Behind the print: "Egyptian Birds"

Updated: Apr 28

Greenwich Printmakers founder member Elaine Marshall talks about how she made her linocut print “Egyptian Birds”, which was inspired by ancient wall paintings on display at the British Museum, and explains why lockdown has made her pick up her paintbrushes.

"Egyptian Birds", linocut by Elaine Marshall

Why did you decide to make “Egyptian Birds”?

I got the idea from a chance visit to the British Museum shop. I saw a postcard of some Ancient Egyptian wall paintings, so I went to the Egyptian Room 61, where they are displayed.

The wall paintings were discovered in the 1820s and were excavated from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun in the Valley of the Kings and shipped to the British Museum.

I especially liked the fragments of the The Hunting Scene, where Nebamun is pictured with birds and butterflies, waterfowl, a heron, and an egret.

The scenes were painted directly on to the tomb walls. Sections of the wall paintings were literally prised off the walls of the tomb-chapel using knives and crowbars on the instructions of the British consul Henry Salt (1780-1827). The book “The Painted Tomb-Chapel of Nebamun” gives the full details about it.

What was it about the wall paintings that particularly captured your imagination?

I loved the immediacy and fluidity of the wall paintings, and the colours derived from earth and minerals.

Elaine's original sketch for "Egyptian Birds"

Did you take inspiration for the colours from the wall painting?

The wall painting used pigments made from red and yellow ochres, cream gypsum and blue and green pieces of Egyptian flit. I’ve used the original colour scheme, but I changed the order so that the background colour is the blue pigment, instead of cream as in the wall paintings.

How did you go about translating your idea into a linocut?

I’ve used three of the birds perched on clumps of papyrus, but I’ve simplified the design. I made the linocut using four blocks to print the different colours.

The first block is the outline of the birds and papyrus stems cut out, leaving a background of phthalo blue mixed with white.

Proof of block 1

The second block shows two of the birds and papyrus printed in yellow ochre.

Proof of block 2

The third block overprints the two birds and papyrus leaves printed in burnt sienna mixed with poppy red.

Proof of block 3

The final block is the details of all three birds printed in r