Meet the Maker: Stuart Brocklehurst
If you live in Yorkshire, many of the landscapes in Stuart Brocklehurst‘s prints will be familiar. Stuart is a printmaker based in the Calder Valley, who takes inspiration from scenery he has set his life in, as well as childhood haunts and the natural world – the Dales, Flamborough and Filey all feature regularly. We talked to Stuart to find out more about his practice and the printmaking techniques he uses to create his beautiful work…
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a printmaker from the Calder Valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. At school, apart from art, I had very little aptitude or interest in anything else other than biology, so I went to art college to study Wildlife Illustration at Dyfed College of Art in Carmarthen, graduating in 1984. After college I returned home and spent three summers working for the Yorkshire Naturalist’ Union studying Peregrine Falcons in the Yorkshire Dales. Since then, a variety of rather mundane jobs have kept the mortgage paid but now I’m in a position where hopefully I can look towards devoting all my time to printmaking and developing my business.
How would you describe what you do?
As an artist printmaker, I make original limited-edition prints. My work is representational and, while landscape and wildlife are recurring themes in my prints, I don’t consider myself to be either a landscape or wildlife artist – I’m happy to tackle any subject I think will make a challenging or interesting print.
How did you discover lino printing?
I came late to printmaking. Like most art students, I had made prints at college, wood engraving, lino cutting, screen printing and particularly etching. However, after graduation I lost access to the print room facilities and concentrated on painting. This led to a prolonged period of increasing frustration and disappointment with the work I was trying to make, culminating in the realisation that I didn’t enjoy painting, nor was I achieving any sort of artistic or personal fulfilment from it, as I discarded more work than I finished. I realised that if I was going to regain my enthusiasm it was time to make a fresh start. Inspiration came one afternoon about six or seven years ago. Idly trawling the internet, I came across the linocuts of Ian Phillips and later, the work of the Japanese woodblock printmaker Hiroshi Yoshida. I bought some cheap cutters from the local art shop, sent off for some ink and lino, pinched a wooden spoon out of the kitchen drawer and I have been happily cutting away ever since.
What was the very first print you ever made?
A very unremarkable wood engraving of a Polecat – my first print at college.
Can you explain the reduction printing process and how that differs from other lino printing?
There are basically two ways of making a multi-coloured print: you either cut a separate block for each colour, which means that each block has to be registered correctly not only with each other but also with the sheet of paper that the image is going to be printed on; or you use one block and print all the colours sequentially from that – this is a reduction print, and is much easier and less complicated to register as the artist only has one block and the paper to think about.
How do you create your lino prints?
I usually make the original drawing for each print directly from the subject, either a pen drawing or watercolour. I use photographs very rarely and am never entirely happy with the finished results if I do use them. In the studio I use this sketch to make a more refined drawing the same size that I want the finished print to be. At this stage the colour separations and sequence of printing are worked out, although this sometimes changes once I start the cutting and printing process. Using tracing paper I then reverse the image and transfer it to the lino block. Reversing the image on to the block ensures that the final printed image will be the right way round.
At this stage I cut away the areas that are to be white in the final image, and print the first colour (usually the palest). The number of prints taken at this stage determines the size of the edition, as from this point the block is gradually being destroyed and no more of this first colour can be printed. I usually aim for a maximum edition size of 10 prints.
After printing the first colour the areas to remain this colour are cut from the block and the next colour in the sequence is printed. This process of cutting and printing continues as the colours are gradually darkened until the final colour, usually but not necessarily black, is printed, by which time very little of the original block will remain. If all has gone well, all of the original number of prints will be good enough to sign and edition. However, mistakes can happen. There may be problems with registration or inking up and prints are lost from the edition. So it may be that the final edition size is less than the initial 10 prints.
How do you decide how many prints should be in an edition?
The number of prints in an edition is usually an arbitrary figure determined by the artist. I personally believe that a limited edition should be just that; my linocuts are usually printed in editions of 10, sometimes less. Mezzotints and drypoints I print in editions of 15 or 20. Each impression in the edition has been worked and printed by the artist, and although part of an edition, each one is a unique and individual original work of art in its own right.
One of the tools you use is a traditional Japanese Baren. Can you explain what that is?
The baren is a disk-like device with a flat bottom and a reed, or on a really expensive handmade baren a bamboo cover. On the reverse side it has a knotted handle that the artist uses to hold it. To produce the image, paper is placed on the inked lino, and the baren is used to firmly rub the back of the paper to pick up the ink from the lino. Sometimes, though, I just use a wooden spoon!
How do you sketch and how do you use those sketches in your prints?
I sketch on location. I use sketchbooks constantly and have done so since my Sixth Form days at school, filling them with drawings of anything that interests me. I’m still making prints now from sketches that I did 20 and 30 years ago. The main reason I’ve recently started to do drypoint and mezzotint prints is to make use of sketches that I couldn’t make work in lino. Depending on how I’ve done the original sketch, the final print may be a simple interpretation of it. My drypoint ‘Cliffs near Llangrannog‘ is a relatively faithful copy of my original location sketch. Similarly ‘First sight of the sea‘ is a straightforward linocut interpretation of the original watercolour study. ‘Ebbing tide at Rockcliffe‘ on the other hand is based on a pen and ink study that I used back in the studio to make a coloured cartoon on which I then based the final linocut print.
Do your Yorkshire surroundings influence your work?
Definitely, much of my work is based on places I know well and visit often – the Yorkshire Dales in particular as I’ve spent so much time there. As a child my parents had a caravan in the Dales, where we spent every summer weekend. Other holidays were spent on the East coast, so Filey and Flamborough are also favourite haunts. Northumberland and Galloway feature prominently too, both places that I visit frequently, and my time at college left me with an abiding love for the landscapes of Wales, again another place that I keep returning to.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to capture a view, where would you go?
As a printmaker influenced by Japanese woodblock printing I would have to say Japan, but also the Canadian Rockies and Yosemite. Having said that, there are plenty of places in this country I would like to visit, get to know better and do more work in. The Lake District has been sadly neglected in my output so far and I would like to do more work seeking out less familiar places there.
Who would you say has most influenced your work?
My printmaking style is very painterly so my linocuts in particular are more influenced by painters rather than printmakers; Frank Sherwin who painted a lot of the early railway posters, Charles Tunnicliffe, the watercolourist W. Heaton Cooper and the printmaker Ian Phillips as well as the Japanese printmaker Hiroshi Yoshida. Other printmakers who I admire and who have influenced my drypoints and mezzotints in particular, include Robin Tanner, Edgar Holloway and the East Anglian mezzotint printmaker Martin Mitchell.
Can you describe your workspace?
A few years ago we had a small extension built on the side of our house. The downstairs room was intended as a playroom for our children as well as my studio. I have room for my worktable, CD rack and stereo system, shelves for my inks and sketchbooks and a separate bench that has my small etching press on it. Now, as the children are growing up and use it less and less, I can gradually take over more of the room. Even so, I’m still sharing the space with a large doll’s house and assorted paraphernalia: a doll’s pram, easel and chalkboard, and a small electric piano.
What do you like to surround yourself with while you work?
Sketchbooks and any other reference material that I may need and my CD collection. I always have music on while I work or I listen to Radio 4.
When you’re not printing, how do you fill your days?
As a parent with two small children, I’m pretty occupied anyway, but I read a lot, mostly non-fiction books on landscape interpretation and natural history as well as art. I also do a lot of walking and sketching, gathering more reference material.
To celebrate being our featured maker Stuart is offering a free print with every order this week. The limited-edition print is entitled ‘Dipper’ and is a reproduction of a pen and ink scraperboard drawing, measuring 60mm x 80mm. The offer is valid until midnight on Sunday 19 April.