From the Yorkshire Hills to the Hollywood Hills: meet printmaker Emma Lawrenson

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

Meet the Maker: Emma Lawrenson

Printmaker Emma Lawrenson lives and works in a draughty old farmhouse just outside the creative hub of Holmfirth in West Yorkshire. It’s here that she creates her calm and understated abstract screen prints, inspired by landscape, colour and shape. Her geometric style and nod to mid-century artists caught the eye of Hollywood set designers, who snapped up two of Emma’s prints for the walls of Peggy’s office in Mad Men. We talk to Emma to find out more…

Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m a full-time printmaker, living and working in the picturesque Yorkshire countryside, which is where the inspiration for much of my work stems. I make abstract prints inspired by anything and everything around me.
Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

Chip and Blocks print and Dry Stone screen print both by Emma Lawrenson

My aesthetic is simple, understated, colourful, calm and happy. I make abstract prints inspired by anything and everything around me.

How did you discover printmaking?
I knew I wanted to do something with art from a young age. I experimented with printmaking before my degree and immediately fell in love with the process.
 I was lucky enough to go to the Royal College of Art to study an MA in printmaking after my fine art degree and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

Set of six mid-century screen prints by Emma Lawrenson

My passion is my job, so I couldn’t be happier.

How would you describe your aesthetic and has your style changed over time?
I would describe it as simple, understated, colourful, calm and happy. I’ve always worked in this style – it started back in the early 1990s when I began my degree. When I was in London, a long time ago now, I was looking at an urban environment and most of my work was based on the structures and architecture there. Now I live in the countryside, so I make a lot more organic and fluid work, alongside the geometric style. But my style has always been similar – if you saw my work then, you would know it was mine.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

In my studio, I have two overflowing plan chests full of work, and pots and pots of inks in an old Chinese cabinet.

In the last couple of years, I’ve changed the way I make my stencils. Before, I used cut paper stencils, so everything was really hard-edged and quite graphic. Now, I’ve softened it a lot and all my stencils are hand-drawn using chinagraph pencils or pastels. The prints themselves are a lot softer in appearance and they look more handmade. So that’s changed, although the actual compositions and colours haven’t much.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

The landscape is my biggest influence, along with shape and colour, the American Colour Field artists and a little bit of Fifties textiles design thrown in.

Who or what influences you?
The landscape is my biggest influence, along with shape and colour. Other artists inspire me – those I’ve been thinking about recently are Agnes Martin, Ettore Sottsass, Andrew Bick, Breon O’Casey and Louise Bourgeois. However, I would say my main inspiration remains with the American Colour Field artists and a little bit of Fifties textiles design thrown in.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

A pair of abstract geometric prints by Emma Lawrenson

I’ve sent work a few times now to Universal Studios Hollywood! They bought two bold geometric prints for the set of Mad Men, series six. They were on the wall in Peggy’s office.

Talking of mid-century style, we’ve heard that your work featured on Mad Men. Which print was it and who’s wall was it on?
It has! I’ve sent work a few times now to ‘Universal Studios Hollywood’! How bizarre is that? They bought two bold geometric prints for the set of Mad Men, series six. They were on the wall in Peggy’s office. They framed them in very mid-century frames to give them a little bit more of a retro edge!

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I begin by drawing the image out on paper, then rework the images (sometimes stripping everything back) until I’ve got just the bare essential from the idea or the photograph that I started with.

How do you start a piece?
I usually start by taking photographs of the landscape, both rural and urban. When I get back to the studio — I’ve got a studio at home and a separate studio where I go to print — I sort through my images. Usually if I’ve seen something that day, I’ll start working right away while it’s fresh. I begin by drawing the image out on paper, then rework the images (sometimes stripping everything back) until I’ve got just the bare essential from the idea or the photograph that I started with. Then I make collages – I have inks and bits of paper everywhere, and I paint lots of swatches and start cutting them up. I always print on a flat, coloured background — usually cream — so I’ll start moving the collaged pieces around on one of those until the image resolves itself. Sometimes I love what I have straight away, but there are other times when it can take me a couple of days to get it right.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

To make the collages I paint lots of swatches and start cutting them up – I have inks and bits of paper everywhere. Then I start moving the pieces around until the image resolves itself.

To make the prints I decide on the collage I’m going to focus on and make stencils ready to transfer to the silkscreen. My stencils are mainly hand-drawn using chinagraph pencils on truegrain film. This gives the prints a textural appearance, something I’ve done a lot recently. I like the combination of geometry and the drawn mark. By this point I’ve already decided on the size of the paper and image, and I begin to tear and cut up my Fabriano (gorgeous handmade Italian printmaking paper), ready to take to the workshop and begin printing on. I usually make around 15 to 20 prints in an edition.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

My stencils are mainly hand-drawn using chinagraph pencils on truegrain film. This gives the prints a textural appearance.

Can you tell us more about the two studios you work from?
I live in an old draughty farmhouse in Jackson Bridge near Holmfirth and my studio here is pretty big. It has a wooden floor, lots of antique furniture, glass cabinets, books and magazines and it looks out on to a pretty courtyard garden with a big stone barn and lots of pretty roses. I can see cows and birds from the window too. It’s not a bad place to be! I have two overflowing plan chests here full of work, and pots and pots of inks in an old Chinese cabinet.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I live in an old draughty farmhouse in Jackson Bridge near Holmfirth and my studio here is pretty big. I’m hoping to turn the stone barn just at the back of the house into my own printmaking studio.

I do my printing at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop, which is only 20 minutes drive away, so is very handy. However, I’m hoping to turn the stone barn just at the back of the house into my own printmaking studio. At the moment, it’s full of junk and I’ve started buying things to get it ready – a drying rack, shelves, even a big Georgian glass door – but it’s such a big project, and I’m so busy. I’m working six days a week, so it doesn’t get much beyond a dream. I think it will happen but maybe not for a couple more years.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I do my printing at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop, which is only 20 minutes drive away so it’s very handy.

Holmfirth seems to be a hugely creative hub. Is it a very inspiring place to be?
Holmfirth is definitely an ‘arty’ town – it’s full of very a talented people. There are plenty of events going on throughout the year and I know lots of artists in the town and surrounding villages. We’re also extremely lucky to live only 10 minutes from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is one of my favourite places and hugely inspiring.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I view printing as a craft. It’s a skill to practise and keep practising, like ceramics, drawing or painting.

What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
My passion is my job, so I couldn’t be happier. I love working for myself and I can fit it around my two children and their very busy lives too.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

Small abstract print inspired by Matisse by Emma Lawrenson

When I was in London, a long time ago now, I was looking at an urban environment and most of my work was based on the structures and architecture there. Now I live in the countryside, I make a lot more organic and fluid work, alongside the geometric style.

What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
I think selling work and running a shop is about more than just having great products and having great photographs of them. It’s very important to being a friendly and helpful seller too. It’s a lot about your interaction with the customer and being able to help them with advice. Try to be quick to respond and make sure you thank them when they buy from you. Let them know when to expect their purchase and how it will be packaged.

I found that having enough stock made a difference in my shop. More choice means buyers are less likely to contact you about things you don’t have but they would like. It saves a lot of admin time in the long run. I also steer clear of commissions, as these swallow up so much time that can be put to better and more productive use elsewhere.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I love working for myself and I can fit it around my two children and their very busy lives too.

If you weren’t a printmaker, what would you be?
A gardener on a beautiful country estate.

You’ve won awards for your prints and they’ve been exhibited in some very high-profile shows, including the RA Summer Exhibition. What’s your proudest moment so far?
Winning the New Light Printmakers Awards 2015 has been the highlight of my career so far. I was overwhelmed to win, as the standard of work was exceptional. Norman Ackroyd RA CBE judged the award and came to speak to me about my work at the prize-giving ceremony, so I was thrilled to hear him talk so kindly about it. I’m currently exhibiting at the RA Summer Exhibition – it’s the third time I’ve had work accepted in four years and always a great honour. I’ve sold out of my entire edition of prints in just over a week, so I couldn’t be more pleased!

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

I was lucky enough to study at the Royal College of Art, where I was taught by some of the best printmakers in the world. That experience has never left me.

What does craft mean to you?
I view printing as a craft. It’s a skill to practise and keep practising, like ceramics, drawing or painting. I was lucky enough to study at the Royal College of Art, where I was taught by some of the best printmakers in the world. That experience has never left me, and I often look back and feel very fortunate to have been given such a fantastic start to my printmaking career. I’ve always been meticulous about the way I make my work, and I try to push and challenge myself with the processes all the time.

Emma Lawrenson, Little Print Press, Printmaker, mid-century prints, Yorkshire artist, Holmfirth, Mad Men art

A selection of Emma Lawrenson’s botanical prints

See more of Emma Lawrenson’s prints on Folksy >

 

 

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