Interview with the Artist - Robin Mackenzie, Printmaker

Artist Interview Linocut Printmaking Prints Robin Mackenzie Wood Engraving

This is the first interview in a series of 'Interview with the Artist' blog posts. Our first artist is Robin Mackenzie, a wonderful printmaker from Wimborne in Dorset. 

What first inspired you to become a full-time printmaker?

I have always loved the idea of being my own boss and making money from something that I love doing. I did my degree in Illustration at the Arts University Bournemouth where I was inspired by the many wonderful artists surrounding me. On graduating I worked part time in a local coffee shop whilst developing my printmaking and 3 years ago I went full time and it is absolutely fantastic!

Why did you choose printmaking?

I have always enjoyed messing around with tools and whittling bits of wood and have of course always drawn. I love detail and when I started making linocuts and wood engraving all of my passions came together in a technique that allows me to express myself perfectly.

Talk us through the creative process and how you generate ideas and inspiration for new work.

Everything starts for me by getting out on location and taking photographs as I walk and explore. Whether it is a commissioned illustration or landscape print, I always like to work from my own photographs. I then go to my studio and start drawing and making thumbnail sketches for a print. As I am doing this I am referencing my photographs but also remembering the feeling of being on location and using my imagination to create a certain atmosphere in every print I make.

Take us through the physical / technical process of creating your work.

I create wood engravings and linocuts. Every print begins with a block of end grain lemonwood or a mounted block of lino. On to this I draw out my design free hand, making changes and corrections as I go. Some printmakers trace their designs to their blocks but I love the freedom of drawing on the block freehand,

I then cut out the design using wood engraving tools and lino cutters; this is the lengthiest part of the process and cannot be rushed! The block is then rolled with printing ink and passed through my 1854 Albion printing press. It is wonderful to work with such an incredible piece of engineering and I feel very privileged to create my work using it.

I make most of my colour prints using the reduction process, which was actually popularised by Picasso.  It involves only using one block as opposed to the Japanese method of a separate block for each colour.

With the reduction method, I draw the design out onto my block and then cut away all the areas I wish to be white in the print.  I then print the block in the lightest colour, perhaps a light blue.  I then cut back into the block again and remove all the areas I wish to be light blue in the print.  This consecutive cutting and printing continues for all the colours in the print until only the darkest outlines and shadows are left on the block and these are the last layer to be printed.  This method leads to really interesting overlays of texture and colour but reducing the block each layer does mean the print can never be repeated, so it can be slightly scary! 

How do you know when you’re happy with what you have created?

Difficult question! I’m not sure any artist is ever entirely happy with anything they have created. However with printmaking, you can’t go back and change anything once the block is cut so I have to be sure of what I’m doing. I learn something from every print I make and I love the journey of experimentation, perhaps when I’m 90 I might be a master!

What are the frustrations of the end-to-end process of creating prints?

The bane of any printmaker’s life is registration, the art of aligning the block and paper perfectly every single time. This is particularly important for the colour prints that I create, there is no room for error! You also can’t change anything with a print so I have very occasionally had to start a piece again when the cutting did not progress quite as I planned!

If resources were no barrier, what would be your ‘masterpiece’?

I would love to make a series of very big landscape prints but I would need to invest in a very big press! I am planning some larger prints that will be printed on beautiful Japanese papers by hand but finding time to work on them is always a challenge.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring printmaker?

It is worth investing in the best tools and materials that you can afford. I would advise buying a few tools at a time and building up your collection as you progress. A craftsman is only as good as his tools.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep experimenting, learning, taking advice and never turn down any opportunity. You never know where it may take you!

To view Robin's work click here.

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