My work stems from observations made in my surrounding landscape; observations of shapes, spaces, textures and colours.
These are initially recorded as photographs, small sketches or collages and undergo a series of fine-tuning once back in the studio before being translated into prints. The finished prints are a result of paring down through a process of subtracting elements and cropping, or the opposite; re-building and inventing new compositions from found elements. The emphasis of the work becomes wholly about shape, colour, proportion, scale and balance.
Drawing goes hand in hand with the screen printing process. Combining the two enables me to produce smooth, crisp images in which I can explore shape and form. I particularly love the combination of geometry and the drawn mark.
My work has evolved over the past few years, as I have become increasingly drawn to the textures of the rural landscape which is part of my everyday life. I am very much inspired by surface; its patterns, textures, layers and colours. Recent works are weighted mainly towards a hand drawn element; scraping, scratching and combining different textural surfaces within each print.
I strive to create something beautiful and understated in my work, and I have always been drawn to work that feels calm.
It’s not really advice as an artist, but as an art student.
When I was living in London studying for my B.A in fine art and living with a group of artists and musicians, one of my house mates was doing printed textiles at the Royal College of Art. His advice was to continue with an M.A in printmaking if I could get a place at the Royal College of Art too. After taking a trip to look around with him I was totally in awe and shocked at how amazing the work was. From that moment, I knew I had to go there. It was the best experience of my life, such a fantastic opportunity and a privilege. It’s something that has shaped my life ever since. Without the advice of my friend I never would have applied.
I like to work in silence when I’m printing, it helps me to concentrate. When I’m preparing work or doing general bits and pieces around my studio I love to listen to indie folk; I love ‘Passenger’ at the moment. I also like to listen to classical music, Mendelssohn or Ravel by the Escher String Quartet, fabulous.
That’s tough. I’d love something by Ellsworth Kelly but I’d probably choose a white relief by Ben Nicholson.
I love Joanne Harris; her books are a combination of great story telling with a bit of folklore mixed in. She even went to the same school my daughter is attending now, and still lives nearby.
Folksy Interview 2016
Printmaker Emma Lawrenson lives and works in a draughty old farmhouse just outside the creative hub of Holmfirth in West Yorkshire. It’s here that she creates her calm and understated abstract screen prints, inspired by landscape, colour and shape. Her geometric style and nod to mid-century artists caught the eye of Hollywood set designers, who snapped up two of Emma’s prints for the walls of Peggy’s office in Mad Men. We talk to Emma to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I’m a full-time printmaker, living and working in the picturesque Yorkshire countryside, which is where the inspiration for much of my work stems. I make abstract prints inspired by anything and everything around me.
How did you discover printmaking?
I knew I wanted to do something with art from a young age. I experimented with printmaking before my degree and immediately fell in love with the process. I was lucky enough to go to the Royal College of Art to study an MA in printmaking after my fine art degree and I’ve been hooked ever since.
How would you describe your aesthetic and has your style changed over time?
I would describe it as simple, understated, colourful, calm and happy. I’ve always worked in this style – it started back in the early 1990s when I began my degree. When I was in London, a long time ago now, I was looking at an urban environment and most of my work was based on the structures and architecture there. Now I live in the countryside, so I make a lot more organic and fluid work, alongside the geometric style. But my style has always been similar – if you saw my work then, you would know it was mine. In the last couple of years, I’ve changed the way I make my stencils. Before, I used cut paper stencils, so everything was really hard-edged and quite graphic. Now, I’ve softened it a lot and all my stencils are hand-drawn. The prints themselves are a lot softer in appearance and they look more handmade. So that’s changed, although the actual compositions and colours haven’t much
We’ve heard that your work featured on Mad Men. Which print was it and who’s wall was it on?
It has! I’ve sent work a few times now to ‘Universal Studios Hollywood’! How bizarre is that? They bought two bold geometric prints for the set of Mad Men, series six. They were on the wall in Peggy’s office. They framed them in very mid-century frames to give them a little bit more of a retro edge!
Can you tell us more about the two studios you work from?
I live in an old draughty farmhouse in Jackson Bridge near Holmfirth and my studio here is pretty big. It has a wooden floor, lots of antique furniture, glass cabinets, books and magazines and it looks out on to a pretty courtyard garden with a big stone barn and lots of pretty roses. I can see cows and birds from the window too. It’s not a bad place to be! I have two overflowing plan chests here full of work, and pots and pots of inks in an old Chinese cabinet.
Holmfirth seems to be a hugely creative hub. Is it a very inspiring place to be?
Holmfirth is definitely an ‘arty’ town – it’s full of very a talented people. There are plenty of events going on throughout the year and I know lots of artists in the town and surrounding villages. We’re also extremely lucky to live only 10 minutes from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is one of my favourite places and hugely inspiring.
What drew you to printmaking originally?
I like processes, and I like to be really methodical and precise, and that’s what printmaking, for me, is all about. You’ve got to have everything pre-planned and worked out before you start. It’s not like painting, where you’re working directly on a canvas. And if you’re doing an etching or a screen printing, there’s always that anticipation before you lift the screen up, because you can’t know exactly what’s going to happen. That’s part of why I like printmaking so much.
After my foundation course, I went on to do a four-year degree in fine art; I did printmaking and quite a lot of drawing, working in a very similar style to the one I’ve got now. Back then, I was living in London with a group of artists and musicians, and what really spurred me on was that a guy I lived with was doing print textiles at the Royal College of Art, and he said, “Why don’t you come to college with me one day?” As soon as I walked around the printmaking area, I was shocked at how amazing the work was and in awe of the students.
From that moment on, I knew I had to go there after I finished my degree, which I did; I got in and did a two-year program in printmaking. It was such a fantastic opportunity and a privilege to go there — I was taught by Tracey Emin, people like that. It’s kind of crazy, looking back, but it was fab.
How long does it take you to make a piece with 15 colors?
I can print that in a day — maybe seven hours — because I’ve been doing it for so long and the water-based inks I use dry pretty quickly. And I usually work on two prints simultaneously, so while one layer is drying, I’m working on the next one. It takes quite a long time, but I do a new edition every week, so maybe 15 will print in a day. Although it takes me a week or two just to get it to that stage — to get it ready to go to the workshop.
What’s the most challenging part of the printmaking process for you?
Color, for me – sometimes the colors just work, and it’s happy days, and then sometimes I think, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on? Nightmare!’ Last week I did one of the nicest prints I think I’ve ever done, but it took me seven hours to get the colors right. I think people might look at my work and think, ‘I could do that. What is it? A few shapes and a few colors on a piece of paper.’ But it is a lot more complicated and can quite easily go wrong. If you get one color that’s slightly too dark, it will throw the whole print off because it stands out so much. And then if all the colors are too similar, it will look washed out, it won’t show up very well on the screen, and I know that it’s not going to sell. There’s a lot riding on the color for me.
In the studio with – Emma Lawrenson
I featured some of Emma’s beautiful work in my artists January ‘Finds!’ and I’m really thrilled that Emma was interested in taking part in this new monthly category that intends to get to source of how the art we see, like and possibly purchase, comes to fruition – the A – Z in images and text. We can often overlook the process involved when we are presented with the final form and yet it’s that very working mental/physical development that holds the living, breathing value and brilliance of a piece – the fundamental part of its soul.
Having studied Fine Art at Reading University, Emma went on to do an MA in Printmaking at The Royal College of Art, London and has since developed a wealth of screen printed imagery inspired by her surrounding environment in Yorkshire. Here, Emma takes us through her ideas and technique…
Do any other artists inspire your work?
Those I have been thinking about recently are Agnes Martin, Ettore Sottsass, Andrew Bick, Breon O’casey and Louise Bourgeois. However, I would say my main inspiration remains with the American Color Field artists and a little bit of Fifties textiles design thrown in!
And what beyond artists inspire your work?
The inspiration for much of my work comes from my immediate environment and the rural landscape. Living in the countryside has a big influence. I have two styles of working. I work with irregular drawn shapes, and I also make geometric/linear work. Inspiration for the latter usually comes from the harder landscape; stone buildings, barns, doorways, windows, pathways. I try to look beyond the obvious and note unusual shapes, patterns and colours as I go about my day.
What is your studio like?
My home studio is my Yorkshire farmhouse. It faces out into a lovely flower filled courtyard garden with an adjacent barn. It is part of our home, so it it filled with antique furniture, painted glass cupboards strewn with pots and pots of inks, my large collection of art books and two overflowing plan chests. At the moment I travel to a printmaking workshop about ten miles away once a week to use the facilities there. I have plans to turn our barn into my own screen printing studio soon.
How would you describe your work?
Minimal, abstract, simple, understated, elegant.
What appeals to you about the screen printing process?
I love that is allows me to be very methodical and precise. It enables me to produce crisp, smooth and clean images, exploring shape and form through the layering of colours, textures and painterly marks. I love the anticipation of lifting up the screen to see what has happened underneath on the paper.
Can you describe the process?
Screen printing is a stencil method of printmaking. A fine mesh screen is coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion and left to dry in a darkroom. The stencil is transferred onto the screen using ultraviolet light. I create stencils by hand. Once the screen is made, ink is forced through the voids in the mesh using a squeegee. One colour is printed at a time, so several screens are used to produce a multi-coloured image.
I press all of my work between tissue paper and weigh it down under heavy boards to flatten perfectly, then I edition the prints in pencil. Some pieces are worked into afterwards with white conte crayon or pencil.
To what extent does nature/landscape inform your practice?
Very much so, but I think in a subconscious way. The shapes, contours and colours of the landscape are part of my daily life, and I make a point of absorbing as much as possible wherever I am.
How important is colour, form and shape?
These three elements are fundamental to my work. From the initial origins/drawings/photographs in my sketchbooks I begin a process of stripping everything back to the bare essentials through a process of abstraction. Images then begin to evolve as small paintings or collages. I spend my time adding removing and moving pieces around on a background, allowing the image to slowing define itself. The emphasis of the work then becomes wholly about shape, colour,proportion, scale and balance.
Colour is often the most difficult and time consuming aspect to get right. Work ultimately emerges by intuition, and then I modify it several times before a decision is made. Even after printing, I modify and re-work some pieces by tweaking colours.
How small is your print run?
I like to keep editions small, so I usually make edition sizes between 10 & 30.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a new series of large ‘drawn’ geometric screen prints. These have soft muted colours and mix elements of solid block colour with hand drawn textures. I love the rhythms and structures of geometry. I can play with internal and external space within a flat background.
And what is next?
My printmaking studio is a must this summer, and then it’s full steam ahead making work on a larger scale. I am exhibiting in the RA summer exhibition at the moment, and have been invited to exhibit at ‘The Royal Academy of Arts in Yorkshire’ and the 7th Printmaking Biennale in Duoro, Portugal soon. I hope to hold a solo exhibition in London, watch this space!
Interview: February 2012, The Biscuit Factory.
Can you briefly describe what you do?
I am a printmaker, only using the screen printing process at the moment.
I make abstract prints inspired by anything and everything around me. I notice unusual shapes, patterns and colours then try to make some sort of order out of them back in my studio. I can take shapes and images from almost anywhere and am constantly scanning as I go about my day.
Deciding what is worthy of noting, or drawing is sometimes a struggle. If I’m lacking stimulus or feel overwhelmed by all the stuff in my sketchbooks I’ll go out for a walk with my dog in the hills or by the river and absorb colours, textures and clear my head.
I have two main styles of working; one is the more hard-edged geometric or linear style and the other, the more fluid abstract shapes and organic work.
I tend to focus back to nature and the rural landscape when I find myself going off on tangents, it makes me channel into an area I find calming and makes me work at a slower pace.
I find the organic prints are the most beautiful. They have softer lines and curves. These also tend to be the prints with the least colours, so never seem to go wrong.
Does your work go wrong?
Sometimes the colours in my prints do go badly wrong and I have to overprint several times. I find colour is the most time consuming part of the work.
You talk about different styles of work, which style of work do you enjoy making the most?
I enjoy both, depending how I’m feeling at the time. I like creating the more geometric work simply because I enjoy patterns and the challenge of working with more colours. As a child, I loved drawing patterns and filling them in. I like that there is a structure and that an image will nearly always work without having to try too hard at it.
I tend to stick to certain rules; I like to crop the shapes, I prefer to work within a rectangle and I think about positive and negative space. I find this is ingrained in me, an intuitive part of my practice. I question whether the image is balanced and if your eye is led into the picture, or if it is too static…..I question myself all the time.
When making work I also think about how the work will ‘fit in’ with other works. I feel that it is very important to view works side by side, letting them interact with one another. I never just print something hoping it will just slot into place with others.
I always have both finished and unfinished work on my studio and home walls, it helps me to work out sizes and connections between works.
What drives you to make work?
The process and formal qualities and conventions of screen printing fascinate me. My work is an engagement with the process, and I have a need to create work that is perfectly printed. I view printing as a craft, it is a skill to practice and keep practicing, like ceramics or painting. Another reason is the need to simply sort through and express my ideas.
Can you tell me something of your day-to-day working practice?
After I have dropped my two children at school I go to my studio, which is currently at home. I check e-mails to see if I have made any sales that need wrapping and posting out. Also I have quite a few clients now who often e-mail, so I keep checking throughout the day.
I usually get down to some serious work at about 8.30 when I look through my sketchbooks and notes to see what I did the day before. On most days I work out ideas as small collages, I have a few on the go at once. I paint onto spare pieces of Fabriano Paper, and then cut them up to make the collages, working from the drawings or photographs in my sketchbooks. I spend my time adding, removing and moving pieces around on a background, allowing the image to slowly define itself.
My whole week revolves around a Friday, which is the only day I can have sole use of the screen printing room at the print workshop I use. I have to be on my own there or I lose concentration and make mistakes.
Thursdays are pretty hectic, as I need to have all my artwork ready to transfer onto the screens the next day, and I have to have all my inks mixed in advance.
I find it tough, not having my own printing facilities. It’s like being a painter, but only being able to get to my canvas on a Friday. It’s difficult. I’m in the process of drawing up plans for a studio in an outbuilding at the moment.
How long have you been working in that way?
I have always worked this way. When I’m not printing I am wielding a scalpel! When I was at the R.C.A, I seemed to spend a lot of time carefully cutting up bits of paper with a scalpel. My studio became known as ‘the surgery’!
Which artists have had the greatest affect on your work?
Those I have been thinking about recently are Rachel Whiteread, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, Ettore Sottsass and Anni Albers. I look at other artists work daily. It’s hard to pinpoint a few, I love the St Ives artists, the American color-field artsists, in particular Ellsworth Kelly.
I’m lucky to live really close to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which must be one of the best in the world, I visit every exhibition. I often visit each show more than once, to take it all in. I am always amazed by the work on show. I particularly enjoy seeing the drawings that accompany the sculptures, they really show the workings and thought processes of the artist. I was blown away by the work of Peter Randall-Page .
What outside visual art, informs your practice?
I filter many elements from things such as magazines, books, views out of the car window, or simply the landscape when I’m out walking, anything I find useful. I try to keep my eyes open wherever I am.
How would you like people to engage with your work?
When contemplating a print I think about how someone will view the work. I want people to linger and feel there is something to discover. I’d like there to be some intrigue and a connection to the work without necessarily knowing what each print actually is. I’d like people to appreciate the colours and forms without worrying about meaning. I love work that is immediate, simplicity is everything.
Have you seen anything recently that has made an impression?
I bought a book recently; ‘Rachel Whiteread Drawings’ from the shop at The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. Her drawings are exquisite.
Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?
I’m working towards a solo show at the Duckett & Jeffreys Gallery in May. I have also been offered my first international solo show at the r.mfa (Rochester Museum of Fine Arts) in the USA later in the year.
For up to date information about me and my work you can also visit my blog: www.emmalawrenson.blogspot.com