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Owl in the Wood

If being an artist is not your full time vocation, then making time to be creative can be extremely tricky. Life, with its work and family commitments pulls us all in many different directions and taking time out to be on one’s own, to pursue that artistic itch can often be viewed as just too self-indulgent or unnecessary, and as a result perpetually pushed to a future date and time. I have found ways to navigate this frustrating path, discovering that writing can be a great release for pent up ideas as it requires no dedicated workshop space and can be packed away quickly when the children land. Digital photography has also played an important role, enabling me to create images without mess, but since being invited back into the print room earlier this year at the University Centre Somerset, I have had an urge to get inky. For months I have been promising myself that I would attend one of Jane Mowat’s print workshops at her studio in Hurstone and in July I finally committed.

I know Jane from our links with the art college in Taunton, but mainly from visiting her studio during Somerset Art Weeks. Her distinctive woodblock prints feature strong-limbed figures with flowing hair, often surrounded by flora and fauna. What is so attractive about her work is that you get a great sense of comparison between the large, yet delicate prints on Japanese papers with the solid wood block that becomes an art piece in its own right – lino would never gain this status, it is purely the method and tool to achieve your aesthetic.

I was apprehensive attending the workshop, you naturally want to make the most of your time and come away with an image to be proud of, forgetting the fact you are learning a whole new skill base that Jane has spent twenty years experimenting and honing. I needn’t have worried though, Jane's demeanour is very relaxed which makes her one of those teachers that gently imparts knowledge and encourages your potential at a pace to suit you. It was a surprise to all of us who attended her weekend workshop that by the end of the first day we all had a finished print to take home and were asking Jane for larger pieces of wood to get gouging!

When working with wood it is important to let the texture of the grain be an integral presence within the finished design. If you wish for a smoother, sleeker finish then screen printing or lino would best suit your vision. My first smaller print was of an owl, who ended up looking quite wild and more like an 'owl cat' and so I aimed to play more with this sense of imposter. On my second workshop day I took a few sketches along and had planned my second print to consist of two cats either side of an owl, however on selecting the wood I was to work with, an owl appeared in the natural staining of the wood and my design just had to embrace 'the owl in the wood.'

'Owl in the Wood'

prints drying on the washing line at home

Our group consisted of all levels and abilities from keen amateur, to semi and professional artists, all with different expectations but all keen to learn a new skill. Among our group was designer and illustrator Anne Mortimer. Many of you may be familiar with her wonderful books, which have graced the shelves of Number Seven, a favourite being The Chocolate Cat.

Anne relies on her drawing skills constantly when working, where results have to count daily and attending the workshop was an artistic opportunity to play and not be precious about the outcomes. She discovered that she enjoyed the physical process of carving and so on her second day focused more on this process and set about sculpting the wood creating a deeper relief image of a bird among leaves. I am sure that this creative break invigorated her everyday work just as it invigorated us all.

Anne Mortimer learning the art of wood carving with Jane Mowat

Anne Mortimer with Jane Mowat

The art of making instills a great sense of self worth and achievement which is beneficial for a holistic approach to our health and well being, we just need to remind ourselves that it is valuable time, well spent and should never be on the bottom of our ‘to do’ list.

Jane is planning future workshops to take place in the autumn. I hope to be able to attend more, learning within a group is fun and rewarding but in the meantime I aim to get more inky at home!

Jane's collection of well worm & loved tools




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