Sometimes you do a little double take when you see someone’s art. That was definitely the case for me when I first saw Jonathan Blackmore’s reduction linocuts. Look at them, they’re like bloomin’ photographs.
But yep, I’ve checked and they’re actually intricate, multiple colour prints. I know, right?
I had to get a better understanding of all this sorcery. Not since the prints of Dave Lefner had I seen anything so convincing, so balanced.
But more than that, the prints had soul too. Maybe it came from the buildings Jonathan’s chosen to depict – great stone churches and cathedral interiors, looming high above the viewer. I don’t know. The guy even leads workshops for print beginners, and is a member of the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen to boot. I needed to get to the bottom of things…
Hello Jonathan. When did you first start linocutting?
I managed to miss doing linocut at school. Everyone I meet seems to remember having made a print, but I took it up much later and I’ve been a printmaker full-time for two and a half years.
I studied for a degree in Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1979 to 1982. I did some printmaking there, but spent most of my time painting landscapes in acrylic and making sculptures and pictures from photographs cut into shapes and sewn together.
After graduating I had a long – much too long – career in computers that stopped me from doing enough art, until I was made redundant at the age of 55. I then decided to take up art and printmaking again full time.
Who are your printing influences?
There are some very talented artists around and I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook to see their work progressing. But I grew up in Hong Kong and I’m very attracted to traditional oriental art, particularly Japanese prints and Chinese landscapes, but I don’t know if that shows in my work.
Can we talk about the architecture in your works – why is it such a source of fascination?
We’ve lived in Wells, Somerset, in the West of England, since 2000 and there’s some wonderful medieval architecture just a few minutes from home. It’s hard not to be influenced by that. It was designed to inspire and to impress. I find the geometric patterns and repetition built in to the architecture really fascinating and trying to represent three dimensional buildings in a medium that reduces everything to flat colour is a challenge. I’m really not into modern architecture, but I do have a fondness for medieval arches, doors and windows and the complex spaces within the buildings.
There’s a slightly religious feel to the work – is this of any importance to you, or is it just a result of the buildings themselves?
I have an appreciation for spirituality and the beauty of buildings that were inspired by people’s spirituality. One of my favourite places in the Cathedral is the retrochoir, a forest of columns supporting fan-vaulted ceilings. This year I plan to do more work outside, so perhaps the feel of my website will change, but I’d still hope to capture the spirit of a place.
Reduction printing can be very frustrating…
Reduction prints are frustrating, tricky and difficult, there’s so much that can go wrong that you just have to do them anyway. I think my success rate is improving from a technical point of view. However, I’m also becoming more critical of my work, so I’m less likely to think of things as a success.
I aim for an edition of 18 to 20 and generally end up with around 12 to 15 prints that I am happy with, unless the whole thing is a write off. I print by hand, burnishing with a spoon. I use water-based inks and I’m not aiming for solid colours, so every print in an edition is unique.
I’ve done some reduction prints where a middle colour turned out to be unsatisfactory when I have already moved on and cut and printed the next. There’s not a lot you can do about that.
Do you do linocuts that aren’t reductions at all?
I recently started doing prints with multiple blocks. Of course, the great advantage is that you can try different colour combinations or just redo a block if it doesn’t work out. I also do monochrome prints.
Your colours are very measured…
I spend a lot of time mixing colours and trying to get them just right. I think when you’re limited to five or six colours in a print, it requires more consideration.
How did you get involved with hosting courses?
I started hosting beginners’ workshops last year after I joined the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen. We are running a programme of different craft workshops this year so people can try out linocut, papermaking, stone carving and other crafts.
What kind of people come to your courses – is there an increasing interest, do you think?
The workshops I’ve done so far are specifically for beginners. I think it’s important everyone should be at the same level – it doesn’t really work to have experienced people mixed with beginners.
I aim to give people the confidence to get started and enough information to carry on making their own prints at home. I’ve had some lovely feedback from people who came on my workshops and it’s really nice when they carry on exploring printmaking afterwards.
There seems to be a lot of interest in linocut at the moment, which is nice. I plan to do a few more workshops this year and I’m running a two-colour print workshop in April that will explore different ways to tackle the problem of registration.
What does being a member of the guild of craftsmen actually entail?
There’s no secret handshake – I was disappointed.
The Somerset Guild of Craftsmen has been running since 1933 and has around 60 active members working in different art or craft disciplines. Despite the old-fashioned name, there are many female members.
To join you should be an actively practising craftsman or craftswoman, with a focus on one particular craft. You submit your best work to the selection panel (who are Guild members) and if it’s of a consistently high standard then you’re invited to join.
In addition to displaying members’ work for sale, the Guild organises a programme of exhibitions and workshops run by Guild members. The Guild has a permanent gallery in Wells (at 23a Broad Street, behind Pickwick’s Cafe.) We also have a website.
You can find Jonathan on the web in the following places.