Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Always searching for sources of income which won’t require me to do things I hate doing, I started sending ideas to relevant magazines. One of them, Canvas (now defunct) accepted my proposal to write and illustrate a series called Experiments in Seeing. They published this series and others I sent from 1968 to 1970.

I then decided to expand the theme into a book and sent an outline to various publishers. It was accepted by Batsford and published in 1973 as Designing with Natural Forms
I didn’t like this title, preferring Experiments in Seeing (because that’s what it was) but I had no say in the matter. Didn’t have much say about remuneration either: sitting in the office of the head of Batsford, an old school English gentleman, I politely pointed out that the royalties offered to me in the contract were beyond ridiculous in view of all the work I was doing. He laughed in jolly English gentlemanly fashion and said that having my name on the book should be reward enough…ha ha! But he did, very slightly, increase the percentage of royalties to be paid to me. 

The premise of this book is an experiment: to take a few familiar subjects and look at them as if you'd never seen them before, allowing ideas to arise spontaneously from this concentrated but ‘innocent’ way of seeing. I didn’t want to know in advance what the results would be and they surprised me. Designing with Natural Forms got great reviews and, like An Artist's Workbook, made no money. The truth is that money and I have never had a close relationship. We don’t understand each other, don’t speak the same language, don’t iike each other, and that’s that.


Water was the first topic I chose to focus on. I filled a dish with water and asked Ted to take photos of the patterns made by the waves when I shook the dish. A lot of unexpected ideas arose from this. You'll have to get the book in order to see how this and the other experiments arose and progressed.

Monday, February 18, 2019


My adventures in publishing have wandered along two different roads. For the benefit of anyone who might find it useful, herewith a resumé in answer to the question: how was it for you? The future is yet to come and I’m hoping for an interesting sequel.

1. BEING PUBLISHED (by those whose business it is to publish)
2. SELF-PUBLISHED (doing it myself, willingly or reluctantly)
Under the above headings are sub-headings which I’ll elaborate on in due course.

I was part-time teaching a multi-media class to adults at Camden Arts Centre when the publishers Studio Vista got in touch and asked if I’d be interested to do a book on collage for their How-To-Do It series. Naturally I said yes! Then I thought: h’m, I don’t really use collage that much but I can certainly write about it. I asked Jack Yates, a colleague who worked mainly with collage, whether he’d like to collaborate and do some of the How-to examples. Of course he said yes. We signed a contract with Studio Vista and the little book did well - there were Dutch and Swedish editions and it was also published in the U.S. by Watson Guptill.

With one foot in the door of mainstream publishing I felt encouraged to gather the notes I always kept about my work and when teaching. I came up with the idea for a book to be called An Artist’s Workbook and sent an outline to David Herbert, then head of Studio Vista. He was enthusiastic. I signed a contract and was paid an advance (about £500) which seemed astonishing - this was 1968 and I was just about managing to pay my bedsitting room rent. I needed many photographs which were taken by an excellent photographer, my friend Ted Sebley. Studio Vista published the book in 1969 and it was taken up in the U.S. by Van Nostrand Reinhold. It had great reviews in the educational press.

Quote from the Foreword by Maurice de Sausmarez to An Artist’s Workbook:

“Natalie d’Arbeloff clearly defines the nature of a workbook as a personal inventory of formal ideas, and she is well aware that it has its ultimate justification only in the development of works specifically related to the individual creative talent and temperament. It is, at one and the same time, a means of study and a spur to creative thinking.”  May 1969

An Artist’s Workbook went out of print years ago but second hand copies are still available via Amazon etc. I’d love to find a publisher who would bring out a new edition (rights have reverted to me).
Here is a link to Amazon page where you can find secondhand copies of some of my books. Ignore the "unavailable" under Old Stile Press publications: not true! they are available from OSP. The artists' books on that list are not mainstream published and don't belong there. More on this later.


Friday, February 08, 2019


Announcing the longlist for the LDC Award 2019!

Congratulations to Lilith Ai, Natalie d'Arbeloff, Camille Aubry, Niki Banados, Alice Clarke, Maria Flower, Jennifer Gloster, Caroline Grebbell, Sophia Luu Amelie Persson, Edith Pritchett, Irina Richards, Teresa Robertson, Jeeti Singh, Zara Slattery, Myfanwy Tristram and Anja Uhren!

My name's on the longlist! Shortlist to be announced later this month and winners TBA at the end of March.  The brief was to submit just 12 pages of a graphic novel-in-progress which will eventually be at least 200 pages. 

So that's what I sent, Double Entendre, the graphic novel I've  been working on sporadically for quite a while.  It's still got a long way to go but would certainly benefit from a boost of encouragement such as this.

 Mine is on the second row, first on the left. These are not the final books (obviously, since the Award is for work in progress) and only contain the few sample pages submitted to the judges.

Below is my temporary cover. It will probably change before the book is finished. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019


So, backstage at the Village Gate in 1977, I present this idea to Dizzy Gillespie: would he like to play Fungus, an old actor stuck in a sewer with his equally old understudy, Curmudgeonly, reciting mis-remembered lines from Shakespearean plays he once performed badly? I hand Dizzy the script of Fungus and Curmudgeonly by my friend and colleague Simon Meyerson. I explain that the play was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 and then at the Macbeth Room of the Shakespeare Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. We’re hoping to bring it to London and Simon thinks that Dizzy would be terrific in the lead - how about it? 

Does Dizzzy ask me to leave his dressing room at once? No, he does not. He twinkles and says he’ll read the script and talk to his agent. Eventually we do meet up with Dizzy at Ronnie Scott’s in London and he’s twinkly and good-natured as before but, I forget exactly why, Dizzy and Fungus never got together. The play is a comic and sad fugue on the theme of self-delusion, vanity and loyalty. The sound of applause is heard throughout: it is rushing water in the sewer.

What did happen was that at some point I decided to turn Simon’s play into a livre d’artiste, an undertaking which took nearly two years. Veteran actors Charles Turner and Jack LeWhite agreed to do a reading which was recorded and copied onto cassette tapes to fit into the binding I designed. A special copy was commissioned by the collector/critic Colin Franklin and other copies from the limited edition ended up in various public collections. Herewith some photos to animate this saga.
Details of the book are at this link:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Three photos of the dressing room backstage at the Village Gate in New York City 1977. Dizzy Gillespie and a friend are rehearsing, I am there too. Why? Because I've come to ask Dizzy if he wants to take the lead role in a play I'm involved in the production of.

There's another photo of me and Dizzy at that same moment but, damn damn damn, I can't find it! Next post I'll elaborate.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


Click on the above link to see details and images from this book.

The most recent collaboration with the Old Stile Press happened like this: on my friend poet Dick Jones’ blog, I read his translation of Blaise Cendrars famous 1913 poem Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France. I knew and loved the poem in French and had read a few of the other translations but I thought Dick’s version was exceptional, really capturing the meandering maverick’s style and energy. 

I immediately wanted to illustrate it and felt that it would be a project that Nicolas and Frances would be interested in. Indeed they were, and over the course of nearly two years, Blaise Cendrars’ words translated by Dick Jones, interpreted by me in 43 relief blocks, became an Old Stile Press book, designed, set and hand-printed by Nicolas, publicised and distributed by Frances, approved and prefaced by Miriam Cendrars, Blaise’s daughter and a formidable talent in her own right.

To launch this publication in 2015 Dick and I prepared an audio-visual presentation which was held at the London Review Bookshop. I made a video with the illustrations, timed to fit with a live reading of the poem by Dick, accompanied on the guitar by Doug McGowan. There was an enthusiastic response to this ‘performance’ and we’re hoping to do it again somewhere - all invitations considered!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


In Italian "I love you" is ti voglio bene. Literally translated this is "I want good for you". The familiar phrase, considered literally, presents an interesting and less familiar viewpoint. Not sentimental or romantic but a simple declaration of intent with no strings attached: "I am willing you goodness."

Benevolence combines bene and volere or volonta. As I see it BENEVOLENCE is the one essential quality which any human institution must have, whether it deals with matters religious, philosophical, political. financial, educational, social, scientific, technological etcetera.

Yes yes I know. I'm indulging in pie-in-sky utopian woolly snowflaky thinking. You're asking: who decides what The Good is? Every totalitarian regime - political, religious, whatever - is always absolutely sure they know what The Good is and they're going to give it to you whether you like it or not. Okay, I admit this is a problem. A big problem. So how about this:

What if criteria for Benevolence are defined and agreed upon by means of, I don't know, a worldwide vote or something? A Declaration of Benevolence. Then any organisation (including governments) no matter how big, powerful, influential, must prove that their actions are genuinely benevolent - ie that they can demonstrate Ti voglio bene to all. If they can't prove it they're out. Finito. End of.

Am I voted world leader? Never mind, didn't want the job anyway.

Monday, January 21, 2019


I know this is too long a post but what the hell - if interested you'll read it all, if not you won't. No problema!

My next collaboration with the Old Stile Press took off in 2010 when Nicolas McDowall saw a suite of old (1950s) ink drawings I had posted on my blog. He was enthused and, of course, I was super-enthused when he said: let’s do a book with these. What I wrote in that post became part of the Afterword in the Old Stile Press book Scenes from the Life of Jesus published in 2011. 

I was an art student in New York City when I dipped a brush in Indian ink and these drawings emerged in quick succession. What I remember most clearly about that period is a sense of freedom and excitement. Abstract Expressionism was in the air and I was for a while studying with Jack Tworkov, one of its leading practitioners, in his studio next door to De Kooning. I’m not sure if these painters’intense commitment to the spontaneous gesture was an influence but I did show my set of drawings to Tworkov and was very proud when he praised them unconditionally (he wasn’t the type to praise anything unconditionally) even though the subject matter was not the sort of thing which would appeal to anyone in that bohemian milieu.

I should explain where I stand in relation to the G-word (God) and the R-word (Religion). I believe in the mystery that is G. I don’t believe the human mind is equipped to define G.
I don’t trust any of the definitions/explanations for or against G that are given by religions, theologies, mythologies, psychologies, occult theories etc. Why should I trust them? All human thinking, including mine of course, is fallible and influenced by all the agendas that we are heir to. When an individual or whole armies of individuals, commit atrocious actions in the belief that “God told us to do it” it is proof of the twisted turns the human brain can take. It doesn't disprove or prove the reality of the G mystery.

Do I think that the G mystery is real because, as many disbelievers insist, I need a crutch to lean on, a tranquiliser against the fear of death? Is it because I’ve been brainwashed? None of those apply. The G mystery is real to me as presence, rather than belief. I have no need to prove it. It's enough for me to play with it, in art or comics or writing. It's inspiration.

Below are only a few of the images. In the book, short lines of text face each drawing.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


I met Frances and Nicolas McDowall many times over the years at book fairs where the Old Stile Press would have a regular stand, richly stocked with their many publications. I occasionally took a small stand at specialised fairs to show a few of my livres d’artiste and though the OSP is a proper publishing/fine printing Press and what I do is entirely different, we admired each other’s work and ethos and became good friends.

Some time in the 1990s Nicolas asked if there was a text I’d be inspired to illustrate which could become a new OSP limited edition book. I don’t remember whether I thought long and hard about this or whether the Book of Revelation shot up out of the blue like a whale but that’s what I chose and Nicolas agreed it would be an exciting project. 
This famous Biblical text has always seemed hypnotic to me, pulling you into the vision which is sweeping John’s mind like a tsunami. I wanted to portray the sense of headlong rushing words and images and decided to make collages out of the whole text, cut up and overlapping, with black line drawings over the top. My images were made into polymer relief blocks and hand-printed by Nicolas in black. There was no need for typesetting since the collaged text is incorporated with the images.

The Revelation of Saint John the Divine, visually interpreted by NdA, was published in a limited edition of 150 copies in 1999. A few copies are still available at £295 from the Old Stile Press - an incredibly low price for, if I say so myself, a stunning production: 38 original prints in a beautiful triptych binding.

click on the thumbnails in the link below to enlarge the images


Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Dream and Variations (1988) is another one-of-a-kind bookwork. It is happily at home in the collection of Frances and Nicolas McDowall who are, besides being their inimitable individual selves, also the legendary Old Stile Press (that's 'stile' not 'style'). I'm proud to be one of the many artists who have been privileged to work with them. My next post will feature three books we collaborated on.

The process of making Dream and Variations involved drawing then cutting all the shapes out of thin card, inking each one with oil-based pigments, then printing them one at a time in multiple layers on black paper. If it sounds complicated that's because it is. I love this sort of complexity because it's fun and allows for a great deal of improvisation. The folio is held in a fabric bag which I asked Blanche, my mother, to embroider -another bit of un-planned improvisation which added to the total effect.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Not many people know this. But not many people know about artists' books and even if they do, not so many people know that they can go to public institutions, museums, university and other libraries who have such things in their collections and ASK TO SEE THEM!

If you're a fan of contemporary art, you can see, up close, examples from the hand of super-famous artists like Matisse - his magnificent livre d'artiste Jazz for instance, a copy of which is the Victoria & Albert Museum Library - and also from not-so-famous ones like, ahem, me. By the way, the V&A Library has quite a few bookworks of mine and gave me an exhibition in 1990.

Public collections are exactly that: open to the public. They may have different rules for accessing items, but nothing off-putting. The brilliant British Library in London, for example, asks that you register for a reader's card if you want to consult the Library - not a problem! Go and check out work of mine (quite a lot of it) in their collections, including recent acquisitions described at that link.

Monday, January 14, 2019


Still some air left in the trumpet so here's something more or less completely different. I'd Rather Be a Masochist Than An Analyst. 1988. One-of-a-kind bookwork.

If you're a visual artist, what's your reply if someone asks you to describe your style? I have as much trouble answering that question as I've had with saying what my age is. The truthful reply to both questions is: it varies.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


You might not see my Quantum Leap as a book and I wouldn't blame you. Art objects in the genre Artists’ Books can have all kinds of odd characteristics which make them unsuitable for bookshelves. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has categories such as livre d'artiste, livre-objet, livre de peintre etc. to describe the variety of artist-made book-like things which grace their special collections. These un-bookish expensive artefacts are stored away, unless visitors specifically ask to see them, because if they were constantly handled they would gradually disintegrate. So, of course, would paintings, drawings, sculpture etc. in museums if they were daily caressed by the crowds.

If they consider the definition of ‘book’ to mean what it familiarly does, some people see the price of certain artists’ books as exorbitant. The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. bought my one-of-a-kind Quantum Leap for $5000 in 1990. Some people would say “They paid that for a book?” Yet if it was not classed as 'book' but simply as 'art' then the price would seem to them normal, or even low. Perception, context!

As a painter/printmaker/writer/builder the artist’s book genre was a way to bring together my interests and skills so I started NdA Press in 1974. It’s a 'press' only in the loosest sense and an etching press is my only printing equipment. Visual content is my principal focus. The bookworks I’ve made are either very small editions or consist of just one copy. Text is usually brief and my own but occasionally by others.

Saturday, January 12, 2019


Trumpeting for today. Another artist's book: Mozart, Matisse, Blanche et Moi. Drypoints, 32 pages.
Below are a couple of the images.

Drypoint is an intaglio printmaking technique. The difference between a drypoint, an engraving and an etching (all three of which are intaglio) is that lines drawn on a metal plate with a drypoint needle don't break the surface very deeply. The tool cuts a rather jagged furrow which, when filled with oily printing ink, produces a furry, shadowy line. An engraving is drawn with a much harder, chisel-like tool (burin) which cuts a deep groove in the metal. When inked and printed, engraved lines have a sharp, precise look. Etching, which relies on acid biting unprotected areas of a metal plate, can achieve a wide variety of effects in line and tone according to the length of time in the acid bath and other factors.


Okay, trumpet blowing in the wind. For a start, I'll post a daily selection of some of my artist's books.
 Here's For A Song seven poems and etchings.