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Behind the print: "The Bathers"

Nikki Braunton makes darkly comic prints inspired by the people she sees around her and her love of nature. She talks about how her characters and interesting phrases come together in her work to tell a story.

Humorous drypoint and monoprint of people paddling in the sea at the beach
"The Bathers", drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton

Tell me about “The Bathers”. Why did you decide to make that print? Was it based on real people?

“The Bathers”, like most of my recent work, is drypoint [lines or texture scratched into the plate] and monoprint [ink applied to the plate like a painting]. I print it up like a drypoint but add on layers of colour and texture. The plate was wiped in a certain way to give the feeling of the sea.

The idea came from sitting on a beach sketching on holiday a few years ago. I find people hilarious and in this print the old guy in the shorts was sitting near me. Every hour or so he would get up and walk towards the sea, lift up the side of his yellow swimming trunks and have a pee in front of everyone. I just had to have him in my print along with the other characters on the beach at the time.

Sketchbook show preparatory drawings for "The Bathers" by Nikki Braunton
Sketches for "The Bathers"
Printmaker Nikki Braunton
Nikki Braunton with some of her prints

Your prints of people have so much character and humour, as well as a dash of darkness. They have a unique atmosphere - they feel both surreal and well-observed. There’s a story in each one. How did that style come about?

I get through the trials and tribulations of life with laughter and find things funny when others don't – which sometimes gets me into trouble! I try to channel this excess laughter by keeping sketchbooks of people I see every day on the train, supermarket, concerts etc. People doing ordinary things are funny and joyous.

Nikki Braunton at the studio working on a drypoint plate
Nikki working on a drypoint plate, with inks ready for printing
"Painted Smile", etching by Nikki Braunton
"Painted Smile", etching by Nikki Braunton

My work can be quite spontaneous and when I go to start making a print I often pick some of my characters at random and put them on to the plate. Somehow, they always manage to tell me a story without really trying – it's like they are living a new life in my prints.

I think unconsciously my prints are about exercising (pun intended) my demons, which is why they have a dark quality about them. Although they feature random people, I’ve noticed that they are very much about me at the end of the day. For example, once when I felt as though I had a painted smile, I got together some of my characters together and the print ended up being “Painted Smile”.

A couple embrace in front of the Cutty Sark in Greenwich at night - drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton
"Moonlight over Cutty Sark", drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton
Friends discuss a "slippery fish" boyfriend, etching by Nikki Braunton
"Keeping Hold of the Slippery Fish", etching by Nikki Braunton

You also have some wonderful prints of animals, too. Cats, crows and hares in particular – and they all seem to have their own story as well. Is there a special significance to crows, which appear in many of your prints?

I think that I treat animals the way I treat my humans. They seem to have the same characteristics as us. I pick up on things people say to me that are funny as well – a friend once had a new boyfriend and I asked her how it was going and she replied, “he’s a bit of a slippery fish”, so this ended up as a print.

A woman with a crow on her head and crows flying around her, drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton
"Bird Brain", drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton

I do feel a particular connection to crows, though. Perhaps it's their large, haunting shape, and they are such charismatic birds. I like birds in general, but I love corvids the most because you can see how intelligent they are.

Goldfish swim around each other, drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton
"Fish", drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on another crow print at the moment, which is inspired by sketches of the crows that sit up in the trees at the bottom of the garden above my studio. I see them there every day, squabbling and squawking to each other, like children. A bit like my children do!

A raven gives a glamorous woman a feather, drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton
"The Raven and the Beauty", drypoint and monoprint by Nikki Braunton

Nikki’s featured artist show runs at Greenwich Printmakers until June 5, and her wonderfully characterful prints are available at the gallery and in our online shop all year round. For more information, see her artist’s page and her website.


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