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.