Printmaking: Woodcut

January 2023

To start the year, I signed up for a 5 week printmaking course at City of Oxford college. It turned out to be 5 weeks of woodcut, which is a technique I have never tried before.

My first introduction to this printmaking technique was at the Scene Through Wood exhibition at The Ashmolean a few years ago:
Edvard Munch, Head by Head. Woodcut, 1905

And the Interior Light exhibition last year at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford:

The artist included examples of her woodcutting technique on the plate itself.

Leaflet of the exhibition.

The begin our process, we needed to draw our designs onto tracing paper. I hadn’t come prepared, so I worked from a photo I had taken last year a the Botanical Gardens:

This turned out to be a bit too detailed and I also wanted to work on an abstract design, so I therefore changed my mind after the first session…

I sketched the lines I intended to carve (above).

I considered how overlapping the layers would create new hues.

I cut shapes from paper and used these to construct the drawing. I could place them on the page and play with the overall structure to test out different variations.

I planned to print 3 layers. One black (the key plate), one yellow and one blue.
Week 2

The black layer would need to be printed last. It would become the most detailed layer. I sketched the design onto the wood:

I then needed to remove every area that was not the black area. Carving was not as smooth as cutting lino, but I did get used to it. I found that I needed to keep the lines quite thick.

I printed this layer first. This allowed me to make any corrections had I needed to. It also allowed me to create the second plate using the back of the wood and another piece of wood.

Week 3

This session began with more carving, then I was able to print my first coloured layers:

Layering the coloured layers produced green segments. I was surpised to see the amount of detail produced, since I wasn’t sure how clearly the carved strokes would appear.

After printing 3 layers, I could see the areas of cross-overs. The overall effect is energetic.
Week 4
The studio, colour mixing by the group.
My prints on the drying rack.

The texture of the wood became apparent after the wood had been inked and cleaned once. This is due to the moisture sinking into the wood and expanding the pattern of the grain.

Me cleaning the plate.

Yellow, orange and dark green layers.

I felt that these prints didn’t need a black layer, as they already had enough contrast and brightness to make them interesting:

The abstract design meant that I couldn’t decide which way up the image should be viewed.

Creative Journal: January 2023

You should as a creative person constantly experience as much as you can so that when a brief comes you’ve got some inspiration already. The whole world gives you stuff to call on. Immerse yourself in the world of culture- both high and low.

Liam Gibson, art director

Happy New Year blog readers!

We are now reaching the end of January and it has occured to me that I can’t not record my creative activites and inspirations from this month. I will be reflecting and collecting my ideas in this blog post.

Ideas and inspirations are likely to float away if I don’t make an effort to catch and record them. This is a lesson I learnt during semester 1 of this academic year.

I’ve began a physical folder of collected printed material. It’s being filled with anything I like the look of. This might be the technique, material, colour or typography. Why didn’t I do this before? I didn’t know I came across so much printed material in my every day life, but this has been disproven. It’s filling quickly!


This month, I’ve been excited to start a printmaking course at City of Oxford College. I’ve decided to create a separate blog post for the coursework progession. Expect to see this in February.

Wood carving this month at City of Oxford College

I’ve picked up another hobby and with some regret- it’s an all consuming activity! Hours go by in a soothing hypnotism.

In my first project, I used satin stitch on a canvas paper. This stitch is used to fill in solid areas of colour. It isn’t a stitch I was confident in beforehand. With practice, I found the number of threads used in a single stitch made the greatest difference:

Beginning satin stitch

I am experimenting with different ways to fill in the areas, between solid single colours and varying the colours in an area. Also varying the direction of the stitch shows me what difference this makes to the overall piece.

I was inspired by the hand-lettered type used for posters by Sam Piyasena. I based this embroidery piece on What the World Needs Now. I used another designer’s design because I’m only at an emboirdery level of a beginner and therefore needed to practice the stitches before working on my own designs.

Further practice, following instructions from this youtube video.

This traditional practice allowed me to explore the various types of stitch (I can’t remember their names.)

Sketchbook Update

Recently, I’ve been mainly using my sketchbook to experiment with mixed media.

1 – Mark – making from printing ink and cut – out collage pieces

Below, I used scraps of paper from a printmaking session where I had placed the inky brayer down and accidently made these markings. I liked the textures so much that I thought it a shame to throw them away. In my sketchbook, I combined these marks with images from a magazine.

2 – Acrylic paint and cut-out collage pieces from magazine

3 – Exploring the concept of home

What makes a home? Is it simply the space you occupy.

Furniture pieces dissasembled and reassembled. I used white acrylic paint to represent spaceand the newsprint transfer technique. I used thicker paint for this piece.

4 – Trying this technique again with a thinner coat of the same paint

A thinner coat of paint transferred the newsprint more effectively. The aim of this piece came from a set project in the book Approach and Language, Ambrose/ Aono-Billson. The purpose was to create an image based on a set word-pair. This pair being ‘Hair-Suite’. When considering this brief, I looked at the different definitions of ‘suite’. A musical suite is a collection of musical pieces written to be played in succession. I followed this idea.

I used stitiching, collage and paint to illustrate a woman considering different hairstyles or reflecting on the various hairstyles she has had or will have.

Life Drawing @ Thursday Night Life

It was a pleasure to join the sketchers at Magadalen rd studios for the weekly drawing session. The studio had a warm and friendly atmosphere; providing boards, easels, advice and biscuits! I would highly recommend this group to anyone. I again used a mixture of materials to depict the model (who was impressively still). This is my usual method of switching up drawing tool constantly. I now wonder if this is a way of me avoiding dedication to one tool and stitcking with the challenges of that material. I usually like to see my drawings in different colours and textures out of curiosity.

Creative Writing

Hidden Spire is a creative collective based at Arts at the Old Fire Station in Oxford. For the first writing session, we took inspiration from the poet Marechera. I prefer appreciating and analysing literature than writing itself. This is only because I don’t feel talented or confident in my own writing. I was impressed to hear the prose poetry written by my fellow group members. Their individual voices came across and each with a different message to share, despite being given the same brief. Being part of a group discussion is something I greatly enjoy.

We looked at segments of Marechera’s work (below). I noticed that he expresses a state of day-dreaming which suddenly collides with the reality around him. This conflict seems painful for him. I like the clear imagery and honesty in his writing.

70’s song lyrics (David Bowie and Prince) helped to inspire us and get our minds into the era when Marechera would have been writing.

For encouragement, we were told to ‘write anything’. This helped me let go of self-critism. (Below) pages from my sketchbook.

Human Animals

Donna Mann’s exhibition at the Old Fire Station gallery captured my attention. Can you guess why? …Mixed media.

This show expressed our interconnectedness with all of life. I liked the element of things being hidden and things being revealed across the space. I felt that I was seeing the expression of life within its smaller details, such as the moth. My eyes made connections across the various elements of life that were placed beside one another.

The carbon of the stars became life on earth. Mann’s installation traces an exploration of healing, friendship and transformation.

Carbon love.

From dark matter to light.

Arts at the Old Fire Station
Victoria & Albert Museum

I took a trip to London and headed for the V&A for the Beatrix Potter exhibition. I took photos of the posters along the walls in the tunnel betweeen the underground and the museum. These are the designs that most appealed to me:

The V&A has a photography section which I visited first. From having completed the Exhibition Visual System module last semester, I took notice of the design of the exhibition. For example, the metal type used for the title of the exhibition (below). This was a perfect choice, since the exhibition focuses on industrial photography.

Artwork by Donna Ruff

Photos from the Beatrix Potter exhibition:

Graphic Design Reading Material

Reading novels is an automatic activity for me. (If you’re wondering, I finished The Buddha of Suburbia this month and have moved on to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein)

But this month, I have intentionally made more time to read a small selection of the many graphic design books I have laying around. Reading them carefully instead of dipping in at random allows me a greater understanding of the subject and helps me pick up ideas I would have otherwise missed. Reading about specific designers, their work and methods gave me the most satisfaction.

Wolfgang Weingart

The radical father of the New Wave movement, Weingart taught his students to move beyond the rational swiss typography of the time. ‘Weingart reacted to existing standards by pushing typography to the limits of legibility and beyond.’

Wolfgang Weingart
Crystal Goblet Analyogy

The essay The Crystal Goblet by Beatrice Warde is an articulate piece of writing describing good design. Warde illustrates this idea using the metaphor of a wine glass. She suggests that we use a wine glass to be able to see and therefore appreciate the appearance of the wine as part of its enjoyment. An opaque cup would hide the appearance. Good design highlights the message and content. A well chosen type means we wouldn’t notice the choice of type. An ill chosen type would stick out awkwardly.

Poster, Ausstellung Europäisches Kunstgewerbe (Exhibition of European Applied Arts), 1927; Herbert Bayer; Lithograph;

I really like this bold and obvious use of the modular grid.

Fabien Baron

Editorial design in different publications. I really like his use of type and the way it merges into being illustration as well as the heading. Images from this page.

Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson is a young designer based in Florida. I like her designs based on the work of Tibor Kalman. The design was inspired by his work.

Thirst/ Rick Valicenti

Rick Valicenti’s design combines the weapon and the effect of violence in these powerful images using skulls.

Stop the Violence (book and trailer) by Rick Valicenti

I went to UAL summer school!

& studied Illustration at Chelsea College of Arts.

Before this year, I had never heard of summer schools- universities opening over the summer to run short courses. So instead of a holiday, I wanted to learn something I’m interested in. I chose to sign up for the Illustration short course with UAL (University of Arts London) and spent a week of July at Chelsea College of Arts, located in Pimlico and opposite the Tate. It was an adventure for me and my first time navigating London’s underground alone.

Chelsea College campus in Pimlico
UAL have accommodation in Finsbury Park, where I stayed, which is easy to commute from.

What made me want to sign up?

I wanted to grasp the basics of what an illustrator’s job involves, and even if illustrators are still needed in today’s world. The in-person course appealed to me more than the online option.

How was it?

My interest was captured and held for the entire week’s classes. It was exactly as described, a taster or introduction where our wonderful tutor Alessandra, ran through the many aspects of illustration. Alessandra has a nurturing and thorough approach which helped the course to flow. I had all my questions answered over the course of the week.

The MFA show was also open at Chelsea College campus at the time of my visit. The great thing about staying in London, there is so much art to see.

The classes ran from 10am-4pm, giving us plenty to time to explore London after class. I took this photo when visiting the Cartoon Museum, which has free entry for people with an Art Pass.

Is illustration still needed in today’s world?


It is a competitive industry, but I noticed that every one of my classmates had a unique approach to their image making, so I can see a space for everyone in terms of style.

We focused on analogue techniques, experimenting with a variety of materials. I learnt that many illustrators will paint or draw by hand, before scanning and editing their work to prepare it for

Mark-making practice from day 1. We tried a variety of mono-printing techniques to create interesting textures. These textures were then used to create a character of our choice.

Alessandra emphasised throughout the week, the need to follow your own personal passions and interests, focusing on what inspires you and why.

What have I taken from the course?

I feel free to ‘colour outside the lines’, to form a character from a figure drawing. To create a mood around a subject. Being mindful of the overall impact of a drawing or painting.

In my previous art education, I have been taught to accurately draw exactly what I see. This is good practice of course, but it can be restrictive. Illustration is about expressing the subject using imagination and the artist’s individual flavour. In the past, accurate drawing was vital because photography wasn’t available. The job of the illustrator was to inform the viewer. The images below compare the change in the role of the illustrator:

  1. Victorian illustration of Whitechapel, London
  2. Contemporary illustration of a house in London

Both illustrate the same subject but with a different purpose and about 150 years apart:

1.     From Thomas Miller’s Picturesque Sketches of London, Past and Present 1849
  2. London Victorian Home by Heavens to Besty/ Nancy Ellis

(above, 2.) “Heavens to Betsy Illustrations offer a different approach to a more traditional portrait. They are all about telling a story and capturing a moment in time, with the most everyday subjects often being the ones to treasure the most. Each illustration is drawn by hand in pencil, using your chosen photograph as reference. Once the drawing is complete, the illustration is worked on digitally to create the Heavens to Betsy signature style. If you have opted for colour, this is created with a carefully selected array of hand painted backgrounds and textures, that are customised specifically to your order. Every detail and colour is applied separately and shaded by hand, which gives the unique and hand made quality to each artwork.”

Coursework in my sketchbook

exploring line/ a variety of mark-making
exploring shape

Contextual reference:

This illustration by Satu Kettunen demonstrates the effect of line and texture in illustration. Simplifying an image can be very effective.

Drawing exercises

On day 1 of the course, we were instructed to draw a classmate, using experimental techniques. These exercises are intended to loosen up and connect your hand and brain. I often use some of these techniques when approaching a new subject or a subject that’s difficult to draw.

Colour theory

I began by experimenting with gouache. I have only recently began working with gouache, so this was a nice exercise for me.

On this sketchbook page (below), I experimented with

  • adding gradually more water to the paint to see the various transparencies
  • painting ‘dry brush’, which creates texture by adding no water
  • increasing the amount of white paint used with red
  • layering the strokes
  • using a pencil over the dry paint
  • using a pen over the dry paint
  • colour mixing

We were then asked to consider the emotional effect of colour. This is because colour, as well as line/texture, create the overall mood of an illustration. A successful illustration will draw on the correct colour associations to express the required message.

Everyone has a different perception of colour and what they might associate each colour with. For example, I used bright blue to express childhood, because in my childhood I saw a lot of bright-coloured plastic, such as bucket and spades, super-soakers and other toys. This wouldn’t be the case for someone who grew up in times before the plastic boom.

Editorial illustration by Bijou Karman.

The colour palette in this image and the afros on the women, instantly says ‘1970’s’ to me. This would be the case for anyone familiar with that era. Even if you didn’t know about the 1970’s, the colours are still warm and earthly which have a calming effect on the viewer. This is emphasised by the curved lines used.

Colour associations are not universal, but the people of your target audience will likely makes the intended association. For example, in our culture, bright colours are used for expressing happiness. Generally yellow has the effect of joy and energy when used in interior design. The walls of a workplace have been painted yellow for this reason.

Our task was to come up with a limited colour palette that would express the topics suggested by our tutor. Alessandra specified that we were to choose the colours we personally would think of when we thought of these topics, rather than guessing what the colours ‘should be’. I used gouache for this exercise:

We then jotted down some words we associated with that topic. (above, right)

(left) ‘spring’, ‘forest’, ‘solitude’.

We were then asked to complete an illustration based on one of these topics and using the limited colour palette we came up with.

(left, bottom) thumbnail sketches on my chosen topic, ‘childhood’.

I used gouache and coloured pencils for the details. I chose the colours because of my memory of sky and grass as a child. I thought of blowing bubbles since this is an activity from my childhood that gave me a sense of wonder and is an activity only children tend to do.

Editorial illustration

Contextual references:

Eye magazine cover
Teen Breathe magazine, editorial layout

The focus for this day was on editorial illustration (image-making to accompany a magazine article for example). We were asked to illustrate an article in groups of 3. Our group was given an article about The Pussyhat. I enjoyed the teamwork and collecting our ideas together. The task:

  1. read the article and highlight key words
  2. mind-map as a group
  3. sketch some thumbnails (right)
  4. complete a main illustration and a spot illustration
  5. I wanted to focus on the way the pussyhat movement brought together generations of women. I then flipped the stereotype of the older lady doing the knitting and wanted to show that she has handed the skill to the younger generation.
  6. I limited the colour palette to keep it simple. Pink was going to be in the palette because of the topic. I added patterns to the illustration to make it more interesting.
thumbnail sketches
my gouache and pencil illustration (top) The background is painted grey, but this was not picked up in the scanner. The thumbnail sketch/ colour plan (bottom).

The spot illustration is the smaller image you will see on a magazine spread. This is a supporting image and will usually feature an element of the main illustration. (2 examples below)

Contextual references:

  1. The record has been taken from the left page and used for the spot illustration above the text on the right page)
  2. Leg of the chair taken for the spot illustration
1. Editorial Design from Kathryn Tayar, “The Menace of Mechanical Music” Editorial Design, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
2. Editorial Design from Vicente Puig, “Stool 60” Infographic Editorial Design, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

My concept for the spot illustration was of the hand holding the knitting needles. I felt that the pink thread and nails would symbolise women and the position of the hand expresses somebody standing up in protest.

Sketching at The Tate Britain

Henry Moore artwork at the Tate

Situated opposite the Tate gallery, it made sense for us to walk across the road from Chelsea College of Arts and incorporate this visit into our coursework.

The aim of this exercise was to record whatever caught our interest. This was going to be different for each individual. Our tutor suggested using pens/ materials other than an erasable graphite pencil. This would encourage boldness in our drawings. She also advised us to be mindful of each page spread as a whole and how the page interacts with the page next to it. The subject could be the artwork on display, the building itself, or the people walking around. There was no limits.

On the first page I recorded the architecture of the Tate as well as the tiled floor pattern, the outline of a Henry Moore sculpture and the shape of the letters on the information plaque. Each object is united by the use of outlines instead of tones.
2 security guards at the entrance of the gallery

We then applied these drawings to a group zine about our visit to the Tate. We looked at examples of zines for inspiration:

Up My Street, concertina zine by Louise Lockhart
Collection of zines we looked at for inspiration

Book cover illustration:

We used collage to come up with an illustration for a book of our choice. I chose Little House on the Prairie (above, 3rd from left)

Day 5

On the final day of the course, we produced a stop animation video. As a group we voted on the theme city. My only contribution was the bare/winter tree on the right (below). The rest of the work was from the rest of the class.

City Romance

For our final task of the day and the course, we were asked to consider what we’ve noticed about our own individual style and approach to illustration. I found my own work to be generally quite calm and peaceful. We then came up with a business card design in the form of a postcard.

These were our designs placed together on the table:

my own postcard design, A5 ish. I used India ink, gouache and coloured pencil.
I began work on this painting in class, and finished it later. I approached this painting by not worrying as much about accuracy. For example, I exaggerated the incline of the hill to give the cyclist more of a challenge. I removed unnecessary detail and considered the effect of colour. I used gouache and ink. I simplified the background to help the figure stand out and to indicate its distance from the viewer.
a sketch from the classroom when I had arrived early one morning.