Angela Brookes combines monoprint and drypoint to give the same scene a completely different atmosphere, changing the light and even the season through her skilled use of ink. She talks about how Norfolk inspires her vast skies, how she uses both traditional and modern techniques to make her work, and why she feels she has become “a rather unconventional printmaker”.
Tell me about “Late Harvest" and "Late Harvest II” and how you achieved such different looks for them.
My favoured printing process at the moment is drypoint and monoprint, using two separate plates and rollers. The monoprint plate determines that each print is unique and enables me to produce a completely different atmosphere, and time of day or even time of year in the same scene.
“Late Harvest" is a favourite spot in Norfolk, on a road I often take. I love the gentle incline and the subtle undulations in the landscape. On one of my journeys I noticed that the tracks of the combine harvester had accentuated the incline and provided the perfect perspective to demonstrate the distance – I couldn’t resist! I made the evening version later, which gives a completely different feel to the print.
Another example is “Down Down Lane” and “Rising Moon”. This print materialised when Greenwich Printmakers was invited to put on an exhibition at the prestigious Watts Gallery in Surrey. I decided to walk around the area to absorb the landscape and there down Down Lane, over a gate, I found the inspiration I needed. I loved the long evening shadows of the trees, the gentle slope of the field and the faded tractor tracks winding off into the distance. I completed six versions of this print, two monotone and four colour versions, each one very different, but these two are my favourites.
These kind of prints, where each one has its own distinctive feel and look within the varied edition, really demonstrate the way colour and ink application can change the look of a scene, don’t they?
I agree they do, but that wasn't the main objective. I feel I have become a rather unconventional printmaker in that I no longer wish to make lots of identical prints. I prefer to make small, variable editions of only five or ten prints, where each one can be markedly different from the next. I feel this is a more painterly approach, and links in with my pastel drawings. A recurring theme with each new plate is the challenge of depicting the ever-changing effects of light and colour at different times of the day, and as the seasons progress through the year. Hence the winter scene and the late summer scene, using the same drypoint plate.
Where did your love of natural landscapes come from?
I was bought up in a small village in Bedfordshire and was blessed with having enormous freedom to roam the woods, fields and commons that surrounded us. At an early age, huge importance was placed on our ability to appreciate our environment. We learned to recognise and name the winter shapes of oak, ash, and elm. We were taught to identify the birds and to be able to name all the local wild flowers. The seasons then were much more extreme and distinctly marked the passage of time. High up in the Chilterns, the winters were dramatic, with snow drifts often blocking the rural lanes. I have made many prints of wintery landscapes and I wonder if this early exposure fed my imagery. These early influences have stayed with me, and I hope my work demonstrates my appreciation of the glorious natural world that we inhabit.
I often visit Norfolk, where I am attracted to the vast open spaces and huge skies, so typical of the area.
You sometimes take the monoprint method further and create monotype prints – like a painting that goes through the press – without the drypoint element, don’t you?
Yes, I occasionally I make monotype prints, where the ink is added directly onto to a blank plate. I enjoy the excitement and uncertainty of whether it will be successful. One such print was after a family trip to Ireland. We set out in a small flat bottomed boat in search of whales and dolphins. It was initially very scary, but eventually very exciting. As we headed out to sea, far further than I expected to go, the swell increased enormously, with huge waves crashing around us. We were tossed up and landed flat in the trough of the wave with a huge ‘bang’ on the bottom of the boat, with the following wave seemingly right overhead.
It was a rough but fabulous trip, and we saw several whales, schools of dolphins leaping at speed through the water, and thousands of amazing diving gannets. The image of the tumultuous sea was imprinted on my brain and I felt compelled to commit it to paper. I made several smaller versions first before building the confidence to attempt a larger print, “Pounding Seas”.
“Reedbeds Evening” is another monotype. I was excited to make this print, but the difficulty with monotype is knowing when to stop. I think on this occasion I managed to, but many others have become overworked and muddy.
You also use some other printmaking techniques, don’t you?
I often employ carborundum on my plates, which provides a very rough texture into which the ink settles thickly. When passed through the press, this process produces intense colour where the ink and paper become integrated.
I’ve also made many etchings, which were my first love when I took up printmaking, but lately I have been less keen to work with the necessary acid. I love the effect of the subtle gradations from one colour to another that can be achieved with aquatint, and I try to achieve this effect in my drypoints and monoprints.
And you’ve used some very modern techniques as well?
Yes, I also enjoy constructing images in Photoshop. I start with a blank page and gradually and painstakingly create an imagined landscape, pixel by pixel, drawing on my observations of the landscape over the years. When I’m happy with the image, I commit it to plate using light transfer.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been working on two new plates based on my observations of the Italian landscape. I love the cypresses, which are so typical and descriptive of the area, immediately placing the image. I have entitled these "Fine del Giorno". I am pleased with one so far, but I have yet to experiment with coloured inks to see whether I can achieve a convincing image depicting a different time of day. "Inizio del Giorno", perhaps!
Angela’s featured artist show runs at Greenwich Printmakers until June 26, and her beautifully atmospheric prints are available in our online shop and in our gallery all year round. For more information, see her artist’s page and her website.