Whilst visiting my Mum in Devon I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with linocut artist Elizabeth Rashley in her home in Newton Abbot. She was very generous with her time and knowledge and talked through her background as well as giving me some wonderful insights into her process.She explained that she had been printmaking since she was in her early twenties. Initially she produced very detailed, intricate black and white drawings but someone suggested that these would transfer well to linocut, which she tried and never looked back.
For the first part of her career she produced single colour linocuts in black and white, then in order to introduce some colour she turned to the reduction method. In the past she has used a book press and a mangle but for registration purposes she now uses a Victorian Albion press. The paper she uses is thick hot-pressed Fabriano Artistico paper.
The subject matter that the Elizabeth depicts are mainly animals, birds or landscapes from the natural world. She also produces images of figures that reflect how she feels, all drawn completely from her imagination. She has a natural, intuitive talent for design which can be seen in her work – the patterns and rhythms flow throughout each composition effortlessly. Looking through the portfolio of her work I was able to discern a range of influences: Edward and Richard Bawden plus Claude Flight were particularly apparent.
When she started out, she explained that she was concerned in making beautiful images rather than seeing her art as a means of self expression, and yet through the years her perspective has unconsciously changed as she started to explore themes that were more personal and important to her. I was interested in market pressures and the commercial aspects of the work. She explained images of the natural world and landscapes are more popular but she does not work for the market it is much more important for her to create images that she is engaged with rather than worrying about what will sell to ensure she continues to enjoy what she does.
In regard to her working practices she spends the first month or two of the year producing a number of designs. These she will then gradually work through and carve during the rest of the year. She adds colours to these designs and transfers her outlines onto her block using carbon paper- this ensures that the lines stay on the block throughout the printing process which is essential for the reduction method. She carves the piece whilst referring to her original coloured sketches, starting with the lightest colour and working towards the darker hues. It was interesting to here how sometimes the final black outline can pull the whole composition together and at other times she has omitted this final layer because the print had already come together. This shows how intuitive she is in her approach.
I noticed there were some prints that had some speckles in and were not printed perfectly. We had some discussion around this as she, like I, is attracted to this aesthetic of imperfection and the handmade. She explained, however, that when you sell work to the public they tend to want prints that are perfectly printed, which hadn’t occurred to me and is something I need to pay attention to in the future.
It was so useful to here Elizabeth talk through the reduction method and her approach as she showed me her prints – it gave me a clearer understanding of the technique that I will be using in the next part of the course. She gave me some helpful pointers too. One easy method to get colour into a print is to carve the whole block and print in the lighter colour and then carve the details and finally print over in black.
Another technique she employs, to add interest to her designs, is to use a darker shade of the original colour which gave the illusion that transparent colour was overlaying the darker areas. This was a really good idea as I hadn’t realised that you cannot overlap colours in the reduction method unlike using multiple plates.
I was so grateful to Elizabeth for the time she spent with me, it has been a really invaluable experience spending time with a professional printmaker who specialises in this method. It has clarified a number of throught processes I had and also given me lots of tips for the next part of the course.
Elizabeth is represented by the Brook Gallery in Devon which has an online shop displaying some of the work I am referring to here.