When I lived in London, I spent a bundle of time travelling around the city on trains and tubes and buses, like anyone, and to be honest, I enjoyed these little pockets of time spent ‘forced idling’, waiting for destinations to arrive.
I also liked the look and feel (and even smell) of some of these means of getting around, and soon noticed other cities I visited had their own unique slant on the transportation thing, identities of their own, distinct from London in their own way.
So when I came across printmaker/painter (and Fellow of the Royal Society of Printmakers no less) Gail Brodholt, I was doubly delighted. Her prints are so evocative of travelling in the city of London (and nowadays beyond that), executed with such a compositional talent.
They seem sort of ageless and modern all at once, and so, as is increasingly my wont, I sent her some questions about her work, and what it means to be – comparatively speaking – a printing bigwig.
As ever, I was overjoyed to even get a response…
Can you remember when you first started printing?
When I was at art school studying Fine Art, the first year of the degree consisted of a term in the painting studio, a term in the sculpture studio and a year in the printmaking studio. As you can imagine, a term is not really long enough to take in so many complicated printmaking processes and I was rather overwhelmed.
However, I did have a lot of fun with various types of relief printing. In the end, I decided to specialise in painting for the rest of my degree. When I left further education I carried on painting but I took up printmaking – in particular linocutting – and never looked back!
Can you tell me a little bit about your printing set up?
I work in a studio right by the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, South East London. It’s in a complex of 300+ units called Thames-Side Studios. I have an Albion press made in 1841 which I’ve had for many years.
What inks/papers do you use?
Somerset textured soft white 300gsm, and Lawrence’s oil-based relief printmaking inks.
Would you urge anyone to have a go?
No, I don’t need the competition! Seriously though, linocutting is not a difficult process to master. You need very little equipment compared to other forms of printmaking such as etching – you don’t even need a press as you can burnish the back of the paper with a spoon. You really just need lino, a couple of cutting tools, a roller and some paper and ink. You can even do the whole thing on your kitchen table.
Once you get hooked, you may find using an open access print studio such as the Thames Barrier Print Studio may be useful, but I’d definitely encourage anyone to try it.
Can you elaborate on how your work in painting enhances your printing work?
Sometimes I get an idea and I feel it works better as a painting and sometimes it works better as a linocut. It is not always a case that a particular subject matter will work well in either medium – it just depends on what I have in mind as a finished piece of work. Occasionally I’ll do both.
Your composition, that of space and relationship of things on the page, is very impressive – do you think that comes from the painting side perhaps?
No, to be honest I think it’s the other way round. I think the key to a good linocut is structure – what I like to call the bones of a print. It’s quite a graphic medium insofar as it’s hard to get much texture or tone. Also, you’re cutting into a block of lino and there’s not much scope for fine detail. Therefore you have to cut out a lot and it forces you to consider carefully what you can and can’t leave out. With painting, it’s a more flexible medium and you can get much closer to what you’re aiming for, without having to make the same sort of compromises you do in linocutting.
How do you handle the ‘selling yourself’ side of being an artist? Do you find it easy to do art fairs, etc, or would you rather just work?
Like most artists, I’m drawn to a fairly solitary life. I like working on my own in the studio and I like making my own decisions. So as a consequence, mastering that side is actually quite difficult. In an ideal world I’d hand over that whole side of things to someone else!
The upside of working in today’s environment is that you don’t have to rely entirely on the gallery system. Obviously it’s really important to work with galleries as that’s where people will be able to see your work in the flesh. But there’s a lot of scope for promoting yourself and your work by social media and, more importantly, your website.
I find Twitter, Facebook and Instagram very useful for reaching out directly to people who enjoy your work and, to be honest, it’s a way of being part of a community which you don’t get working away quietly in your studio.
In terms of directly selling your work at art fairs, that also can be a valuable tool although the experience of talking to potential customers for three or four days can be daunting.
Can you talk about the role of transport that inspires your prints? Why’s London such a key element?
I like to portray the world that I live in and that happens to be London. If I lived in another part of the country, that would be my subject matter. In any case, London’s such a huge place you could find enough subject matter to last you several lifetimes without running out.
I suppose when it comes to the tubes and the trains – and my new passion, roads! – I like the idea of being on a journey. You never really know what’s going to happen as you travel from one place to another – mostly nothing, obviously – but there’s always a chance of the unexpected happening and it’s always interesting to be suspended from your normal responsibilities and commitments while you sit on a train looking out of the window.
Finally, what does being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Printmakers actually entail?
Being a Fellow entails submitting a portfolio of eight prints to the election committee, which meets every year. If you’re lucky enough to be elected, it allows you to use the initials RE after your name and entitles you to exhibit at every printmaking exhibition held at the Bankside Gallery on London’s Southbank, which is run by the RE and the Royal Watercolour Society in partnership.