A Different Perspective

This week, the theme for the Creative Challenge at Slamseys Journal has been “A different perspective” so I’ve spent the week trying to look at things differently.

taking out the empties

When your daughter buys gin in 1000 litre IBCs, taking out the empties takes on a different perspective.

field beans


This field of beans looks quite different when viewed from the ground, instead of looking across the field. Not quite Jack and the Beanstalk.


Sketches from a different perspective

Sketching on a small scale, looking at detail and trying zentangle.

Lino print green background with white flowers in front of blue wall and stack of books


I’ve tried a different way of printing. Instead of my random jelly printing, I’ve been lino printing. In my head I can execute a beautiful print, but my planning is poor and I fudge lines when I draw the design onto the lino, somehow thinking that I can work it out as I go. Believe me, it doesn’t work. At least, not at novice level. This time I was determined to do it properly. I sketched, transferred the print to the lino and even painted in the sections to be cut out. Sadly, my cutting didn’t quite tally with the lines and I discarded the lino. I made another attempt but realised that my design was just too fiddly. I quickly drew a simple design freehand onto a new lino block, cut it out and made some prints. It’s very simple, but it works.

embellished jelly print

And then I embellished some jelly prints, which I wouldn’t normally do. I don’t love the technique but it’s good to try something different. I found the easiest way is to photo the print with my ipad and then use a paint program to draw in the details. That way, when I make a hash of it I still have my original print.

Try the Slamseys Creative Challenge! I say challenge, but that’s a very loose description as it’s just some ideas for being a bit creative over the summer (or winter depending on where you live). Read about the challenge at Slamseys Journal.

the last blackberries

It’s been a good year for blackberries here at Slamseys Farm. Each year I follow the ripening of the bushes around the fields, starting in early August with the first small bush in Great Forest Field to the last weeks of September when I walk to the far end of the farm to the thicket in the corner of Gardeners Field to pick the dark, purple coloured berries.

According to British folklore, Old Michaelmas Day on 10th October is the last day that blackberries should be picked as that’s the day the devil spits on them. Whether you believe that or not, by now the blackberries are coming to an end and although there are still plenty of unripe berries, many of the ripe berries are too soft to pick.

As a consequence, we’ve been making the most of the last blackberries. Beth only picks blackberries for her gin when they’re at their best, which means that anything I pick in October is for me!

blackberry vinegar 2015

As well as a last flurry of making blackberry puddings and cakes, the pantry is now stocked with bottles of Blackberry Vinegar. I add a dash of Blackberry Vinegar to gravy when it needs a bit of a buck up, slosh a little over roasted vegetables for the last five minutes of cooking to make a glaze or use it in salad dressings. Diluted with soda water, Blackberry Vinegar makes a surprisingly refreshing long drink, being less sweet and cloying than some cordials. In winter I dilute Blackberry Vinegar with an equal measure of boiling water and drink it when I have a sore throat when the rasp of the vinegar on the back of my throat seems to override the pain. Strangely, the rest of the family prefer medicated throat lozenges instead.

blackberry dyed wool

Another batch of blackberries went into the dyepot with the berries simmered in water for an hour and then left to stand overnight. Next day the blackberries were strained out leaving a gorgeous deep purple liquid to which I added alum mordanted wool and simmered for 50 minutes, resulting in a dusky plum coloured yarn. Interestingly (well, I think it’s interesting) I put one hank of yarn into a jar with a little of the dye and added wood ash water (read how to make it here ) and the wool changed to a green brown colour. I don’t think these wools will be very light fast, so it will be interesting to see what colours they fade to.

cotton dyed with blackberries

There were a few blackberries left over so I used them to do some bundle dyeing. I’m not a great fan of bundle dyeing as I usually get a rather grungy looking result so I tried using only blackberries on this sample. I spread the blackberries on the cloth, folded and rolled it up tightly and then wrapped it in cling film and hung it above the simmering dye pot (as I extracted the dye from the blackberries above). I left it overnight and then unwrapped it.

bundle dyeing brambles

In this sample I also used leaves and coins, which makes an interesting pattern, though I prefer the pure blackberry sample.

blackberry vinegar recipe

Last of all, I couldn’t resist a little jelly printing with the leaves. Ruth and I are thinking of running a Blackberry Day in The Barley Barn next September, incorporating some or all of these processes, which might be fun. I think we shall have to include a taste of Slamseys Blackberry Gin somehow. Perhaps we could finish with a Blackberry Cocktail. I must start working on that one now.

something to hold

Do you worry that everything is digital nowadays and wonder if future generations will have something to hold in their hands that we touched? Everything seems to be on-screen now. Handwritten letters are rare, postcards almost non-existent and official documents are filed online.

When Bill went travelling he diligently wrote a letter to his parents once a month or thereabouts, all of which his mother kept to hand back to him when he arrived home and occasionally he flicks through them and revives a distant memory. Now, our children update us from far flung places by Facebook, which is instant but fleeting and will doubtless float off in the ether, lost to us all. Photos are stored on computers that crash or on free cloud storage with no guarantee of permanency and I have a pile of cine film, VHS tapes, cassette tapes and floppy disks loaded with memories but now unreadable.

I was pondering all this as I replaced some of the way mark discs (for the public footpaths and bridleways) around the farm that have faded or mysteriously disappeared.  I went past the flowering violets, primroses and cowslips and lichen on bare branches along a track that has been walked for hundreds of years and wondered how many people had walked along and noticed the same things, watched the seasons roll past and trees grow from tiny acorns to spreading oak trees. Almost imperceptible daily changes that we take for granted and yet add up to massive change over the years. So, of course we don’t mark or record it and the memory of how it used to be disappears.

making jelly prints

On the way I stuffed a few bits and pieces in my pockets – leaves, feathers and flowers (though I ate the violets) and used them to make jelly prints that I folded into little books as a permanent memory.

One of them is a snake book, which unfolds rather like a walk and the other has pockets in which to tuck collected things or perhaps photographs (if I get them printed) and an unfolding narrative of the walk in the back.

An evening spent in frivolous creativeness. Because sometimes it’s good to have something to hold. A reminder of how it is today, because it’s bound to change in the future. Though obviously only for me because my children will almost certainly throw them out, which I completely understand (I would do the same).

How do you store your experiences and memories for future generations? Does it really matter?


jelly printing envelopes

jelly printing with a gelatine plate

jelly printing for beginners

Even though it was purely the name that drew me in  (because I love jelly)  jelly printing has proved to be tremendous fun. Jelly Printing is a bit random; there’s no guarantee that when you lift the paper you’ll get exactly the print you were expecting. Over time the Gelatine Printing Plate changes too, which means that even if you did exactly the same for every single print, you’d still get variety. I get pretty easily bored by repetition, so it suits me fine. In The Barley Barn, Ruth and I have been teaching people how to make simple Jelly Prints like the one above, though Ruth has renamed it “Printing without a Press” to make it sound a little more adult like and serious. The truth is that Jelly Printing is a wonderfully easy printing method for any age.

If, in the spirit of home-spun creativeness or half-term entertainment, you fancy having a go at making some simple jelly prints using plants or feathers, then read on.

Firstly, you need to make your Gelatine Printing Plate. I suggest you start off with A5 size as it doesn’t take too much gelatine and it’s an easy size to work with. There are recipes all over the internet for making your own plate; some are made simply with gelatine and water, others include sugar, alcohol, glycerine or vinegar. I make my plates with powdered gelatine, water and glycerine using this recipe, which simply involves a bit of stirring and then pouring into a mould.

Once you’ve made your Gelatine Plate, you’re ready to print.

You will need:

  • A gelatine plate
  • A flat surface for your Gelatine Plate – a chopping mat, Perspex sheet, plastic tray, smooth glass shelf from a defunct fridge or Formica type worktop work well
  • A palette for your inks – again a chopping mat etc will do the job
  • A brayer (roller) – the sort used for lino printing
  • Water based printing Ink or Acrylic Paint
  • Flowers, leaves, grasses, feathers … avoid thick woody plants or anything with sharp thorns that will make holes in your Gelatine Plate
  • Paper, card or sticky labels

Get ready:

Gently ease your Gelatine Plate out of its mould and carefully plop it onto the board.

Squeeze a little ink (about a teaspoonful) or paint onto your palette and roll your brayer back and forth to coat the roller. If your ink seems very sticky, spritz over a little water to thin it.

Roll a thin layer of ink onto your gelatine plate. Don’t worry too much about getting a completely even coating as a little unevenness and texture can add interest to the finished print (I’m no perfectionist and can always find a creative excuse for being slapdash).

Lay down your plants on the gelatine plate, with the most textured side face down in the ink. Cover with a piece of paper and firmly smooth over with your hand, making sure you follow the contours of the plant and reach right into the corners of the paper. Remember that if the paper doesn’t come in contact with the gelatine plate then it won’t get any ink on it.

Pull your print:

Now, carefully peel back the paper and you have a silhouette print of your plant.

If you’ve laid down too thick a layer of ink you might want to take another silhouette print; it won’t be as dark as the first, but it will lift off any residual ink.

Lift the plants and feathers from the Gelatine Plate using your fingers or tweezers, which will leave a clear inked image on the gelatine plate. Take a clean sheet of paper and lay onto the Gelatine Plate, smooth it down with your hands and then peel it off. You should now have a wonderfully detailed print of your plant.

jelly printing labels - detailed prints

Try printing with different colours, layering one print on top of another. Print onto cheap newsprint, expensive art paper, pages torn from books, sticky labels, card or copier paper and make envelopes, gift tags and bookmarks. Tear up prints and make collages, use the prints for scrapbooking or art journals. Or just frame your amazing prints and admire them. The labels above are detailed prints and the envelope below is made from a silhouette print with blue ink overlaid with a silhouette print with yellow ink on photocopier paper.

jelly printing envelopes

Believe me, this is just the beginning. Have fun.

There’s a few ideas for Jelly Prints here on the Slamseys Art Pinterest board.


the edible hedge in September

autumn fruits

In September, the edible hedge and all the other hedges around the fields are filled with berries and fruits. It is certainly one of the best months of all for foraging. The blackberries are in their prime just now, the rosehips and hawthorn berries are ripe, wild pears and crab apples are ready to use and the sloes are almost soft enough to pick.

edible hedge jelly print

Even the foliage can be used for jelly printing.

Mostly though, I’ve been picking blackberries. They’ll only be usable for another couple of weeks so I’m making the most of them. We’ve finished picking blackberries for Slamseys Gin, so now I can just wander along the hedgerow with a couple of containers, picking as I please. We eat them fresh and unadorned by the handful, mix them with autumn fruiting raspberries or throw them in a saucepan with a sprinkling of sugar and heat them long enough for the juices to run but not so long that they cook and fall apart. A dash of Blackberry Gin is added sometimes or a little cream. We’ve feasted on Blackberry Ice Cream, Blackberry Fool, cocktails with Blackberry Gin, a Blackberry Slice (from The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook) that’s like a Bakewell Tart made with a meltingly soft shortbread base, used them for Uncooked Porridge (sometimes in a jar and sometimes not)  and there are a few jars of Blackberry & Crab Apple Jelly (always preferable to jam with its pesky blackberry pips) lined up on the pantry shelf ready to spread on warm scones and pancakes on dark winter evenings.

My favourite preserve though is Bramble Spread. A delicious, utterly blackberry intense spread. Not solid and sliceable like a Quince Cheese, but half way between a butter and a cheese; more concentrated than jam and jelly because it’s little more than a sweet puree. Glorious on toast or scones. There’s no faffing around with jam thermometers or testing for set, no worrying whether I’ve made a super firm set jam that can be prised from the jar in one rubbery mass or whether I didn’t boil it for long enough and have a sauce to pour straight from the jar. Even if the Bramble Spread sets too firmly, I just call it Bramble Cheese and slice it to eat with cold meat or cheese.

To make Bramble Spread

800 g blackberries
800 g sugar

In a large pan, slowly heat the blackberries with 300 grammes of sugar and 120 ml of cold water and gently cook until the berries are soft.

Push through a sieve to get rid of the pips, then put the juice and pulp back in the (clean) pan with the remaining 500 grammes of sugar.

Over a low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer (not rapidly boil) for 20 minutes, still stirring.

Pour into ramekins or small jars, cover and label. Best eaten after two or three months during which time it will thicken a little more.