Hilary Daltry is a member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, head of Printmaking at Heatherley’s School of Art in London, a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Printmaking expert on our panel of judges for the Jackson’s Open Art Competition. We wanted to ask her about her work.
Lisa: Why did you become an artist?
Hilary: I’ve always loved drawing and painting and could not have imagined doing anything else. I am a very visual person. It is my form of communication.
Lisa: Where do you do the majority of your work? What is the space like?
Hilary: I work mostly from my studio at home. Often I draw and paint on my travels and in museums. Sketchbooks often contain the germ of prints worked up in the studio later.
I have a large north-facing room with good natural light, full of art books, a wide range of still life items from natural objects to terracotta heads, my plan chests, easels, an etching press and a large table where I hand print my woodcut prints. The garden is my outdoor studio in the summer.
Lisa: Do you see yourself primarily as an artist or a printmaker? Do you mind which you are referred to as?
Hilary: I don’t mind being referred to either, but I am a Fine Artist- my first degree is a B.A. in Painting from the Slade School of Fine Art, in University College London. My prints often derive from my paintings. I am not a graphic artist. Painter- Printmaker is a good description.
“Painter Printmaker” is an official term derived from my position as an elected member of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers. I do not see my printmaking work as a lesser type of art. It is Fine Art printmaking.
Lisa: Where do you find the subject matter for your work and how do you know when an image is ready to be consigned to a woodcut print?
Hilary: My current interest in fruit is an offshoot of earlier prints and paintings which were based on classical sculpture, particularly allegorical female figures. The fruits suggest themes of abundance and nourishment. I find subject matter all around me, but any everyday visual material is filtered through the lens of my experience of classical art.
I explore various compositions by drawing, monoprinting, and painting on paper before I decide to make a composition into a woodcut. It takes months to complete a large woodcut with 4 or 5 separate wood blocks cutting one block for each colour. “September Fruits on Copenhagen Dish” was based on drawings I made of Victoria plums from my neighbour’s tree, it depicts the plums spilling out of a blue and white dish, showing the abundance of nature.
Lisa: What do you perceive to be the most significant breakthrough in your career as a printmaker?
Hilary: In retrospect everything seems very continuous, but one significant and formative experience was being awarded the Prix de Rome in Printmaking in 1985, after my M.A. (at Chelsea School of Art) and spending a year at the British School in Rome making detailed etchings of Etruscan and Roman funerary reliefs and sculpture. For me, drawing and printing was really a way of getting to know the city, and Italy and the Mediterranean have remained a strong influence on my work. The earth colours in my prints are echoes of the limited colours in Roman paintings and mosaics.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Hilary: I have work ongoing of the following subjects: pomegranates, figs, and October apples. An apple tree print needs editioning, a lemon tree print does too!
Lisa: In an age of digital imagery and mass media, why do you think original prints are still important?
Hilary: Creativity is so important- people will always want to make things with their hands. Collectors also like to own things that are handmade. My prints always start with drawing and the whole process is physically done by me. Nature is my source, and I respond to it naturally, unmediated by technology. My prints look good when they are reproduced as digital images, but they are original works of art, like paintings. I prefer to actually look at a real work of art than to look at a screen.
Lisa: How does teaching inform your own work?
Hilary: As a teacher you never stop learning. Teaching gives me insight into the creative process. It’s rewarding to pass one’s experience on and there is something particularly creative about working together in a print workshop where you are literally bumping in to each other and sharing ideas! It is a democratic, collective experience. It is natural to me to facilitate other people’s creativity- I have made art all my life and I have taught it almost as long!
Lisa: Do you have a favourite kind of ink/paper that you like to work with? If so what and for what reasons?
Hilary: For my woodcut prints I like to use Japanese papers as these are perfect for hand printing with a baren (traditional Japanese bamboo disk for hand printing) and I use oil-based relief inks. Somerset Satin is a favourite paper for printing my etchings and I like Charbonnel etching inks.
Lisa: You are one of the judges for the upcoming Jackson’s Open Art Prize. How important do you think it is to recognise new artwork with prizes and competitions?
Hilary: It is essential for students and artists to receive encouragement and recognition for their work, being selected for a group exhibition builds confidence and winning a prize can even establish a career.
Lisa: What will you be looking for as a judge of the JOAP?
Hilary: When I see a lot of work together there is always work that stands out. The stand-out factor may be a mastery of the medium (e.g. a real feeling for paint) or excellence in drawing, or a superb print. Something that surprises me and delights me. I will know it when I see it.
Lisa: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering the competition?
Hilary: Be yourself and submit the best of what you normally do.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Hilary: The Bankside Gallery www.banksidegallery.com
The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers www.re-printmakers.com
Heatherley’s School of Fine Art www.heatherleys.org