Behind the print: "Chapel on the Hill"

Ann Burnham explains how a brief to create a Surrey-inspired original print for Watts Contemporary Gallery led her to explore a new approach to her linocut work.


Ann Burnham, "Chapel on the Hill", hand-coloured linocut

Ann Burnham in her studio

We were asked to make some new prints in response to the Watts Gallery - Artists’ Village and the surrounding countryside. How did you develop your idea?

I visited Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village and it was such an unusual and magical place that I wanted to know more about its history and the village of Compton. As I read more, it conjured an image of an idyllic country village, with the Compton potters [a pottery cooperative set up by Mary Watts after the success of her ceramics classes for villagers], Limnerslease house and the chapel on the hill at the centre. I wanted to translate this rural idyll into a story set amongst the rolling hills of Surrey, depicting tucked-away villages around the Watts Chapel and its surrounding cemetery.


What techniques did you use? Why did you choose that combination?

I used Japanese vinyl for this linocut, as I find it can produce the really fine lines for the detail I need. I printed it with black ink, and then tried hand-colouring some of the prints.


Final sketch for "Chapel on the Hill"

There’s so much detail in it. How did you approach something so intricate?

I began looking at some pictures I’d taken of the Surrey countryside, and found some old photos of Compton village. I began sketching out the design, starting with the lines of the fields, then adding the buildings and trees. I really enjoyed putting in the little details of the gravestones and the horses. I love the precise mark-making that linocutting affords, and after many sketches, I began the intricate cutting of the lino, depicting the fields and hills of the countryside with patterns. 

The cut Japanese vinyl block for "Chapel on the Hill". The design has been reversed so it will print the right way round. Once the block has been inked up using a roller, the surface areas of the block (seen here in green) will print while the cut areas (seen here in grey) will remain white

You often create linocut prints of landscapes, but this seems quite different in style to the rest of your work. How did the strong use of black ink in this print come about?

I love the simplicity and sharpness of linocuts printed only in black. As I began cutting the lino, it became more detailed and seemed to transfer best into a black and white linocut instead of the colour reduction linocuts I usually do.


A print of "Chapel on the Hill" without the hand-colouring

How did you do the hand-colouring?

I wanted to make the red brick a feature, but I wanted the rest to be in muted colours. I used watercolour first, but I found it too bright and obvious. I’d just treated myself to some acrylic inks and tried using them very watered down, which gave me the more muted result I wanted. I tried a few variations before I settled on the final colour choices.


Ann has hand-coloured this print with a brush and acrylic inks. This means that each hand-coloured print is slightly different, as the colour is painted each time

Watts Gallery - Artists’ Village puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of craft skills and the transformative power of art. Was this something you had in mind?

When I start cutting the lino, it becomes all-encompassing. My thoughts seem to transfer through my hands into my tools – hours pass by without me noticing! I really love the physical process of cutting and mark-making. Seeing the print evolve is so rewarding.


How did you find the experience of making this print?

When I first read the brief, I have to admit I was a bit stuck on inspiration. But when I started researching, the idea came quickly. It was a good experience as it pushed me in a different direction and lead to exploring a new technique. I’ve been working on another print in the same style, and I’m now thinking about combining this with the reduction linocut method.


“Chapel on the Hill” is one of the new works made for Greenwich Printmakers at 40, which runs at the Watts Contemporary Gallery, Compton, Surrey, until September 1. For more information, visit https://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/whats-on/greenwich-printmakers-40/