We were lucky enough to catch Eric Gaskell’s exhibition of lino cuts and paintings at Audlem Mill gallery last week. After long admiring his work, especially his canal images, I was really pleased when he agreed to an interview for The Fern Journal blog.
I know your work specifically through your canal prints but know that you also draw and paint extensively. Which of these art forms do you feel most comfortable with?
Drawing has always been the most natural thing for me to do. Print and paint tend to evolve from my drawing. Over the years, and there have been quite a few of them, my drawing style and mediums used has shifted, tending to follow the type of painting and print I was doing at the time. I don’t know if the drawing changed because of the paint/print or vice versa.
Are you inspired by any specific art styles or movements? Who are your favourite artists?
I can’t say that I am inspired by any art movement in general but I do have a number of artists that I look up to. Apart from the standard greats that everyone likes; Turner, Monet, Whistler, Matisse, Kandinsky… There are some in particular. Egon Schiele, one of the great draughtsman of the 20th century, his figure drawings are probably the best ever made. His use of line is phenomenal. Paul Klee is always worth looking at, one of the great inventors of form and colour, creating new worlds in line and shape. George Braque a pre-eminent painter of form and still life and of course David Hockney. The world would be a poorer place without him. There are other less well known painters, Keith Vaughan for instance who had a wonderful sense of design, and line.
How long does it take on average to carve out a lino plate?
My linocuts start, as most things with me, with drawing. I always, well almost always, draw from life. These drawings are then refined, redrawn and deconstructed. Some become linocuts, many don’t. If they do they are refined further to fit the format I am thinking of. Then it is transferred to the block. Whether the linocut is a multiblock or a reduction the time tends to be about the same, working through proofs and cutting to the final edition. The whole process can take as little as 3 or 4 days, but most of the complicated linocuts will take up to 3 or 4 weeks.
I notice that your drawing style is very free and expressive which you successfully translate this feeling of movement in to your print work, how difficult is it to convey this between mediums?
Very difficult really. I would like to be able to do it better, but on the other hand I don’t simply want to translate a drawing into a linocut. In a way simply making a drawing into a linocut doesn’t take advantage of what linocut offers and I would find that very limiting after a while. Generally speaking a drawing is black lines but inlinocutting it is much easier to create a white mark than a black mark, as a white line is simply a single cut, a black line means cutting away material on all four sides. Simply doing that means you loose any sense of flow or fluidity. That is why Matisse’s white line lino cuts works so well.
You say on your website that your print work is based on drawings, do you draw every day?
I would love to say that I do, but I don’t. Many days are spent working on prints and paintings, which entails a different sort of drawing. Having said that I do tend to draw on average several days a week, even if the drawings I make are more notational – ideas if you like – for other work. Most of my drawings are not intended for any other use than as drawings.
Out of all of the subjects that you cover, still life, landscape, people, is there any one that appeals to you more than the others, that you find yourself drawn to more?
I prefer drawing things that have strong structure and oddly water which is the very opposite of structure. My favourite would be townscapes, subjects that have architecture (which is why I like the canals – not necessarily the boats, but the water, locks and warehouses etc.). Buildings and man-made objects have strong lines, create good sharp shadows and have complexity. Landscapes less so, unless they include something man-made. Many people would say that man-made objects are quite boring from a colour point of view, and that’s true – but I don’t tend to follow the natural colour of anything really – I change things to suit the work. Water is always interesting and although it appears to have little structure, when you really look at it, it does. The linocut, which can be quite a structured artform, helps to bring out that element in water.
What drew you to the canal as a subject matter originally?
A friend of mine who ran canal websites was part of a show at the NIA in 2003-04 and asked if I’d like to show some work on his stand – “canals would be good” he said. So I did about six small black and white linocuts of the canal in Birmingham. I didn’t do any more for around four years when I was asked why I hadn’t made more. It was then that I started to take it more seriously and eight years later I am still making work and exhibiting it in UK and overseas. As I said earlier, canals have a lot of what I like, structure and water being the two main areas.
Does producing such colourful images pose much difficulty in lino printing? Does it involve creating different variations of printing plates for the same image?
I tend to use a very limited palette so when I am painting I only use around eight colours (two reds, two blues, three yellows) and white. I find this helps to both create a sense of unity and consistency in a painting. A limited palette also helps if you need to mix a certain colour again. So when I turn to printmaking the same limitations are used. The suppliers of the printing inks I use have a limited palette anyway so I end up using around the same as I do in painting. The type of linocut method I use depends on the work I am making. Sometimes it is a simple one block reduction (when I go through three of four steps each time the colour getting darker), it can be a very complex multi-block reduction (when two or more blocks are reduced for each colour, yellow-blue-red, generally starting light to dark on each block) or a more standard multi-block linocut (this is when I generally use four blocks that overprint each other just once, but create complex colour ways as they overprint). Each one uses colour in a different way, both because of the way the blocks are used and how many times the paper goes through the press.
Thank you so much for sharing your process and talking about your beautiful work.
To see more of Eric Gaskell’s work here is a link to his website gallery www.egdesign.co.uk, his work is also on show until the 20th August at Audlem Mill, The Wharf, Audlem and also at Welshpool Museum Sept to Dec.