Alison Deegan’s linocut prints appear deceptively simple. They celebrate natural forms and structures and are composed with a very crisp, light and decorative aesthetic. The prints have a highly effective balance between bright colour and strong lines. Alison’s print ‘Newt Love’ was awarded a runner up prize in our ‘Impressions in Nature’ printmaking competition. We wanted to show more of her work and find out how she feels about being a printmaker today.
Lisa: Do you often depict natural forms in your work?
Alison: Yes, the shapes and colours of nature inform most of my work – from the sweep of a mountain landscape to the smallest barnacle. I like the patterns to be found in a flock of ascending oystercatchers, a limpet-clustered rock or the arrangements of pebbles on a beach. But I am also fascinated by the man-made patterns in a rural landscape – the repetitions in a row of harvested crop, a dry stone wall or the silhouette of a tightly-cropped hedgerow.
Lisa: How important is drawing to your practice?
Alison: Every piece starts with a sketch or drawing that I then develop, sometimes with coloured pencils, sometimes with watercolours or inks. Drawing isn’t my strongest point but I think the medium of lino print is quite forgiving!
Lisa: Do you ever work in other media?
Alison: I love watercolours – I started painting about 10 years ago and it was through this that I eventually came to printmaking. I like to integrate a watercolour sketch or painting into my printmaking process as it helps to me to explore colour, texture and layering in a design and gives me more practice in this medium. I also love textiles and embroidery. I have a stash of calico printed with my sea urchin designs and when I am feeling at a creative low I find a little bit of freehand embroidery helps open my mind to new ideas.
Lisa: What’s the best way of ensuring a nice even print when printing by hand?
Alison: I think the right combination of design, ink and paper is the key. Large areas of solid colour in a design will always be tricky to get right. In my experience oil-based inks give better coverage than water-based products, though I know many artists use these with beautiful results. It is easier to get good results from hand burnishing with lighter-weight papers and tissues. Some are so fine they need nothing more than a quick sweep of the hand to pick up the ink and they can be backed with more substantial papers when they are dry. I know several artists who burnish with wooden spoons but I have a nail buffer and Teflon furniture slider for this purpose in my tool kit.
Lisa: Would you recommend selling your work via Etsy to other artists?
Alison: I sell though the British-based Folksy and Etsy, both are great market places with low fees and easy to manage shop systems.
Lisa: What inks and paper do you like to work with the most?
Alison: I use Caligo inks because they have the benefits of traditional oil-based inks but are easier and safer to clean up. I use a variety of papers depending on the print design. For smaller pieces and embossed prints I really like the soft and billowy texture of the St Cuthberts Mill Somerset Printmaking Paper, I would probably use this more if I had a press with more oomph. For my larger pieces I tend to work with Zerkall Extra Smooth or Inbe Epais. The Zerkall has a lovely and crisp feel and is great for single colour prints or designs without too many layers of overlapping colour. The Inbe Epais is lighter and has a more matt finish, it can take several layers of ink really well and the drying time is quicker.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Alison: I recently spent a very blustery day at Bempton Cliffs. I am fascinated by the way such varied bird species as puffins, gannets and kittiwakes and guillemots all nest cheek-by-jowl on the narrow ledges of the chalky cliff-face. I am mulling over a design on this theme.
Lisa: What is the best bit of advice you have ever received about making art?
Alison: ‘Don’t take Art A level’, from my art O level teacher.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Alison: You can see what I am up to on my blog and my work is available online in my Folksy and Etsy shops. I currently have a few pieces at Rural Arts in Thirsk and will be showing a selection at Stillingfleet Lodge in September.