North Art Summer Show Exhibition

Thanks to my wonderful friend Patrick who helped me hang my woodblock prints for the North Art Gallery Summer Show. Thanks also to Adrian for curating the event. The preview was fab and the show will be up for 4 week so do pop in and say hello! 

Hanging the Woodblock prints


Netsuke Miniature Prints

Save The Elephants


£5 from the sale of each print will be donated to Save The Elephants

Through my interest in Japanese antique netsuke, I have become more aware of the ivory trade that is still in operation today. 

Save The Elephants are a founding partner of the Wildlife Conservation Network in the US which transmits 100% of donated funds to the field. 

"Our mission: to secure a future for elephants and to sustain the beauty and ecological integrity of the places they live; to promote man’s delight in their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and to develop a tolerant relationship between the two species."

Save The Elephants continue their research to find solutions to reduce conflict, end poaching, trafficking and the demand for ivory. They raise awareness and provide internships and scholarships in conservation education. 

Inspiration for the Project

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal


This book was the inspiration for my journey into the wood. Each woodblock is hand printed with a baren using Japanese carbon ink on white hosho paper. The description 'NETSUKE’ is debossed with 10pt New Clarendon metal type printed on the adana 8 x 5 printing press.

The space invites you to take a quiet moment and sit on the cushion provided and read from the book if you wish. There are also hand printed bookmarks for you to take away.  

Other Artists exhibiting at North Summer Show 2018 include:

Show Miche Watkins, Tina Altwegg, Gareth Pitt, Sarah V Penrose, Ian Pillidge, Jane Warring, Jess Stevenson, David Brown, Tony Eastman, Victoria Fox, Ian Usher, Caroline McGlone, Lenny, Andrew Wilson and Luz Gallardo-Franco.

North Art

Gallery Opening Hours

Thursday 2pm - 6pm

Friday 2pm - 6pm

Saturday 10am - 4pm

Sunday 10am - 2pm

...and by appointment; please email

Netsuke at The British Museum

I set my alarm for 6am and spend the night tossing and turning and worrying that I won't wake up to catch my bus to London. And so predictably I wake up fifteen minutes early and watch the count down to 5.50am then crawl out of bed into the shower, quick bowl of cereal and out the door. The last minute indecision about which sketchbook to bring is resolved by bringing them all including the heavy hardback one which I had dismissed the night before. So I start the journey with a slightly heavier bag stuffed with sketch books and snacks and all set for the British Museum. My appointment is at 11am. After two buses and a tube adding up to four and a half hours and the last half mile walk with Google maps whispering directions in my headphones I am finally here. I am late and running up the steps of the entrance into the museum.

Inside The British Museum I am overwhelmed by unexpected beauty. I haven't been here for years and I had forgotten how magnificent this place was. A modern Greek palace with its bright limestone walls and a curved glass roof curling with the core of the circular stairs. Contributors names engraved on the cylindrical wall of the staircase. This is The Great Court. It is light, spacious, majestic and I feel immediately tranquil for a moment until hoards of school children come herding through the main hall.

Sketching The Okimono of Turtles

To find the Asia study room I follow the curve of the stairs and round past the book and gift shop right to the back of the main hall and up a few flights of stairs. I take a left into a deserted room full of Chinese ceramics. Tranquility is unbroken here. I gently pull the enormous glass doors leading to the study room. I ring the bell. Lowri greets me at the door. I sign my name in a big name book and Lowri offers me a place to sit. She opens a cupboard and brings out a large plastic box, brings it over to the table and asks me what I would like to draw first. The Okimono of Turtles are popping their heads up through the tissue. Lowri wears gloves to handle the netsuke and places it on a sponge mat it in front of me. I had seen The Okimono of Turtles on the British Museum website but it is so much smaller in reality and much harder to see the detail. I have been so used to drawing from close up photographs where the netsuke have been enlarged at least double their original size. I take out my pencil and start sketching. I haven't warmed up or settled in properly yet and The Okimono of Turtles is a bit challenging for a first drawing. The turtles are piled on top of each other like pancakes. I have over complicated the drawing and can't see how this will work as a print. I can simplify it later so I take a break and move on to The Foxes.


Sketching The Foxes

This time I'm pleased with the drawing and enjoy the simpler form of this netsuke. I prefer the shape of the foxes huddled together wrapping their paws and tails around each other. Their long noses and curling bodies weaving in rhythmic form. I turn the sponge to get a different view of the Foxes and make two more little drawings. My drawings are small but not as small as the netsuke which are only 4.5cm high.


Sketching The Tanuki

The Tanuki (a type of Japanese racoon) is a lovely rounded character with its paws on its pot belly (described on the British Museum website as Tanuki beating belly.) The first sketch is plausible but the second looks more like a chicken or maybe a penguin if you rub out the pointy ears and the third is not far off a pig. Time seems to be racing so I move on to The Dog.


Sketching Sitting dog with paw raised

I can't believe my time is nearly up and I still have two netsuke to draw. The dog is tiny. Only 3cm high. I make four little sketches of the thin little ribbed dog from different angles. It's ears flop over its head turning away towards its circle curling tail.


It's almost one o'clock and no time to sketch the little palace. Lowri offers me an afternoon slot as the study room is quiet today but this afternoon I have made plans to visit Laura Boswell and Ian Philips woodblock print and lino print exhibition at the R K Burt Gallery. I thank Lowri and head through the room of Chinese ceramics on my way out pausing to look at the beautifully glazed Northern Song Ru stonewares. Then up the stairs to see the netsuke case in the Japanese gallery.

Japanese Gallery at The British Museum

The Goldfish, the Sleeping Rat and the Kirin are all there behind the glass. I try to take photographs but the light is too dim, again producing grainy, blurred photographs. I open the big wooden doors into the Japanese gallery and immediately in front of me is replica of a wooden tea house with tatami matting and paper sliding doors. Unfortunately you can't step inside the tea house for a rest or a cup of tea so I move on past the earthenware figurines, bronze bells, tarnished mirrors, spearheads, ceramic tombs, vessels, wooden statues of buddhist deities, hand scrolls of the sutras and landscapes, masks, shrines, jars, tea pots, tea bowls, Samurai armour, illustrated books, woodblock prints, paintings.

Two smaller glass cabinets hang on the wall above steps to modern Japan in the next part of the gallery. Both cabinets hold a small collection of netsuke. One with netsuke animals. A monkey clasping its leg, two horses entwined into the shape of a heart, an eagle gripping a tanuki in its claws, a curled up snake , an ox with calf, a deer holding up one hoof and a tiger baring its teeth with its tail whipped round to front of its chest. The second cabinet holds netsuke people. A Chinese official, Dutchman and cockerel, Ainu woman and child, Monkey trainer and monkey, Okame bathing and Naked Chinese woman.


I continue into modern Japan and find a woodblock carving on cherry wood of Stonehenge. 'Woodblock for Stonehenge by Night' carved and printed before 1916 by Urushibara Mokuchu who had come to London to teach woodblock printing techniques at the Anglo-Japanese Exhibition of 1910.

I carry on back down the steps towards another staircase. Halfway down the stairs a huge silk scroll hangs on the wall with a couple resting beneath a trellis of moonflowers sharing a cup of sake. "Evening Cool beneath Moonflowers" by Yokoyama Kazan.


A reminder its time for a drink and a bite to eat. I head out into the main hall for a quick snack and then to the bookshop. I find a book about Netsuke 100 miniature masterpieces from Japan by Noriko Tsuchiya and Japanese Netsuke by Julia Hutt with an introduction by Edmund De Waal. I buy the books and make my way to the R K Burt Gallery.

Edinburgh - Sea Tea Textiles and Whiskey

I cycle the streets of Edinburgh in the sunshine, exploring the city starting at Peter's Yard cafe by Middle Meadow Walk for Swedish breakfast, then into the centre, up the Royal Mile hill towards Edinburgh Castle. I'm surprised by the lack of bike racks in the city as I see so many people cycling around but I eventually manage to find a lamp post and walk up the rest of the hill to Edinburgh Castle with views of the blue sea and the buzzing city, rooftops and roads and patchwork gardens. Inside the walls of the castle is St Margaret's chapel. Colourful textiles are laid over the alter representing the many qualities of the once reigning queen. It's still early and not many tourists have arrived yet so I make the most of the cool and peaceful space before exploring the rest of the castle a quick cup of tea and a taste of local whiskey. Back on the bike to The Fruit Market Gallery for lunch and 'Possibilities of the Object - Experiments in Modern and Contemporary Brazilian Art' exhibition.

In Search of Netsuke

I arrive at the National Museum of Scotland in search of Japanese netsuke. I'm directed to the Asia department which is quite tiny. They don't appear to have any netsuke. I'm sure I saw them on the website so ask the guide. He is not sure and points me in the direction of the Japanese Porcelain exhibition. Being optimistic I take a look. It's a tiny exhibition of Japanese ceramic pots from the late 1800s early 1900s but no netsuke. I continue to wander around the museum and find myself in a large room full of stuffed animals from monkeys and pandas, lions and tigers, polar bears and foxes, giraffes and deer. It's a dramatic landscape of dynamic shapes. Each animal frozen in action. I wonder where they once lived and how they died and how they came to be here. It's a curious place. This is Animal World and in the middle of this sea of animals stands a gigantic elephant with tusks as long as my own body and I'm reminded of these beautiful creatures continuing to be poached for their tusks only to be cut up for the benefit and demand of the consumer. I think about the netsuke and how many elephants were killed in the process to make these objects. Back at the information desk I speak to a member of staff to discover the gallery where the netsuke are displayed is closed as part of their redevelopment programme and won't be open until 2016.

Japanese Woodblock Prints at the National Gallery Scotland

It's easy enough to get lost on a bike round a busy city when the sea looks like a stones throw from the top of the hill. I cycle down the hill on my way to the National Gallery Scotland. Instead of turning left I continue straight down the hill towards the inviting sea and into Dublin Road. Dublin is my second home and although Edinburgh faces the North sea I can almost feel the Dublin air in my lungs as I breathe on my bike past the rows of Georgian terrace houses.

I climb back up the hill to the National Gallery. Through the revolving door and into the main gallery. It's hot and stuffy. I peel off my layers, hang my helmet round my bag. I'm surrounded by overwhelming mass of dramatic intensity. An overload of war and battle scenes. I race through the stifling crowd and head straight down the stairs for Scottish Art Gallery to be greeted by tranquility. A beautiful deep blue mountain in luscious landscape by the Scottish painter David Young Cameron. The gallery leads me away from the drama and into a quiet haven, through a dim lit peaceful corridor of Scottish landscapes. I can breathe again.

As I walk back up the stairs I notice I haven't seen any prints, only paintings. I ask at reception if there is a print room. Yes but you have to book an appointment. I am only here today and wonder if there is a possibility of seeing some Japanese woodblock prints today. The receptionist makes a call. She looks positive. Yes it's possible and she books an appointment for me in half an hour with Katrina.

The Print Room

A young woman has opened the door to reveal the print room. Katrina shows me where to write my name and address and to take a pencil and paper if I wish but "NO PENS" she says. I envisage the accidental collision of pen and paper. The pen gliding across an orange sunset, eventually making it's heavy dark eternal mark upon a delicate pink blossom tree. She pulls out a big green box from the shelves and on to the table. Inside the box are original Japanese prints. Katrina has studied Japanese woodblock prints from the Ukey-o period and is very knowledgeable as she talks me through each print. Each print is mounted between stiff cardboard with a sheet of plastic between the mount and the print. She lifts the mount and removes the sheets of plastic to reveal the tactile quality of delicate handmade Japanese paper. Most of these designs are by Hokusai and Hiroshige. The colours in the prints have faded and would have been much more intense when they were first printed. She explains how some of these prints are obviously reproductions and you can tell from the inaccuracy of the registration. But this is over ridden by the precise intricate fine detail in the carving. It's the first time I have seen original Japanese woodblock prints so closely. It's magical.


When we have finished looking through the box of prints Katrina brings out another big green box. This time I can look through the prints by myself. I ask if I can take photos without a flash. That is fine. The prints are mountainous, watery landscapes, bridges and rivers, people walking and working in fields and towns under deep blue skies, the rain beating down on dark inky pavements. I take a photo only to find the memory is full. Maybe it is a blessing as with no camera I spend longer looking at the prints. I absorb each scene, the delicate carving, the trees, the waves, the tiny houses, the textures, the mark making, the colours overlapping, the bokashi effect. I take a break and delete some old photos from my camera. I manage to take a few photographs of the prints and make a note of the ones that really resonate.


Shin-hanga (new prints)

I ask Katrina where all the original woodblocks are stored. She says that there aren't many left as after an edition was made, to keep the value of the prints, they would destroy the blocks. I find the wood block a piece of art in itself and I'm shocked that this was the normal procedure after spending so much time making such intricate carvings.

When I have finished looking through the second box, Katrina pulls out one more box. Inside is a huge pile of extremely delicate unmounted prints. There are many modern images (Shin-hanga) of wildlife - birds and frogs and dragonflies and it's difficult to tell which ones are ink sketches and which ones woodblock prints. Some are printed on paper as fine as tissue with holes and tears and I'm afraid to touch them incase they disintegrate. We decide to leave this box alone and I hope that someone will take time to carefully mount them so one day they can be viewed properly.


I thank Katrina for giving me the time to explore the prints and we say goodbye. Downstairs in the main hall the sun has disappeared. Behind the great glass window panes the snow is falling reminding of the beautiful print 'Night Rain at Makura' by Hiroshige.

A Moveable Feast


Last year (Aug 2014) I visited the Ateneum Art Gallery in Helsinki for the Tove 100 exhibition. I hadn't realised Tove Jansson had been so prolific throughout her life. A wealth of work filled the gallery from graphic design, book and comic illustration, sketches, fine art paintings from self portraits to landscapes murals and 3D models. As I absorbed her work I was in awe and thrilled that I had the opportunity to be in this space. I have collected a few of her books in the last few years including The Moomin illustrated story books, comic strips and her much loved novels. Her work has a magical and ethereal quality.

"Ham worked hard, and at home the little girl watched her drawing, hour after hour. It convinced her that indian ink, pen and paper and the act of drawing itself were a fixed and natural part of a woman's life. " "Tove Janson Work and Love" by Tuula Karjalainen.



This resonates with my own childhood spending the summer holidays at my grandparents house In Dublin. Most of the time I was glued to a chair in the corner with sketchbook on my lap drawing cartoons. My grandmother inspired this creativity. She didn't have the opportunity to be a self employed young artist. After college she started working at the local library when my grandfather came along and whisked her off her feet. They were married, had five children and only when they were old enough to start looking after themselves did she begin her journey into painting. She didn't have the luxury of a studio so after dinner, she would clear the table, fetch her oil paints, brushes, canvases, sketches from her art trips and spend the evening painting landscapes amidst the chaos. She continued to paint like this well into her eighties.

Sometimes Mama would find me books for inspiration and I would experiment drawing faces and figures from different angles. Then I'd take a break from the technical exploration and take pen on a circular day dream. The first time she handed me a blank canvas and some oil paints from the shed I was so excited. In the living room I found a photograph of a boat on a lake in the sunset. I sat in Papa's chair at the end of the table opposite Mama and started painting. I was so ecstatic and proud of the result. In that moment I felt like I could achieve anything.

Tove was thirty when she held her first solo exhibition in 1943.

"Courage was something the young artist needed. Her biggest test of the war years was her first solo exhibition, which she held in 1943 at the prestigious art salon owned by Leonard Backsbacka, a friend of the family. By then she was nearly thirty: relatively old for a first one-woman show." Tove Janson Work and Love Tuula Karjalainen

I like to believe there are more people in the world discovering new passions or continuing to grow their dreams and embrace beginnings whatever their age.

Wild goose, wild goose. at what age did you make your first journey?
— Kobayashi Issa Season by Season by Sandrine Bailly