My recent fascination with blood has influenced how I experience art, contemporary and ancient.

Whilst staying in Prato, a town not far from Florence, I visited the town museum. My expectations were not high, I was thinking along the lines of some UK provincial museums with quite dull work displayed in uninspiring ways, I was very wrong. Of course Prato was an important town of the Renaissance (Fra Fillippo Lippi lived there) with a collection reflecting this – the museum is a gem.

I decided, with my 14 yr old daughter, to hunt for paintings depicting blood in some way, surprisingly (or not, had I thought about it), most had evidence of blood – of course they would, they are religious paintings of murder (crucifixion and beheading), sacrifice, martyrdom, terror… Even in this town during the 14th century, premature death was the norm, common diseases included dysentery, malaria, diphtheria, ‘flu, typhoid, smallpox and leprosy, and the plague hit in 1347 killing over a third of the population. Sores would seep blood and pus, blood was coughed up and gruesome treatments included boil lancing, bloodletting and flagellation (for purification) with sharp metal studded leather straps.

The Renaissance art of the museum reflects, and would have resonated with, this society; it seems so far removed from our own – one where bloody death was ever present… we’ve suffered Covid, but the version of this contemporary plague presented in the media appears to be sanitised.

I need to explore the pigments used in Renaissance paintings, I wonder if some artists strayed from the usual Vermillion and Carmine and even used blood? I’m guessing they didn’t due to darkening with the air.



The origins of imaging cells fascinate me, I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the engravings of Robert Hooke who was the first to explore this new world. His study of the cork cell, made possible by his development of the microscope, led the way for cell theory. He published his findings in Micrographia (1665), and wrote of the cork cell: “these pores, or cells…were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any writer or person, that had made any mention of them before this…”. My own experience of cells first-hand through a microscope is fascinating, but a pale reflection of the excitement Hooke must have felt the first time he explored them.

So far, I’ve been experimenting with various magnifications of leaves, fruit etc. discovering new incredible landscapes, inspirational in themselves, but with very little personal interest to me beyond visual stimulation and reflecting how I would interpret them in pencil, ink and paint.

The cells have to be my own, so I’m starting with my own blood.


In kickstarting my new body of work, I came across this great quote summing up macro and micro written in 1629 by Constantijn Huygens: “If nothing else, let us learn this, that the estimation, which we commonly make of the size of things, is variable, untrustworthy, and fatuous insofar as we believe that we can eliminate every comparison and can discern any great difference in size merely by the evidence of our senses. Let us in short be aware that it is impossible to call anything “little” or “large” except by comparison. And then, as a result, let us firmly establish the proposition that the multiplying of bodies… is infinite; once we accept this as a fundamental rule then no body, even the most minute, may be so greatly magnified by lenses without there being reason to assert that it can be magnified more by other lenses, and then by still others, and so on endlessly.”

Having acquired a microscope, my new project: ‘Self / Cell’ starts with a sample of my own blood…


The carborundum prototype plate worked well – there is something about the texture and surface of the dense ink when printed on paper that is luscious and seductive, so I’ve decided to make the final plates using this technique.

Aware that all areas of the image must hold the viewer’s interest, I have created a crackled surface for the rest of the plate, the negative space in fact. It is important for an image to work visually from a distance, but also close-up; so, from a distance, the viewer will recognise the depth and 3D nature of the pattern and when viewing closer, witness an intricate surface.

Wrapped up in this issue is that images must have ‘presence’, that inexplicable attribute that makes a piece of work worth looking at and a strong impact. Also, given that my final prints will be enlarged when reproduced for the final format that the public will view, it is important that the images I create are not small – I want to cram in as much fine detail in the texture and visual interest as possible. It is very important to draw the design with accurate symmetry, if it is a bit ‘off’ it will look dreadful and it is essential this drawing is not lost and generalised when the glue and carborundum are applied. In addition, the contrast between the almost mechanical accuracy of the design and the quite abstract nature of the texture is important for the image to work and to touch upon that ‘presence’.

The large carborundum plate I produced this week (125 x 145 cm) has been a steep learning curve, given my new press, and now I know what doesn’t work. There were many technical difficulties including the press pressure lacking the evenness necessary, length of time to ink the plate (5 hours, wiping differently for both a fine crackle texture and heavy carborundum), dampening a huge piece of paper (in the garden using a hose) and printing before it dried out…

With less than a month to complete the series of prints, I’ll be hard-pressed to complete what is necessary, but I have decided to create four new plates, a little smaller than the current plate to enable the press to apply even pressure over the paper and to avoid working at the edge of what is realistically possible; but, the plates still have to be large enough to possess that overall ‘presence’ and large areas of fine detail to grab the viewer’s interest.

So, the plan of action is to make a series of carborundum plates together – all variations of the current plate. The procedure is extremely long, but this approach should speed things up a little. I will also create the crackle texture over another additional plate which will be inked up separately resulting in the final prints being created from two plates – hopefully this will help sort out the uneven pressure of the press… but it also introduces a registration issue, in the scale of things though, worth the effort I think.


I am on a train writing in an old note book… serendipitously, at the back of which are pages of recipes for collagraph plates I made at the RCA, these have spurred me on to make a few experimental plates in addition to the prototypes of last week. If the surfaces marry well with the shapes and patterns of the subject matter, great, if not, perhaps they’ll lead on to something else.