Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Making 'Welcome Home', my Manchester argus butterfly linocut

During the pandemic, I spotted the inspiring story of the Manchester argus butterfly. This large heath butterfly had lived on the peatlands of Manchester until around 1850, but with industrialisation came the  loss of its habitat. The Manchester argus became extinct in the Manchester area. You can read all about it in this BBC story from May 2020.

I decided to base a new linocut design on the butterfly, creating a stylised image to complement my popular 'Hard at Work' Manchester bee linocut, designed in 2015. Both are hand cut from three plates of lino 25cm x 25cm in size.

'Welcome Home' original linocut by Carolyn Murphy

I started by sketching the rare butterfly from a range of available photos on the internet. Then I experimented with colourways and the structure of the design. I wanted the green of 'Welcome Home' to balance and complement the golden yellow of the bees artwork. After a few tests, I settled on the colour and the tones of the new design. I must stress that it is inspired by the Manchester argus - I did not set out to create the linocut as a true to life study.

Initial rough sketches

Early ideas

Below you can see the development stages, from cutting the plates, to inking the lino plates and early colour tests. I hope it helps to bring to life how this original multi-plate linocut is made. It was printed in my home studio using a Hawthorn press, onto Canaletto 300gsm off-white paper and is a limited edition of 50.

Cutting the plates & exploring colours

Printing colour 1

Printing the second colour

An early exploration of colours

Comparing tones - 'Welcome Home' final colour later became darker

I hope you enjoy looking at the story of the return of the Manchester argus to the Greater Manchester wetlands and let's hope it is settling in nicely to its old home after a gap of 150 years. I do like a happy ending!

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery online shop and links to social media.

Monday, 8 March 2021

My Fifth Year in the Twitter Art Exhibition -

Twitter Art Exhibit asks artists worldwide to donate postcard-sized handmade original artwork so that "through art, we can change the world". It's a fantastic idea and has caught the imagination of many artists. Each year funds from the charity sale go to support a great cause. This year it's The Leukaemia and Intensive Chemotherapy fund and the sale is on Saturday July 3rd 2021 at Cheltenham race course. This is my fifth year, but the Twitter Art Exhibition has been going longer. 

#TAE21 linocut 'Hebden'

I haven't yet go to the opening night charity sale - but may do this year! They've been held in Stratford-on Avon, Canberra, Edinburgh, Myrtle Beach in previous years, so this one is not too far away, if we are allowed to travel! After the first night sale, in previous years, work has been sold at the exhibition and then online.

Why do I take part each year? I think it's a mix of things. Firstly, I love the concept - making a difference through art. So far the website notes that TAE has raised $104,000 for 10 great charities.

My first submission in 2017 'Sticky Feet'

Secondly, it's the sense of community. Around a thousand artists from all over the world contribute work and come together on Twitter to support each other too. 

Finally, I love to see all the amazing work that is shared - and enjoy seeing my own work on this online stage. It's become part of the pattern of my year and I often use it to experiment and play. My 2019 postcard was selected as a Board's Choice, which was wonderful.


I'm proud that all my postcards have sold for a great cause. It would be lovely to know where in the world they are now! Other postcards below. Do get in touch if you have one on your wall!

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

2020 20:20 print exchange box

This year, the suspense was greater than normal! It took me until February 2021 to get my 20:20 print exchange box for 2020. In the middle of a global pandemic and UK lockdown, it was hardly 'essential travel' until I combined collecting it with picking up work returning from an exhibition. Anyway, it was worth the wait! 

My 2021 box

In my randomly sorted box, I received a great mix of original prints, including lots of linocuts and two works from a Russian workshop. My own image was a two-plate linocut called 'Towneley Hall' - a new colourway of 'That Window' which I created for the Impressions exhibition earlier in 2020. This is printed in water-based 'copper' ink and oil-based ultramarine.

'Towneley Hall' - my 20:20 submission in 2020

I also worked out that this is my 10th year of taking part. The first year may well have been 2011, in fact. In some mad years (2014 and 2016, I think), I entered an edition with both Hot Bed Press and Prospect Studio. Over the years, I've enjoyed the huge variety of work I've collected - some of which is up on the walls of my home. Some work was on the wall in my office at The Manchester College at one time. And I've picked up a few extra favourites over the years to supplement these!

I've pulled out below some of my own 20:20 prints, submitted over that time, just to see them together. I've started with my first one 'Distant Pebbles' from 2011...

'Distant Pebbles' linocut

'Hideaway' linocut

'Into the Woods' linocut

'Meandering' linocut

'Near Ragusa' screen print

'Regenerating' linocut

'Riviera' linocut

'Adjusting the Sails' linocut

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Experimenting with Sugar Lift Etching

Some years ago I came across the sugar lift etching technique and had a go (fairly unsuccessfully), so it was great to have the chance to return to it at one of Alan Birch's workshops at the back end of last year.

What is sugar lift etching, you may ask? 

If you are already familiar with etching and aquatint techniques, the key difference is that you can avoid line drawing altogether and rely on tones alone, by adding a few extra steps. It is essential to plan the tones in your image before starting.

Extra step 1 - based on Alan's advice, I started from the darkest tone first and 'painted' a sugar lift solution (sugary 'Camp' coffee) onto the etching plate, which I had already prepared with an aquatint resin layer. The areas I painted would later become exposed to the acid.

Extra step 2 was to cover the whole plate with 'soft ground' to create a waxy protective layer, allow it to cool, then immerse it in a shallow bath of warm water. After the water has had a chance to soften the sugary layer under the soft ground, I poured hot water from a kettle to agitate the water and plate, which lifted the soft ground in the areas coated by the sugar solution underneath. I then put the plate into the acid to etch it.

Extra step 3 - after each tone, you need to clean the plate fully and re-apply an aquatint layer, ready for the next tone. You then paint the sugar lift solution on the new areas - and repeat as above. 

OK, it sounds complicated here, but let me share some images, so you can see the effects.

Second proof of my boat scene sugar lift etching

The plate inked ready to print

I had some issues, which I'm planning to resolve yet, by burnishing areas of the sky to soften this. On a second print, I had problems getting the palest tone to print. It may just need another few seconds in the acid, but I am yet to experiment further before resorting to this. Below are the prints, then the plate. 

First proof of a Scottish landscape - losing too much!

Second proof - still losing the far landscape

The plate looks as if it has enough definition...

I'm certainly planning to return to this technique again in 2021, as I love its focus on tones. Like any new practice, it's going to take a bit of controlling and I'm looking forward to developing these and other plates.

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Creating my new Panopticon series

Some projects are longer in the making than you expect. The Panopticon series certainly took some time in development.

I first visited Halo above Haslingden in March 2018 on a bitterly cold day. I'd planned to sketch - but it was way too cold for that, so I took lots of photos from all sorts of angles, exploring the structure for inspiration, preparing to submit a work to the Prospect Printmakers' Pennine-themed exhibition, which opened at the Whitaker Gallery in late April.


The original Halo edition was only five, however as the linocut was created from three plates, it gave me the opportunity to explore colour ways. I editioned the same plates in new colours for the Hot Bed Press 20:20 Print Exchange in 2018. 

A year later I visited the other panopticons - the Singing Ringing Tree, above Burnley, the Atom at Wycoller, and the final one, now closed, in Blackburn's Corporation Park.

Singing Ringing Tree


I designed the series to work together, on the same paper, with the same colour combinations, to exploit the drama of the landscapes and explore the potential of composition and tones in these linocuts. Two designs are multi-plate: Halo and Singing Ringing Tree, whilst Atom is a reduction.

Below are the images showing the lino plates themselves, stages of the work and the build-up of the layers.

3 of the 4 plates of the Singing Ringing Tree

Printing Singing Ringing Tree layer 1 

Printing Singing Ringing Tree layer 2

Singing Ringing Tree - building up the image

Stages of the Atom

2 layers of the Atom 

In reduction linocut the plate is destroyed

Printing the penultimate colour of Aton

The Atom emerges 

Printing the final reduction layer

The finished edition by Carolyn Murphy

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

20:20 Print Exchange 2020

I love taking part in the 20:20 Print Exchange! It's that sense of community amongst printmakers in the UK and, increasingly, around the world. And the random nature of the selection you will receive - all sorts of techniques and images, some you love, some less so. And the exhibition goes on tour - for ages.

Of course, this year has been more challenging, so well done to Hot Bed Press for even managing to do the sort! I'm looking forward to receiving my box, in exchange for the edition of 25 'Towneley Hall' linocut prints I submitted. I decided on a new colour way of my 2-plate 'That Window' linocut - this time in copper and blue, specially for this year's print exchange. 

'Towneley Hall', my 20:20 linocut for 2020

Preparing the edition - colour 1

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

'That Window' at Towneley Hall

Printmakers from Alan Birch's Prospect Studio workshops were asked to create new work inspired by Towneley Hall in Burnley an exhibition called 'Impressions: A Printmaking Response to Towneley'.

The exhibition was due to open in April 2020, however the opening was delayed, like so many things in 2020, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The journey began for me in January 2020, when I visited Towneley Hall for the first time. It's set in stunning parklands and, even on a bitterly cold January day, the gardens were busy with local families out for a stroll. This window, in particular, caused much amusement with local children - and caught my interest as a result.

Towneley Hall in Burnley

The window - from inside

The window from outside at Towneley

Back at Prospect Studio, I worked up the image into a 2 plate linocut, which after a number of trials, I decided to print in gold and green.

This became my 'cheeky' submission to the 'Impressions' exhibition. 

'That Window' an original linocut by Carolyn Murphy

I visited the exhibition in September 2020 and loved the quality and quirkiness of the work from all the Prospect Printmakers who took part. I had the chance to view the exhibition in the next gallery, which included local watercolours by Turner. It was a fantastic day out, between phases of Covid-19 lockdown - and fantastic to see the exhibition and Hall so well supported by the whole community.

To learn more about my work, please check out my website www.carolynmurphy.co.uk where you'll find my gallery, online shop and links to my social media.