Rachael Louise Hibbs is a relief printmaker who is inspired by the natural world. Her prints depict plants and animals in her own visual language; monochromatic and full of intricately carved texture. In this interview Rachael shares her thoughts on her favourite materials to work with, the colours she likes to use and her recent ‘Be the Change’ fundraising print.
Lisa: First of all, can you tell me where you are based, where you work, and how you came to be a printmaker?
Rachael: I am based in South London and I am currently working from my home in Battersea. I also would normally use the print studio at the college I work in but currently due to lockdown I can’t access the workshop. I first got into printmaking when I left university and got my first job as an art technician in a private boys school. They had an amazing etching press and I remember being hooked as soon as I used it for the first time to make a linocut print. It was only about 3 years ago that I decided to really dedicate my time to developing my practice in block printing and make it into a business.
Lisa: The majority of the prints are one layer prints, sometimes with a colour blend. Key to working this way is a diversity of mark-making, and ensuring your image is readable. Can you suggest ways of developing this very particular technique?
Rachael: I like to include a lot of texture in my carving but this can often be difficult when you are using a flat block colour. You have to imagine you are not creating lines with pencil but rather erasing (carving away) where you don’t want the colour to show. I like to create tiny lines using a very fine micro chisel from Flexcut to create dappled lines of fur or feathers. I like to show highlights and shadows by changing the density or directions of these lines.
Lisa: You have a lot of space in your prints, which allows the beauty of the paper to show through and compliment your linocuts. Can you tell us how you select paper, and what your favourite papers are?
Rachael: I absolutely love using handmade paper because it has so much character and it suits the medium of linocut so well. Most of the time I use natural Nepalese Lokta paper or Khadi cotton rag paper because I love the texture they have. The Lokta paper is a beautiful colour with small specks of bark that show through within the negative space. I also use it because Lokta is a sustainable and renewable material which has very little impact on the environment. I think it makes the print feel really special and look almost like an antique Victorian illustration.
Lisa: Do you use reference materials for your prints, and if so where do you source your imagery?
Rachael: I use mostly photographs that I have taken at Kew Gardens or on my travels. I try to be as scientifically accurate as I can with botanical elements but within my own style. If I cannot find a first hand reference to study then I might use images from the biodiversity heritage library for inspiration.
Lisa: I notice you use both Speedy Carve and ‘Battleship Grey’ traditional lino for your prints. Can you describe the differences and what you use the different types for?
Rachael: Both surfaces respond very differently to carving. Battleship grey is much denser and provides finer lines. I mostly use the traditional grey lino because it prints so well with a press. Speedy Carve, however, is very durable and carves like butter. I like to use Speedy Carve for smaller prints or stamps and I will often use it for demonstrations or workshops where I don’t have access to a press. Its great as a beginners surface for carving and you can get a surprising amount of detail from it.
Lisa: Although a lot of your prints are only one colour, colour still plays an important role in your work. How do you decide which colours to work with?
Rachael: My go to will always be black because I just think it looks classic and clean however I love playing with colour. I try to use mostly natural or slightly muted colours to reflect the organic nature of my work. My favourite colour to mix is a beautiful Jade green which is equal parts Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green with a tiny bit of black and white. I love to use Speedball professional relief inks for this as the colours are so rich and opaque which is important when you are printing on a natural coloured paper.
Lisa: During the lockdown, have you managed to keep on printing? What challenges did you face with adapting your working life so that you could carry on at home?
Rachael: It has been challenging but not impossible to print during lockdown. I live in a 1 bed flat so finding creative ways to utilize the space is key. I have invested in a printing press while I’ve been working from home which has really sped up my production time and also kept me creatively driven. I actually started a hashtag on Instagram during lockdown called #stayhomecutlino so that printmakers could have an outlet or space to show their creations they have made whilst in isolation.
Lisa: You also run printmaking workshops at FE level – can you tell us how this impacts upon your own artistic practice?
Rachael: I love working at the college and I miss it a lot at the moment. My students are constantly coming up with new innovative ideas that I would never have thought of. It keeps my eyes open to new creative possibilities and stops me from getting stuck in my own head. Sometimes to get yourself out of a creative rut you have to go back to basics and running workshops really helps me experiment with and break away from your usual mediums of practice.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Rachael: Actually I have just finished a project and am taking a little break. I recently created a linocut as a campaign for the Black Lives Matter movement. This was to raise funds for the charity show racism the red card. The linocut was sold as a print onto paper and has also been made into screen printed t-shirts which are still available to buy on the print social website. I feel that we, as artists, have an obligation to show our support to those who need it. To express our beliefs and actively try to make a change for the better.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see more of your work?
Rachael: You can find my work on my website www.rlhprints.com
On Instagram @rlhprints
or you can check out my “Be the Change” t-shirt campaign here
I am also part of Speedball’s Professional Artist Network so you can read up a little more on me and my practice here.
Links to materials on Jacksonsart.com