Page 1 All material Š Kay Fletcher 2012

In August 2010 I decided to mount an exhibition of my artwork. I thought this might be a good way of taking a look at what I had achieved in my visual work over the past 10 years, to consolidate my visual arts practice (and maybe see a way of moving it forward). It was also a confidence building exercise. I chose to use the free exhibition space available at Wolverhampton Central Library, which consists of two long glass fronted cabinets that span the width of the first floor landing. The library is a lovely early 20 th century building, and the cases occupy a wonderful position at the head of a spiralling marble staircase. They are the first thing you see as you mount the stairs to the first floor, and hundreds of people pass by this way every week. There are two cases which mirror each other in size and shape and I decided that I would group my work into my current and most recent work in the left case, while using the right hand case to provide a retrospective of the pen and ink work I had produced over a 10 year period, finishing with my most current piece at the far right corner of the right hand case. I replicated the size of the 2 cabinets in the back garden using string, and then arranged paper replicas of my artwork within these to gain an idea of how my artwork would fit into the cases.

I then sketched out which pieces would appear where in the cases, this helped me plan what complementary material I would place in the cases along with my artwork.

I took this template sketch along to the library and used it when hanging my pictures, it saved lots of time and apart from some very minor re-jigging everything fit exactly as I had planned into the cases.

I decided to complement my artwork with small photographic panels of natural form material which I store, partly for sentimental reasons and partly for inspiration, along with detail of work in progress. Within these panels I placed fragments of my poetry and a few brief statements about pen and ink technique. The cases were glazed so I decided to hang my work unframed as they required no further protection from the elements. I used Velcro on the reverse of the mounting board, which gripped the fabric lining of the cases excellently, only the largest piece required reinforcing with a few transparent headed drawing pins. I printed labels for each piece using an inkjet printer onto acetate and attached these directly to the mounts with clear sticky dots. Nothing fell down during the 3 weeks of the exhibition, I’m relieved to say! While I was planning my exhibition, I discovered that the pen nibs I use were manufactured in the West Midlands, where I live, and that there is a museum devoted to the history of the pen nib industry in Birmingham. I decided to complement my drawings of scenic and woodland settings with a small display about the history of steel nib manufacture. It was after visiting the Pen Room that I finally found the title for my exhibition; Ink & Steel. This seemed both descriptive and poetic as it expresses not only the physical materials but also the emotional and mental fortitude that I believe are required to pursue an artistic vocation.

Statement accompanying Ink & Steel – 21 November – 10 December 2011 I use a dip pen with Indian ink and occasionally experiment by introducing colour and other texture such as an acrylic gesso base, coloured pencil, watercolour and coloured acrylic inks, plus other materials. Indian ink is lightfast (extremely important if you are making drawings which you do not want to fade in daylight). It is made from a mixture of fine soot (lampblack) and water plus a binder such as shellac, which makes it waterproof and increases permanence. Although pen and ink is more often associated with smaller scale illustrational work, I have tried to challenge the medium physically by making my drawings increasingly large scale. I particularly enjoy the rare times I become completely lost in a drawing. Working in this intense way is hard on the eyes and I make use of a daylight lamp which is almost as good as daylight itself. Although I was born and have lived all my life in the Black Country, the natural, organic world has always meant a great deal to me, be it coastal spaces or a canopy of varied textures, colours and scents of the forest. As I live too far from my favourite subjects to work directly from life, I base my artwork instead on photographs which I take with a digital camera and print out using an inkjet printer. I take many photographs and print out just a few.

I sometimes draw directly from the computer screen, usually

compositional sketches rather than finished pieces. Trees are one of my favourite subjects, particularly trees which have been marked by graffiti, as this represents for me a kind of memento mori.

Kay Fletcher, November 2011

Corner of a Spring Garden Pen & Ink 14cm x 20.5cm 2005

Wood From The Trees Pen & Ink 35.5cm x 26.5cm 2009

Listen Mixed Media 41cm x 54cm 2011

Long Mossy Tree Pen & Ink 25cm x 51cm 2010

Noel, Alan, Daniel, Barbara, Debbie, Denise Pen & Ink 62cm x 71cm 2009

Untitled Pen & Ink 19.5cm x 54cm 2010

PW PW 2001 Pen & Ink 19cm x 47cm 2010

Blue Tree Pen & Ink, Coloured Pencil 24.5cm x 50.5cm 2011

Malvern Hills Pen & Ink 20.5cm x 14cm


St Helen’s Oratory, Cape Cornwall Pen & Ink 20.5cm x 14cm 2002

Rooftops at Polperro Pen & Ink 23.5 cm x 16 cm 2001/2

St Agnes, Cornwall Pen & Ink 15.5cm x 14cm 2002

Silver Birch Pen & Ink 26.5cm x 20.5cm 2005

Rainbow Tree Pen & Ink, Mixed Media 26cm x 35cm 2011

Knotty Pen & Ink 26cm x 34.5cm 2005

Near Shap Abbey Pen & Ink 30.5cm x 23.5cm 2009

Land’s End Pen & Ink

26.5cm x 12cm 2001/2

Garden Path, Dunster Pen & Ink 23.5cm x 30.5cm 2009

Garden Path, Hidcote Pen & Ink 17.5cm x 24.5cm 2005

Old Lifeboat Station, The Lizard Pen & Ink 19.5cm x 12cm 2000

Path to the Old Lighthouse Station, The Lizard Pen & Ink 18.5cm x 12cm 2001

Frou Frou Pen & Ink 28cm x 55cm 2011

Birmingham - The Pen Shop of the World If you peer very closely at the steel nib of a dip pen, you can make out the manufacturers’ names. The ones I use are mainly Joseph Gillott, Leonardt and Wm Mitchell’s, names which hint at the history of pen manufacturing which once centred around Birmingham and the Black Country. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century there were so many workshops producing pen nibs in Birmingham that the city became known as the Pen Shop of the World. One of the major figures in the Birmingham Pen industry was Joseph Gillott, whose likeness is housed at Birmingham Town Hall. This self-made man was born in Sheffield where he trained as a Cutler, moving to Birmingham in 1821. He married into the Mitchell family, who already made steel pens, and became a pioneer in the manufacture of machine cut steel pen nibs. One of his many innovations was the use of slits at the side of the central one this made the nib more flexible. In 1853 he moved to Graham Street where he developed the Victoria Works, one of the largest factories in Birmingham. By 1881 the company had offices in London and New York. Today he is honoured by a blue plaque on the Victoria Works building, which still stands in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. In 1969 Joseph Gillott’s company was purchased by British Pens Ltd, which still manufactures pens bearing his name today.

A fuller history of the Birmingham pen industry, plus a list of the main Birmingham based pen manufacturers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, can be found at – the on-line home of Birmingham’s Pen Room, the museum and learning centre of writing and pen trade memorabilia. The Pen Room is crammed with pen memorabilia and other related material, plus a library of archival resources. It is based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, in a historical building which was once a pen workshop (WE Wiley & Co). The staff are knowledgeable and friendly and there is a short film about the women who worked in the factories punching the nibs out of the sheet metal and transforming them into nibs. You can have a go at doing this yourself on some of the original machinery at the museum. A guide will take you through the various processes of production, so you can see the hard work and physical energy that went into the surprisingly complicated process of producing one of these lovely old nibs.

Sources The Pen Makers of Birmingham 1818 – 2011 by Robert Stanyard

Resume As well as exhibiting artwork in a number of open exhibitions I have published fiction and poetry in both the Independent and mainstream press, including Tindal Street Press’s 2002 Birmingham Noir anthology. In 2001 I was awarded a Creative Ambitions Award from West Midlands Arts for exploration and development of a short piece of hypertext fiction.

Exhibitions 2012

Waterside Open 2012 – Waterside Arts Centre, Sale


Open All Media - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Ink & Steel - Solo Show - Wolverhampton Central Library Society of Women Artists - Centenary Open Exhibition, The Mall Gallery, London Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists 9th Grosvenor Open Exhibition - The Grosvenor Museum , Chester Open All Media - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists


Wolverhampton Open - White Tree Gallery, Wolverhampton Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Worcester Open - Pitt Studio, Worcester West Midlands Open - Gas Hall, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Waterside Open 2010 - Waterside Arts Centre, Sale


Open All Media - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists 16th Patchings Art, Craft and Design Festival - Patchings Art Centre, Nottinghamshire


Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists


Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists


Society of Graphic Fine Art 84th Annual Exhibition - London Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists


Prize Exhibition - Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Mid Art Exhibition - Himley Hall, Dudley


The Grove Open Exhibition – Malvern


Stourbridge Library - One half of a two person show


Dryden Gallery, Covent Garden, London - One half of a two person show Wednesbury Art Gallery - One half of a two person show Yardley Library - One half of a two person show


Portrait of Buddy Holly (2nd Prize) - The Hamilton Gallery, London Tipton Rotary Club - Three prizes for Pen & Ink drawings

B. A. (Hons) Graphic Design

End Piece Wolverhampton Central Library was designed by Henry T Hare and opened to the public in February 1902. It was one of the 2,509 libraries (including Tipton Library, now Tipton Heritage Centre) built in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean and Fiji, funded by the Scottish born self-made millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who also built the Carnegie Hall. Despite being in constant daily use, Wolverhampton Central Library is a survivor from a time when public buildings were intended to be beautiful places to inhabit, not just a utilitarian resource. I have used public libraries all my life, joining my first library as a child (Great Bridge). Making trips on my own to the library was my first taste of independence as a child. Over the years I have gone to various libraries as recreation, for education, as a haven from personal problems, to work, to seek purpose, to get out of the rain, to meet up with friends, to improve my skills, to job seek, to be alone and yet amongst people and amongst all the knowledge that the materials within each library contains. I burrowed into books about the Beatles and my hero, John Lennon, at Great Bridge Library. I learned to use the Internet at Dudley Central Library. I have acquired much inspiration within libraries and have felt comfortable there. You can buy a coffee in most towns nowadays, but quiet and the space to think without being hassled or sold anything is unique. Libraries are a mark of a civilised society. Long may we stay civilised.

Sources/For more information visit:

All material Š Kay Fletcher 2012

Ink & Steel  

Booklet recording an exhibition I mounted of my artwork in 2011.

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