In the Studio / Printmaker Carol Nunan
Graphic designer turned printmaker Carol Nunan returns to the gallery this Spring season with new printmaking exhibition Print & Press. Featuring Carol’s own work alongside that of her printmaking students and guest tutors, Print & Press explores a range of printmaking techniques; from collograph and wood cut, to linocut and monotypes.
We take a look behind the scenes at Carol’s Hexham based studio, discover her printmaking techniques and find out what to expect from her upcoming Print & Press exhibition.
Tell us about you and your practice?
I studied Visual Communications at The National College of Art & Design in Dublin. Printmaking came later, in much the same way as my students, I signed up for a workshop at The Centre for Lifelong Learning at Newcastle University. I was hooked! For several years I simply signed up for all the printmaking workshops the CLL had to oﬀer, eventually supplementing my studio time by joining Northern Print. I began exhibiting - one of the first places to accept my work was, The Biscuit Factory, when it first opened in 2002. Two years later I became a partner in Horsley Printmakers at The Hearth Arts Centre in the village of Horsley. I set up my own studio closer to home in a fabulous rural setting on the edge of Hexham where I live, in 2015.
How long have you been practicing?
I’ve been printmaking since 1998. Initially printmaking was simply some creative time to myself when my children were very little. An artist friend, Sue Malkin, invited me to submit some work for a Christmas Exhibition as a member of the Tynedale Artists Network (now Network Artists Northumberland). Further opportunities to exhibit and sell my work began to present themselves through the Northumberland Art Tour, especially the 2002 Art Tour which resulted in my work being accepted at The Biscuit Factory. A teaching opportunity followed as a Visiting Lecturer for CLL. Here I taught printmaking workshops and job shared with fellow printmaker Rebecca Vincent.
'Hill of Odin', collagraph (left) and 'Flight', collagraph (right)
Do you think your background in Visual Communications has influenced your printmaking work?
My background in graphic design influenced my work in the early days in as much as I revelled in the freedom to explore mark making and colour without the restrictions of having to be creative to a specific brief. Certain aspects of my work as a designer do feed through to my work. I like to work with shape, distinctive silhouettes, be they architectural, geological, floral, etc. as a starting point. The detail is more random - exploration of colour and texture allowing the materials I use to dictate the outcome. My experience in the commercial world has, I believe, also helped me to take a businesslike approach to maximizing the time I spend making original prints to actually make a living from printmaking.
Tell us about your studio space?
The studio I have now is based in a lovely barn conversion called Ochrelands Workshops on the outskirts of Hexham. It benefits from the proximity to Hexham town whilst being in a lovely peaceful rural setting.
It took me a little while to find a suitable, aﬀordable studio space of my own. Artist Glynnis Carter, first alerted me to the studio becoming vacant at Ochrelands. The moment I walked through the door I knew it would be perfect, even though it was painted black and packed to the rafters with photographic props. The rent was completely aﬀordable by keeping Glynnis on as a sub-tenant as per her arrangement with the previous tenant. It is an arrangement that continues to work well for us both. We pick up ideas from each other, Glynnis sometimes incorporates printmaking into painting and certain aspects of Glynnis’s approach to painting has correlations with how I approach collagraphs, so we have a symbiotic working relationship.
Carol Nunan's Hexham studio, 2018
Tell us about your printing process and technique?
Any printmaker will tell you their work is constantly evolving as they notch up experience and are exposed to tips and techniques from other printmakers. I’m no diﬀerent. The work I have in the Print & Press exhibition pulls together skills and techniques I use in monotype and combines them with collagraphs. This came about when I was working on my print, ‘Curlew at Dawn’. I was failing to achieve the right colour balance with a single plate print, so I began to experiment with adding in a tonal background of colour using monotype on a second plate. While I made progress with the resulting prints I wasn’t quite satisfied. The blended colours weren’t quite in the right place - it was diﬃcult to predict precisely where they would land within the image.
I had a Eureka moment in the middle of the night (as I often do). I realized I could oﬀset the image onto the monotype plate. That way I would know exactly where and how to apply the colour background. It worked very well but it still wasn’t quite there yet. Another Eureka moment occurred in the middle of the night (that is when I do my best thinking). I decided to try using masks to mask out diﬀerent areas of the plate at diﬀerent stages. This required multiple passes through the press working fast to print diﬀerent parts of the background colours in layers before the final over print using the collagraph plate. Finally I was satisfied with the end result.
I subsequently carried that process through with some of the other prints in the exhibition, particularly ‘Celestial Skies’ and ‘Looking North’. What I like about this way of working is that it gives me lots of flexibility to interpret the original plate in one way and then come back to it on diﬀerent occasions to reinterpret the image to reflect the changes in seasons, time of day or night and how the light moves across the landscape.
Printmaking in Carol Nunan's studio space
We’re delighted to host your Print & Press Exhibition this Spring. Can you tell us a little about how Print & Press came about?
Horsley Printmakers, in which I was a partner, instigated what became a regular printmaking exhibition here at the Biscuit Factory in 2005. It became a very successful annual exhibition that ran for seven years. On my departure from Horsley Printmakers and when fellow partner Rebecca Vincent ceased teaching workshops to concentrate on her own work, the exhibition came to a natural close.
On finding a suitable studio space of my own for running printmaking workshops, with a small cohort of students keen to have a chance to exhibit their work, I approached Sam Knowles, Paintings & Prints Curator, to ask if The Biscuit Factory would be interested in reinstating it. This exhibition is the result. The work on show is a combination of current students’ work and that of Horsley Printmakers alumni.
Some have gone on to develop their own practice and they exhibit in their own right regionally. Others have gone on to exhibit nationally and internationally.
Printmakers in Carol Nunan's studio
Tell us about some of the featured artists exhibiting in Print & Press?
Take Susan Mannion: Susan came over from Ireland to take part in one of my workshops at Horsley Printmakers. She came back again to do a wood engraving workshop, with guest tutor, Chris Daunt. That ignited a love of wood engraving. She went on to take up an artist residency in Japan to study Japanese woodcuts. Susan now exhibits with The Royal Academy in London, The Royal Ulster Academy in Belfast and the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. I recently came across her work at The Printmakers Gallery in Drury Street in Dublin.
Susan Mannion, 'My Venice' (left), and 'Stitched Lines' (right)
Another example is Wendy Boomhower, a local girl who returned from living in the USA for several years where she worked as a graphic designer and exhibited her paintings in galleries in the mid-west. She came to me with a specific interest in learning linocuts which suits her very graphic and meticulous approach to her work. With a background in graphic design she sometimes uses Photoshop as a tool to create a plan for her linocuts.
Wendy Boomhower, 'Fleur' (left) and 'Tracery' (right)
Do you have a favourite piece in the show?
That’s an impossible question to answer. I’ve seen most of this work made in my studio so I know how much effort went into their creation. The most satisfying aspect of the process is observing how each individual has developed and grown in their practice. Printmaking is great for people who set out believing they cannot draw. They soon discover it is possible to make something beautiful without having to draw anything, which in turn gives them confidence to improve their skills in other areas of art, including drawing.
What inspires you?
I love the remoteness of the wide open spaces you get here in Northumberland. It is not dissimilar from the big wide empty skies I’m familiar with from my previous life growing up and living in Southern Africa - Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. I try to recreate that feeling in my landscapes. I look for distinctive features in the landscape, as a hook, such as the geological feature on which Hadrian’s Wall is built, The Whin Sill, or the symbol of the Northumberland National Park, the curlew, or one of the castles of which we have many here in Northumberland. I’m also fascinated by the archeological history that lies on top of and under the ground; pre and post Roman, as well as the Roman history; the influence of Christianity with the building of places like Lindisfarne; the marks made on the landscape in the Neolithic period and so on. I try to create visual references to the fact that many people have walked the same paths and seen the same vistas over millennia.
Carol Nunan, 'Edge I', collagraph and 'Edge II', collagraph
What’s coming up for you this year? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
After this exhibition opens I’m full steam ahead for getting ready for the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate in April. It is my first time taking part in this event and I’m feeling a little bit daunted by the whole prospect. I’ve also been selected to take part in this year’s PrintFest in early May, so almost immediately after that event is concluded I’ll be preparing for that. I last took part back in 2010 and it’s been very difficult to get selected again. The competition has got stronger and stronger with every year so I’m thrilled to get in this year. That is more than enough to keep me going for the time being! Hopefully, with lots of hard work, both events will open more doors setting the direction into 2019.