Bethany Marett uses print, sculpture and photography to explore the physical body and the way we see it. Her figurative prints often feature female nudes and slumbering men, challenging notions of the gaze and vulnerability. Her reduction woodcut Lockdown Morning captures a private moment of calm and was made and printed at home, with her housemate as the model. Bethany explains how getting hands-on with materials is key to her work and why relief prints have more in common with sculpture than you might think.
Why did you decide to make Lockdown Morning?
As one of the many artists in London who juggles multiple jobs, my time is precious and it often feels like there isn’t enough of it. I was fortunate enough to have a safe and comfortable living situation during lockdown, so I relished the chance to be at home with no pressing deadlines and feelings of missing out. I wanted to capture the calmness of that, when I was able to spend time in the garden, linger over coffee in the morning, and just generally reset my priorities.
I made two colour woodcuts at the start of the spring lockdown. I became particularly interested in the movement of light, as I hadn’t really noticed the journey of the sun and the shadows in my room and garden before. It gained new significance as it helped me to track the endless days and passage of time. Having a garden was a precious resource, and I made new connections with my housemate (who is modelling for me in "Lockdown Morning") because we had time to take care of it and use it.
How did your practice change during lockdown?
With my studio a fair walk away, I made work that didn’t need large equipment or a printing press to achieve, and could be done from my bedroom. Being effectively furloughed from work, and with more space in my houseshare as others had fled London, I had much more time and lots of room to dry prints. This gave me the freedom to make a reduction woodcut, which involves a longer printing process than I usually do and requires quite a lot of planning for all the different stages. It felt like a great challenge to get stuck into and keep me occupied. Although I will always love the printed contrast of black and white, I've been intending to try introducing more colour into my work for a while, and this was the perfect opportunity.
It’s a hand-finished reduction woodcut. What was the process to make it at home? What tools did you use?
I began by making a drawing on the wooden block, and from there I decided which colours to use and how many layers I wanted to cut. This print has five layers of colour. It’s a reduction woodcut, so all the colours are printed from the same wooden block. You have to think ahead about layering and what needs to be carved away after each colour is printed, because you can’t go back to a previous layer once you’ve started on the next one.
I use Swiss engraving tools because they are fine and sharp, so they’re great for small details. After carving each layer, I inked up the plate and printed it using a Japanese bamboo baren (a flat tool with a handle used to create pressure by hand over the paper to get a clear print). I’d always just used a metal spoon to print by hand before, so the bamboo baren made a big difference in achieving a smooth and uniform print.
While one layer of colour was drying, I could start carving the next layer. I touched up each print by hand, adding details such as red toenail polish and filing in any spots where the ink hadn't taken.