The Lewis Chessmen

I recently started a new lino carving project that I am hoping to finish soon - carving the Lewis Chessmen. I have chatted to my Patrons about wanting to incorporate my interest in history and folklore into my artwork more, and this is my first project that does just that.

A bit of history - The Lewis Chessmen are a collection of chess pieces discovered on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, found burried on a beach in 1831. It was quite a big hoard, with 93 pieces in total from chess sets and several other games.They are thought to be from the 12th - 13th century and are made from walrus ivory and sperm whale tooth, and were likely from Norway, although no one is certain. It is unknown who owned them, who made them, who burried them on a beach or why they were burried. You can go and see the chess pieces in both the National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum (which I plan to visit later their year for their Stone Henge Exhibition).

I was drawn to carving these chessmen because I loved their silly little faces, and I thought the style would suit lino carving well. I started by doing some rough sketches of the pieces in my sketchbook. I sketch digitally so often now, I found this a little challenging, but got there in the end.

I then photographed my sketches and moved them over to procreate to refine each one and neaten them up until I was happy. Focusing on line weight that would suit lino cutting, and adding a border to frame each piece.
I then transfered these images to lino ready to carve. Each carving took me around 2 hours to do, and I enjoyed keeping them fairly simple and naive.


Once carved, I decided to print these onto a slightly off white, handmade washi paper that has a slightly aged look and feel to it. I thought this would suit the subject matter well. I am really pleased with how the finished prints have turned out! I plan to launch these in my next shop update, which will be some time towards the end of February. Eventually I want to have, maybe not a whole set, but a bigger collection of the pieces. I would love to produce a zine with my carvings and a bit of history included.

A fun fact about the Chessmen - replicas of the pieces were used in the first Harry Potter film. There is a scene where Harry and Ron are playing Wizards Chess in the Great Hall, as Hermione is leaving to go some for the holidays - and the chess set they are playing with is a replica of this very one!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and the little history lesson included - look out for the prints landing in my shop very soon! If you'd like to receive emails about the shop update and future blog posts, you can sign up to my newsletter here.