One of our new Greenwich Printmakers, Janet Wilson, collects material from favourite locations to create a sense of place in her prints. She uses a range of techniques, including etching, collagraph and monoprint, to convey the character of the natural world, from the delicate perfection of an abandoned shell to the heat and beauty of an Australian coastline. We find out how she explores landscapes and nature through print and what she’s been working on during the lockdown.
How did you get into printmaking?
I studied Fine Art over a number of years at the Sir John Cass School of Art in Whitechapel, Middlesex University and Camberwell College of Arts, UAL. I always ended up in the print room at art college. There’s something about the process of printmaking that adds an extra layer of meaning to an idea. It can be a very inexact science and there are often surprises and unexpected outcomes along the way.
Your work is about landscapes and the natural world. What subjects do you find yourself drawn to?
I am drawn to images relating to the landscape – often much-loved, particular places. I’ve made work about the wild and beautiful landscape on the edge of Dartmoor, where my family lived, including soft ground etchings made with material gathered there, and aquatint and carborundum prints relating to the colour in the earth near an old copper mine. I’m interested in how a small twig grows in the same way as the entire tree, or a line of rocks gives a pattern for a whole coastline. For me, making images using stuff from the site gives it authenticity and a sense of place.
I also have affection for Australia, where my husband grew up. We’ve visited there a number of times. I made a series of monoprints to convey the heat and beauty of the New South Wales coastline.
Are there particular themes you like to explore?
I’m interested in a sense of place in the landscape, and the sublime character of the natural world. I love traces of life left behind: fossils, leaf skeletons, bones and seashells. To me, there is nothing more sublime than the most beautiful shell, created by a strange creature at the bottom of the ocean and washed up on to a beach, or a huge jellyfish floating through a dark sea.
"To me, there is nothing more sublime than the most beautiful shell, created by a strange creature at the bottom of the ocean and washed up on to a beach..."
What’s your usual method of working?
My seashell prints start as drawings, which are traced onto a collagraph plate made from mount board. This is then varnished and inked up in the same way as an etching plate. I use drawings, paintings and photographs as the source for my prints and often combine monoprints – which are freer and more like paintings – with more formal etchings, collagraphs or carborundum prints.
How do you decide which printmaking technique to use?
I often try out the same idea in various ways. I think using collagraph plates for shells works well in that the deep emboss makes them look more 3D, but I do also make drawings and etchings of the same thing. Soft ground etchings are a way of capturing fine details from leaves and so on that I’ve taken from the landscape. I love the almost photographic quality that can be achieved from very delicate material and how that can be incorporated into an image of the place it came from. Sometimes it’s enough to be the image itself. I make monoprints in quite an experimental way, and again, they either stay as they are or I combine them with other plates. I don’t really plan the final outcome very much. It’s more a case of exploring until it feels right.
What have you been working on recently?
I’m a member of East London Printmakers based in Mile End and I make my prints in their lovely studio, which backs on to the Regent’s Canal. I haven’t been able to go to the studio during the coronavirus lockdown and I’ve been concentrating on my local surroundings. I’ve already started a series of prints using alliums from my Blackheath garden. I walk my dog in Greenwich Park most days and I’m finding inspiration there.
Janet’s prints are now available at Greenwich Printmakers, 1a Greenwich Market, SE10 9HZ. Visit the gallery or contact us to see more of her beautiful work.