look back over the year so far. Because of the various restrictions due to COVID I haven't travelled far this year, which meant that I've had time to concentrate on different projects here at Ty Seren. One of these was an embroidered panel for a collective piece of art titled The Unity of Small Things. The brainchild of Amanda Attfield, Karen Meiklejohn and Rose Tinted Rags (Hereford), the work will consist of a large hanging collage made from fabric swatches stitched and donated to them. Each swatch had to incorporate one image and word which helped us stay connected to others during the pandemic; the finished artwork will be exhibited alongside Grayson Perry's tapestry series The Vanity of Small Differences when it comes to Hereford Art Gallery and Museum this autumn.
I chose 'Sunflowers' for my image and word as it embodies a sharing experience with people I have never met. As well as my own Instagram account, I have an account that features my teddy bears, Violet and Little Rose (@honeyboughbears) and, along with some other bears, they organised a sunflower growing competition. Bears across the world wanted to take part but places like Australia and Canada were either entering their winter season or still under snow and ice, and others lived in apartment blocks with no gardens. We decided that those of us who had room in our gardens would grow surrogate sunflowers for those who couldn't.
The contest became extremely competitive as we all documented our flowers' growth. There was drama, tears - and even mischievous skulduggery! Plants were eaten by slugs and demolished by squirrels; secret formulas for spectacular growth were fomented, and one very naughty bear told my bears that if they soaked their seeds in weed killer before planting it would help them grow better …
Everybody had to send in the measurements of their tallest flower by a certain date and it transpired that we had grown the third tallest; unfortunately for my bears though, it was one of the surrogate sunflowers grown for a bear in Australia! It was such a fun thing to do, something that connected us all in a way that was positive and caring in such a strange, discomfiting time.
I feel so privileged to have the garden here at Ty Seren. It has been my haven in these last extraordinary 18 months and last year it was exciting to see Bluetits nesting in one of our nest boxes. I was lucky enough to catch the moment they fledged early one morning as I wandered around the garden in my customary fashion, pyjama clad, coffee in hand. Sadly, there were no takers for the bird boxes this year, but I did spot a pair of wrens building a nest in the hedge; I watched with bated breath as they brought leafy material and strands of gossamer to build their home.
Then came days when there was no activity and we wondered what had happened. We cautiously checked the nest after one week and found one egg but no parents. We can only conclude that the nest wasn't in the most secure of places - too near the ground - and had caught the eye of our resident Magpie family or Daisy Cat. I still see and hear the wrens in the garden so presume they found a better location to raise their brood; I hope so.
From photographing tiny birds, I had the opportunity to watch a flock of something much bigger at a friend's lake; Greylag Geese had arrived! It was a magnificent sight as they circled the house and lake, calling to each other before lowering their landing gear and elegantly gliding to the ground. Some of them plummeted down from a great height (a technique called 'whittling', so I'm told) before spreading their wings to slow them enough for a landing.
The experience left such an impression on me that I designed a lino-print around it. I kept the geese as solid shapes against the detailed background to intensify the feeling of them as grounded, contrasting with the moment before, when they were circling the lake preparing to land. The swirls and whirls of the background denote their circular journeying from pond to lake to feeding grounds, imagining the flight path through wind currents and eddies that we can't see. I framed one of the prints as a gift for our friend, to say Thank You for the experience.
For the past three months I've been working on a set of prints ready for an exhibition at the lovely Canwood Gallery here in Herefordshire; I'll show them in the next blog, but I mention them here as it's been quite a stressful experience! I had forgotten the pressure involved in preparing for a 'proper' exhibition, so it was a a relief to have a couple of the youngest grandchildren to stay for a weekend. I covered the kitchen table with newspaper and got the acrylic paints out. It was wonderful therapy for me; I had forgotten what it was to just paint for the sheer enjoyment of it, to see something develop out of my imagination and to delight in colour and texture as layer upon layer was brushed on. When the children had gone home I decided to carry on working on my effort; it's now framed and hanging in pride of place in the hallway. I think I might have to do more painting...
I'm going to finish by wishing you all a happy up-coming August Bank Holiday and hope it's barbeque and not sou'-wester weather! Take care, be creative, stay safe.
As I write, we have one more week of Lockdown number 2 to go here in the UK as we are still in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. However, restrictions did ease a little through the summer and into early autumn and it seems fitting to look back and find things to be grateful for. For most of us, all thoughts of holidays were put on hold, and that meant that my husband and I had time to get my garden studio insulated and painted out, elevating it from a 'summer house' (glorified garden furniture storage space) to a working space for me to use all year round.
As we moved into September we celebrated the autumn equinox by giving thanks for a plentiful harvest; I baked a pear and almond upside-down cake using pears from my dad's tree, we foraged for blackberries in the hedgerows and picked a hop garland to decorate the kitchen. The hedges are bursting with wild fruit and berries this year, either a harbinger of a hard winter to come or a product of a particularly wet spring, depending on your point of view.
My studio is partly overhung by an Oak tree and I spend many an idle moment sat at my workbench watching the squirrels play Chase Me around and around the tree trunk. As the acorns began to come down in a spate of gale-force winds, I watched one industrious little squirrel bury them in the lawn only for a beady-eyed magpie to hop along after him, prise them out of their hidey-holes with his beak and eat them!
The Oak tree gave me the idea for the first 'proper' prints I made in my studio, a linocut inspired by the shapes I saw in the leaves and acorns. I printed the first layer in a lighter colour, then rotated the lino printing plate by 90 degrees, overprinting in a darker colour to give a pleasing impression of depth and shadows.
By the beginning of October we had some glorious misty mornings over the river Wye, and were also lucky enough to get some sunny weather for walking in the Forest of Dean.
I love this time of the year and am at my happiest walking in the woods of my childhood home; as I walked, the idea of new monotype prints formed in my mind. I wanted to evoke the feeling of warmth and contentment these walks brought me as I ambled through the sun-dappled woodland kicking through piles of fallen leaves, surrounded by amber and gold.
I find monotype printing expressive, particularly the textured layers which make the piece come to life. A monotype print is one of a kind, a unique piece of artwork; it is known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques and prints are prized because of these distinctive textural qualities.
I'm looking forward to experimenting with winter's colours next, and hope to do a little update in December. For now, I will leave you with this photo of my studio in the first frost of the season.
Thank you for reading, take care and stay safe.
Hello from Rural Herefordshire!
Looking back to New Year's Day when I went on a long winter's walk with some of my family, like most people, we had no inkling of what 2020 would bring. The day was filled with laughter and optimistic plans for holidays and get-togethers, camping trips and barbeques; we had a brilliant day's walking, wearing out excitable dogs and children alike, and made plans for the next big get together of the entire clan for the Annual Family Easter Egg Hunt. The contest was more anticipated than usual this year as my husband and I had recently moved to a new house, and now had a large, very wild garden - perfect for this hotly contested event. However, it was not to be …
When lockdown due to Covid 19 was first implemented I seized the opportunity to tackle the garden, which quickly became my haven; then I started to feel restless and wanted to explore the lanes around my new home. During my walks I began to collect leaves and feathers, weeds and grasses, and started experimenting with printing directly from them. After much trial and error, I felt I was able to make some 'proper' prints which would hopefully convey how I felt during this time, and so the series of prints entitled 'Restricted View' came into being. This is my visual diary of what lockdown meant for me, and although it's a personal journey, I hope the story behind each print will strike a chord with a viewer.
'Show Me Which Way' On the most basic level, this refers to finding a 2 mile circuit around the lanes which formed my exercise routine during lockdown. I asked my husband to show me which way so I could walk a loop rather than a 'there-and-back-again' route.
'Come, Take My Hand' Is the response to the first work. In a way they belong together as there is something much deeper than asking for directions going on here! Apart from finding a physical way to guide me through those long weeks, my husband was also my emotional guide when I became worried about what was happening in the world.
'To Listen At Dawn' One common theme in social media conversations was how loud and vibrant the birdsong was this year. Because there was less traffic on the roads, the quieter environment meant we could hear the birds in all their chirruping glory; one of the joys of living in the countryside means that I can open my bedroom window and enjoy the dawn chorus to the full. This image was inspired by my early morning view towards Windmill Hill.
'As The Crows Fly' Another talking point was how blue the sky was, due to less pollution from both road vehicles and air traffic. One particularly fine day, as the cherries were ripening on the trees in the orchard, the crows arrived to gorge themselves; this is my depiction of the random flapping and squabbling that ensued!
'The Swans Lake' The daily walk passes a little lake, and I was very excited when a pair of swans arrived. I watched them build their huge scruffy nest and waited anxiously for the eggs to hatch. In early May I was rewarded with the sight of 7 little balls of grey fluff following Mum's every move over the water. The lake became my regular stopping-off point from then on, and I wanted to evoke the stillness of this moment in my walk.
'Windmill Hill, Early Morning' This is the view towards the strawberry fields on Windmill Hill from the bedroom window. Normally buzzing with activity I noticed that there was a point during lockdown when it all went quiet as the workers went home and large areas of the tunnels remained uncovered.
'Restricted View' So-called as there were moments when I felt trapped, even though of course I was immensely privileged to be able to step out of my front door and wander through beautiful Herefordshire lanes. There were times when I felt I was going round in circles in more ways than just my 2 mile walk and this is shown by the final circular scribble on top of the print with an oil pastel!
It's mid-August now as I write this, and restrictions are easing somewhat; I hope this is a sign of more positive times to come. For now, I would like to say Thank You for visiting my website, please don't hesitate to contact me if you require any more information and - most important of all - Stay Safe.
All prints are for sale; each is an original one-off at £75.00 each