Normally I am pretty good about deadlines, but I have to confess that I have well and truly missed the one concerning this blog. I’ve been asked by fellow artist Dean to contribute to the Art around the World blog series and I’m delighted to answer the four questions asked of all the contributing artists. I’m less delighted with my very late delivery, but better late than never – sorry Dean…
What am I working on at the moment?
As always, I feel I work best when I am well outside my comfort zone and am currently collaborating with good friend Ian Phillips to produce a joint print of Cheddar Gorge. Just teetering on the edge of the cliffs drawing was honestly enough excitement for me, but we are attempting an ambitious mix and match with my Japanese water based woodblock creating a dreamy backcloth for Ian’s bold linocut foreground. As you can see from my working sketch, the Gorge offers plenty of great shapes and contrast for a printmaker; we just have to stitch it into a well aligned and cohesive edition of prints. You can watch us both at work on this collaborative print during our show and residency at RK Burt Gallery in London during May.
How does my work differ from others in my genre?
I work with reduction (all colour layers cut from one piece of lino) for my linocuts. In linocut my work is perhaps a little different in that I like to ‘free paint’ with small rollers and a mix of colours while printing. This allows me a very free approach and results in an edition of prints which, while they all share identical cut marks, are unique artworks in themselves. I also like white space and don’t necessarily abide by a regular edge to my work. I do try and be disciplined about using these techniques though; it is easy to fall into using them as a gimmick or trade mark. There has to be a good reason for my approach to each print and by no means all my linocuts are free painted or use white space. This print of ‘Barrow Beach after the Rainstorm’ uses both techniques.
Japanese woodblock is a rare technique in the UK which probably sets me apart from many relief printers. I am extraordinarily lucky to have trained with master craftsmen, as opposed to artists, in Japan. I had a classical grounding in traditional water based woodblock and a very sober lesson in the difference between an artist printmaker like me and the decades of experience a master carver and master printer amass as they specialise in one aspect of woodblock. What I cannot hope to achieve in technical skills I attempt to balance by my freedom to play and experiment. I try to create the feel of the English landscape with the sensibility of traditional Japanese prints. My approach is a very traditional one amongst the more conceptual prints made by many contemporary Japanese woodblock artists.
Why do I create what I do?
Probably because there is nothing else I know that gives me the fierce joy I feel in creating a print and then the heady delight of selling it. There’s a persistent tension between what I want to create and the technical challenge of the process. The constant need to learn, adapt, progress, deliver and sell is very addictive. I came to a realisation a while ago that what I really want as self employed independent artist is to earn enough money to be able to keep learning and trying new things. Heating in the winter is good too of course and plenty of my time involves running the business rather than working in my studio, but for me it’s the combination of business and art that’s essential. If I didn’t sell, I wouldn’t print.
How does my creative process work?
I tend to set myself a brief (unless I am working for a client) and establish ground rules for my work. I find this focuses my mind and throws up new challenges and ideas. For example I have a solo show in September and I am working on a series of prints in the Japanese Oban format. Oban prints are portrait shaped rather than landscape and that is a tough layout for me as my landscape prints are nearly always wide and shallow. I have also chosen to create a series of views of Buckinghamshire and, with my business head on, that means local landmarks and character, but images which appeal to locals and non-locals alike.
Once I have the brief, I go out drawing and photographing. The real designing comes in the studio where I stitch my sketches into the landscape for my print. While I very rarely use photographs in the designing process, I use them all the time as a visual memory jog for individual things: the shape of a tree or a hill maybe. I certainly get more information out of a rough sketch than I ever will a photo and working from photos alone never works for me as that tends to result in a ‘dead’ image. Most of the time I’m trying to find the essential shapes that make objects identifiable so that I can pare them down to be as simple as possible, but still recognisable. You can see this in the teazles and trees in my ‘Chiltern Seasons: Summer’. While I work with landscape, my real interest is in shape and colour – reality will always come second to a strong composition.
After the designing stage comes the printing and that I make up as I go along (though I do thorough research and experiment with papers and pigments so that I have a fair idea of what will and won’t work or is suitable for the print I’m editioning). I never plan colour in detail or number of layers of printing. For me, the printing has to develop with one colour bouncing to the next and as many layers as I feel I need. That way my work feels fresher and more edgy as well as giving me a better result.
The final part of Art Around the World blog is to ask another artist to answer the same questions and I nominate Peter Keegan. He specialises in portrait painting and has a completely different approach from me, but like me he is an independent full time artist balancing the books with his creativity.