It all starts with a sketch or several... and back in the warmth of the studio a composition is formed.
As ever in life, practice is the key. You have to make a few mistakes along the way to learn and progress. I still do!
Sketching forms the basis of my artistic process. I spend many hours sketching in the field throughout the seasons whatever the weather, often away to the ends of the land in search of willing subjects to capture and convert to a finished piece of work.
Although I made that sound like an ordeal, it is anything but. This is a labour of love. The beauty is that wherever we are in the country there is usually a dazzling array of wildlife around us to see. Sometimes we have to seek it out and sometimes it comes right to us.
One of my greatest drawing pleasures is from behind the glass, sketching in the warm comfort of my living room with winter in full grip outside, observing and capturing the food gathering activities of the many regular and seasonal visitors that flock there in search of a square meal.
Locally I have 3 large bodies of water that continually reward me with a rich variety of subject matter. Pitsford and Eyebrook Reservoirs and Rutland Water - which is home to many rare visitors. A lot of my work has started life here.
The birdlife and wildlife, sadly, do not willingly pose for me. They are busy. They move around. They have lives to live. Which of course means that I must to be equally swift in trying to put down onto paper the essence of their character. One eye on the subject, the other on the movement of the pencil. It is by this continual repetition of speedy sketching, a few lines here, a sweeping curve there, that it becomes almost second nature to emulate this flow by the time it comes to actually transferring my final design onto the lino.
If you remember doing potato printing at school then you will pretty much understand the principles of linocuts and print making!
Being a little more sophisticated now, the humble old potato has been replaced with artist's linoleum - a malleable but resilient material which can retain a surprising amount of detail for what is quite a crude artistic process. It's actually not too dissimilar to what you might have used to cover your kitchen or bathroom floor at some time. Just a bit tougher and less colourful.
There is little room for error with lino cutting. You either have a line or you don't. Softer edges are created by thinner or broken lines but it is the very boldness of the process that appeals to me. Fortune favours the brave as they say. From blank lino to finished cut design can take anything from 8 to 24 hours depending upon the size and complexity of the design.
Once completed, the finished lino is carefully cleaned and then inked with a roller to give a good even coverage for printing.
This final part is where the heart is really in the mouth. The cut lino is placed onto the press and the paper positioned very carefully over the top. Here the finesse momentarily stops and a certain amount of strength is applied to the press. A few twists of the handle - and this is where experience really comes into the equation - to bring the two together with just enough pressure to produce a nice crisp print.
I'm usually content to get a maximum of 30 clear prints from each block. I like to think that this low run makes it even more appealing to own.
There is undoubtedly a dramatic quality and boldness to the linocut print in its stark black and white form. However, the addition of colour can be an effective way to bring a more refined quaility to the image, allowing the artist an exciting opportunity to add subtle details and highlights to further enhance the finished artwork.
This is a process that I enjoy immensely and am constantly surprised at the very different feeling that can be achieved through the application of even the lightest tinting of a print. It is this element of freedom and experimentation that brings a further touch of individuality into proceedings and ensures that no two finished artworks are ever quite the same.
I hope to continue trying out new techniques and pushing the boundaries of my skills and capabilities. This is something that raises my enthusiasm each time I finish one piece and plan ahead for the next.
But first, another cuppa I think...
RICHARD JARVIS WILDLIFE ARTIST AND PRINT MAKER
All illustrations and content ©2020 Richard Jarvis. No reproduction without prior consent. All rights reserved.
MEMBER OF THE SOCIETY OF WILDLIFE ARTISTS