“Drawing is a language like writing or talking, but instead of words, you use graphic elements. At the end you have an image built by codes, and this image describes a situation as any other ways of fiction do.” – Eden Barrena
Eden Barrena is a Spanish artist and recent graduate of MA Printmaking at the Royal College of Art. Drawing is central to her work and practice. In one of her pieces, 400 ways of looking at a magnolio fruit, she drew the same fruit 400 times, quickly and on tiny pieces of paper, before scanning them and creating a gif which she projected in the garden in the night.
She says about drawing: “My strategy is to draw the same thing many times in order to know it well. I keep the speed in order to preserve certain mystery too: the fascination the image provokes me never gets to disappear completely.” (Interview with 1Granary Magazine)
I find Barrena’s drawings full of life and energy – her bold shading and line-making gives out a sense of confidence in her approach. Seeing – seeing – seeing – seeing…
Her drawing style builds up layers upon layers of coloured pencil lines, and these layers work well in printmaking to give her backgrounds a dizzying sense of depth. They also communicate something about process, reminding us that the image is made out of drawings. This is a lithograph from the series Colonia, one of nine prints based on photographs of 20th century colonial Africa.
What I really like about Barrena’s work is the way she has built an entire artistic practice around playfulness and the pursuit of visual pleasure. This is something that I think of as particular to artists who call themselves illustrators, but Barrena doesn’t categorise herself. “In my opinion, art is made from pleasure,” she says, “… and finding pleasure (not only in art, but in life in general) is something we shouldn’t feel guilty about.”
Link to interview with Eden Barrena at 1Granary magazine here.
Jan Leth (1932 – 2010) was a Danish artist who trained as a painter, worked with lithography and in his later years was well-known for his sculptures.
I found this print of his which I immediately liked. I like the way that the image is split up into frames, which makes us want to take in all the depicted movement at once, and at the same time slows the eye down. The deep blacks and painterly marks create a lot of atmosphere and energy in the pictures. All the ‘frames’ contribute to the emotional weight of the image, but the one down from the top centre (of a man’s whole torso with arms flung out) seems to be a natural centre – perhaps because it’s the most immediately identifiable as a person. My favourite is the bottom centre image, of a person curled into a ball. The bright light shining on the back makes their hiding position even more poignant.
In my research so far, I’m finding a mixture of artists using linework in lino and those creating pictures from block tones. Ann Lewis’ work rarely uses a graphic, white outline; instead her images are made up of areas and shapes, and depth is built up through the multiple reductions.
Ann Lewis’ prints are inspired by the rural North Wales landscape. I think the medium is well-suited to the rocks and cliff faces, and that the prints of rocks, beaches and mountains are her best. Although the waterfalls are skillful, I don’t like them as much. They don’t capture my eyes like the mountain prints. I think this is because the whole draw and focus of a waterfall is its movement, and the print has frozen it. So I’m not sure where’s the centre I’m drawn to in the image.
I wonder if this is a kind of ‘freeze’ particular to linocut because it makes up an image out of flat planes. In the waterfall prints, I think this flatness works against her. But in the mountain and rock prints, the subjects are rocks, which are all stillness. That is their thing, being still. So the flat, still planes of the reduction method work well with the concept, because they enhance the quality of the subject being represented.
I love the simplicity of this print of cups (Cwpanau bach (small cups)). The pure background. Evening sort of colours. Shadows. Almost seeing the cups as creatures.
Ann Lewis has a very informative website with quite a lot about her inspiration, working methods and the linocut process: www.annlewis.co.uk.
I really like the fact that she writes about her creative process, why she made each picture, why she chose a particular colour scheme, what the place means to her. I think it adds loads to the prints, giving them context, and stories, as well as standing alone as great prints.
Paul Catherall‘s work is very clean. His subjects are mainly buildings in London – Battersea Power Station, the Tate Modern, the London Eye. Catherall’s prints are linocuts but they don’t have the signature streaky backdrops usually associated with lino. By choosing to keep his block areas clean and solid, Catherall makes sure that nothing distracts us from the picture’s bold, pared-down shapes.
In these prints, form emerges through layers (reductions), which sketch the outline of the building by showing where it is in shade. There are no fine outlines, no white outline. Instead the image is made up of balanced shapes.
I think that these images work because they break a familiar sight down into the basic forms and building-blocks that make it up. As viewers, we’re searching for the centrepiece of the image, something figurative – and then recognise the familiar shape of Tate Modern, a tower, a particular series of angles. I think it is this very tiny moment that Catherall makes us wait before recognition kicks in that makes his prints visually satisfying.
I also like his striking colours: bright pastels, greys and black.
Paul Catherall is based in London, and is a member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (RE). His work has been commissioned by Transport for London, the Royal Shakespeare Company and British Airways among others.
Ursula Leach paints and makes prints responding to the countryside around her: the chalk landscape of Cranborne Chase in southern England. She is interested in the farmed landscape and the changes made to the landscape by farming. She writes, “Living in a mostly arable landscape, I necessarily engage with current farming techniques as well as the natural changes that occur.”
Two things stand out in Leach’s work for me: feelings of isolation, and pureness of colour. Though many of the prints lean towards abstraction, many of them feature the mid blues and darks of night skies in the fields. There is a glowing quality to her colours which captures the feeling of being able to see in the dark once your eyes adjust, and the way that shapes are made strange and unrecognisable.
In some of her prints (Isolated Barn) the time of day is uncertain; it could be an over-exposed midnight or a white cloudy day. This makes it seem like a dream landscape. The red barn is not just isolated by being the picture’s only subject, but we see a zoomed-in view of it, which isolates it from its surroundings. Manmade barn versus pure, empty sky – this theme seems to run through many of Leach’s prints.
Leach uses the carborundum printmaking technique. This is a type of collograph printmaking in which a gritty substance called carborundum is mixed with glue and painted onto an aluminium plate. The plate is inked up and printed on an etching press; the carborundum areas trap the ink in their grainy surface, creating painterly marks and varied tones.
It’s interesting that Leach sees her work as “a document as well as an expression”. I wonder whether she feels a sense of duty to record the happenings of the countryside around her, whether she sees herself as a visual storyteller.
Ursula Leach is a member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (RE).
Louise Hayward is a printmaker based in London. Her work explores a fascination with housing – specifically the tower blocks and social housing in inner London, the place where she grew up. Hayward suggests that “this kind of architecture has become negatively associated with the welfare state and social decay while the buildings themselves often have a powerful, enigmatic presence in the city.” Her prints successfully convey this ‘enigmatic presence’; her buildings are looming, beautiful and austere.
Hayward uses relief printmaking processes to create her work, mainly wood engraving, lino cut and engraving on plastic. Most of her work is printed in monochrome. In some prints, she adds colour or other tones using separately-engraved thin plastic plates.
The use of a limited palette focuses our attention on the shapes of the buildings, and patterns within the image. Pattern seems especially important in Hayward’s work; in the tower prints, our eyes can become lost and dazzled in the hundreds of tiny windows – building up a sense of the buildings’ power over us and the dizzying experience of encountering a huge building.
Light and shade are crucial in her prints; light draws our focus to details, while shade makes the buildings sculptural through dramatic contrast. The shadow of one tower block on another (Point Blocks on the Tustin Estate) implies a light source that is outside the frame of the picture. This causes us to see the picture as a carefully-chosen, poignantly selected part of a wider scene.
Hayward also uses the composition of light and shadow to create a sense of moment – and narrative – in her work. By picking out highlights such as lit windows (Gordon House, Evening) or the faces of buildings lit by low sun (On The Brandon Estate) Hayward captures a fleeting moment, setting the picture at a specific time of day. We know that the sun will go up or down, the light will change, or more windows will light up, and the moment will move on and be lost. In this way, each print can seem like a still frame from a film, or a life.
Louise Hayward studied painting in the 1980s before discovering printmaking and studying MA Printmaking at Camberwell. She is a member of the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE) and a fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE).