In conversation: Rachel Knowles

Rachel Knowles grid images
Clockwise from top right: Hodsock Snowdrops, France Flowers, Summer is Coming, Thistles.

I first saw Rachel’s work a few years ago and fell in love with her detailed compositions, and the mark making of her nature themed prints. I contacted her recently to see if she would tell us a bit more about her creative practice, and here’s what she had to say:

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I have been passionate about creating art all my life. To represent or create an image is when I am myself. I went to Loughborough University to study Fine Art Printmaking. After completing my degree course I enrolled on a PGCE course at Leeds to study to become a secondary teacher and it was through teaching that I met some local artists and began to create artwork again at home and enter exhibitions. My artwork became of primary importance so the natural thing to do was to leave teaching and develop my own practice. The skills I developed while teaching were invaluable and have definitely shaped my art.

How did you get into printmaking? …

I began at 6th form college with some pretty basic screen printing, then at Leeds college I began to widen my experience to include mono printing, screen printing on a much bigger scale and lino printing. But it was at Loughborough where my interest was nurtured and I gained most of my knowledge – the world of print was laid bare. There I was opened up to the possibilities and diversity of printmaking, how each process had its own different outcomes. All I wanted to do was learn more.

How do you start a body of work? Are there a set of steps or a creative thought process you go through first?…

Drawing, looking, drawing, looking and a lot of day dreaming!! I am such a fan of drawing, if it wasn’t printmaking I would have stuck with a pencil without a doubt. My Dad was a draughtsman and he spent time teaching me some basic drawing skills such as perspective, composition, shading, and the dreaded ellipse! I photograph, draw and collect primary sources to give me observational knowledge of my subject. Sketching and photographs help me to play about with composition. Composition is very important for an image to work. A piece can be beautifully drawn and rendered but if the composition is wrong it can make all the difference.

I also listen to Jack Johnson on repeat while I draw which has become a bit of a ritual!

Work in progress
Lily, work in progress and final print.

What inspires your work?…

It would be easy to look at my work and say – this artist likes nature! And yes that is a big part of my inspiration, however there are a few more things I would add to that. Other printmakers inspire me, in particular I like the work of British printmakers such as Gertrude Hermes and John Nash. There is such a lot of detail and an understanding of balance in tones. I am also inspired by my memories. It’s hard for me to not link my art to a place or memory. And finally I love the drawn line, mark making and pattern. A pencil mark on a piece of paper is beautiful and I look to recreate those lines in the prints.

Do you keep sketchbooks? If so are they an integral part of your working process?…

I have a bit of a sketchbook fetish!! I love to keep a sketchbook but I tend to have more than one on the go! One tutor said always put your ideas into a sketchbook no matter what you think of them at the time, you will look back and something could develop from them at a later stage. It’s really important to record your thoughts and drawings because they are all an integral part of your artistic development.

Is the process of making as important or more important than the finished piece?…

For me yes it is more important – the act of producing a piece of art is a singularly unique experience for its creator. I believe that artists create because they are driven to experience the creative process. The moment an idea has potential the exciting part is seeing it emerge. It’s exciting and fulfilling and only experienced by the artist. And so the value for the artist may often be in the process rather than the finished piece.

Do you ever print out in the field (do you have a small portable printing kit) or do you take photographs and sketch and then work on your designs back in the studio?…

I haven’t tried to print out in the field – I tend to be a bit of a control freak when it comes to the process and like to know where all my equipment is and have a bit of a routine going on. So to print outside would probably throw me off, although it’s good to be challenged – I might try it! Mostly I sketch or take photographs and then bring those back to the studio and work from there.

Thrift sketch
Thrift sketch

Tell us a bit about your studio…

Currently I am between places. I had a space at home which I would use to create work but I found that I was sprawling out into other areas of the house. So I have set up a studio away from the house. Both spaces are filled with art books and images/ideas/photos I have collected to inspire me. I have quite a lot of art equipment from my teaching days so both are well stocked.

Do you think it’s important to be organised and for everything to have its place in a print studio?

Yes of course – you need to know where your stuff is in order to follow the process and keep your printing gear in working order. It can be expensive to buy just one roller and some ink so keeping it well maintained and in its place is a good start, that way it should cost you less in the long run. It’s important to have somewhere to store paper. I was given a plan-chest about 8 years ago and I would be lost without. It keeps my paper flat and clean and my prints safe, essential when your body of work grows.

What’s your favourite bit of printmaking equipment, and what couldn’t you live without? (Mine’s my Japanese wood cutting tools)

Honestly it’s my wooden spoon! I have a table top press but I like to print bigger than the size of it so I use a wooden spoon to burnish the prints. Over time the spoon has developed a lovely sheen and it goes over the back of the paper really nicely. I would be lost without it!

Thrift
Thrift final print

Have you got any advice or useful tips for students studying printmaking from home who may not have access to a print studio?

Yes – don’t be put off thinking that you need lots of big fancy equipment and therefore it must be a non- starter. There are many print techniques that don’t need a press which is the big one for printmakers.

I tend to use very basic equipment that means I could (if I needed) print pretty much anywhere. Equipment can be expensive but doesn’t have to be, I would love to say my cutting tools are really expensive and they cost a fortune, but they didn’t! They cost around £6 and have never steered me wrong!

A good roller is essential as is a good palette knife, decent ink and paper. These are the things that can cost you all that work of cutting if they are not good quality. I also invested in some acrylic sheets cut to A3 size which I use for inking up, this means I always have a portable smooth surface to work with.

After I have rolled the lino with the ink it’s just the paper and my trusty wooden spoon!

You could try mono printing with these materials as well. There are some decent ‘how to’ printmaking books out there on printing without a press and there are lots of possibilities so go for it!

Thank you so much to Rachel for answering my questions, check out more of her work here.

 

Leanne Putt, OCA Graphic Designer.

5 Comments

  1. Inger Inanna Weidema 21 July 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you Leanne for this interesting interview. I love the idea of the spoon – definitely on my list of things to try! I wouldn’t have guessed that a spoon could make such lovely prints. 🙂

    Reply
  2. JulieB 21 July 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Great interview, thanks, I enjoyed this. I particularly like Rachel’s observation that artists are driven by the need to experience the creative process not the end result. A good reminder of why we do what we do.

    Reply
  3. leanneputt 22 July 2016 at 9:06 am

    Yes it just goes to show, you don’t need expensive equipment to create great work, and I think if you’re passionate about what you do the whole experience is just as important.

    Reply
  4. Rebecca moore 25 July 2016 at 8:48 am

    I really enjoy the mix of control and surprise that comes with printmaking. I am drawn to Rachel’s use of strong colours as well as her monochromatic prints. I would love to see even more surprises in her work, a touch of unexpected colour or mark making to surprise the viewer. The journey of creating is so rewarding, it is terrific to learn that others enjoy the process also.

    Reply
  5. juliakwalton 25 July 2016 at 7:50 pm

    I enjoyed this interview very much. Rachel’s process, and especially the importance of drawing has underlined the benefits of keeping a sketchbook. Her lovely compositions and varied lines and marks are a joy to behold.

    Reply

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