We first came across Anthea Bee’s work back in December 2016, when her linocut Christmas card won our Festive Image Call Out competition. The competition was held on Twitter and we were surprised to find that she had entered – and won – with her very first tweet! Now that Spring has come around, we thought it would be a good time to follow up on her new work.
Duncan: Hi Anthea, thanks for talking to us. My first question is where did your interest in printmaking start?
Anthea: My background is as far removed from printmaking as possible. I qualified from medical school in 1985 and after working in the NHS for 29 years and following an unexpected family bereavement, I felt I needed a career break and a new venture. With a love of art and a desire to unleash any creative potential, I was introduced to a small local art group run by Susan Amos at Plough House in Chepstow. Here, at a one day workshop, I was shown the basics of lino cutting and printmaking and was immediately hooked on the process. I very much enjoyed drawing simple designs and shapes, the cutting and inking of the block, and the pulling of a freshly printed image.
With new-found energy, I trawled books and the internet, looking at the work of printmakers from Samuel Palmer, Eric Ravillious and Edward Bawden, to Japanese masters of woodcut including Hokusi and Saito, to wonderful current artists such as Angie Lewin. I decided to book on a short course in relief printmaking run by Christine Howes at Spike Print Studios, Bristol. There I learned how simple but also conversely how complicated printmaking could be, and how much joy a new experience could bring.
DM: How do you prepare for your linocuts? What tools, papers and art materials do you use?
AB: I work from home in a spare attic room where I have an old kitchen table on which I have a small etching press. I have a lovely set of Pfeil cutting tools which I use for lino and woocuts. My preferred inks are oil-based, and I use a variety of papers, mainly Zerkall smooth 120gsm and Strathmore 120gsm printing papers. I use an old wooden spoon for hand burnishing. The thinner Japanese papers are great for hand burnishing images from wood blocks.
My inspiration generally comes from nature. I love the strong shapes of leaves, flowers and birds, but anything that catches my eye for a design is game. I usually start with a rough sketch, sometimes drawing freehand on the block or by tracing and transferring the design from my sketch book.
DM: Do you sketch in pencil or use watercolour before designing your prints?
AB: I use a variety of ways in planning a design for a print. Often I will draw a sketch in pencil, sometimes detailed, so that I can trace and reverse the design onto the block. For subjects such as leaves and flowers I will sketch from collected specimens, but also use photos particularly to get detail for images such as birds. I use watercolour in planning colour schemes for multi block or reduction prints. Sometimes I will go freestyle and draw directly onto the block.
DM: We know that you won our linocut competition with your first tweet – how has the linocutting and woodcutting been going since then? I see from your Twitter page that you’re branching out into wood engraving. How’s that going?
AB: I still consider myself a novice printmaker and continue to learn. There are many talented printmakers who run workshops and there are more skills and techniques to add to my core practice. I learned some basic wood engraving at Spike Print Studios using black vinyl as the block, but more recently was lucky enough to attend a course run by Kath Littler SWE where I used a block of lemonwood to engrave, a good new experience and definitely one to pursue further.
With support and encouragement from friends, family, and members from my art group I have shown my work at a variety of craft fairs, festivals and art trails. This year I will be taking part in Chepstow Art Trail and am displaying my work at Brockweir Village Shop, Chepstow, for six weeks from 29th July. I post my work on Twitter @theprintbee and was delighted that my first tweet was the entry that won Jackson’s Christmas Card Competition (linocut) 2016.
I live in a very rural area and the availability of high quality materials from online art suppliers like Jacksons has enabled me to pursue my interest in printmaking easily from home. I would encourage people to try their hand at printmaking, or any other art form for that matter. Perhaps try a course or workshop and see where it takes you. It can be very surprising how rewarding and enjoyable a new experience can be.
DM: What’s next? Do you have any projects lined up which you are excited about?
AB: Currently, I am working on an engraving of a group of friends cycling, to try and put into use some of the techniques I learnt on a recent workshop. I am practising on a black vinyl tile before potentially committing the design to a beautiful piece of lemonwood. I have found engraving wood a delicate and controlled process, very enjoyable but certainly something for me to work at!
The header image of this post is Anthea Bee, “Beehive” (Engraving on black vinyl).