SHE RETURNED TO PRINTMAKING WITH A BANG, MEET THE WOMAN CREATING SOME INCREDIBLE PUBLIC ART PRINTS LAURA BOSWELL | Arts & Creative Interview | Art Jobs

SHE RETURNED TO PRINTMAKING WITH A BANG, MEET THE WOMAN CREATING SOME INCREDIBLE PUBLIC ART PRINTS LAURA BOSWELL

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LAURA BOSWELL

Laura, tell us a bit about how you got into printmaking and the evolution of your practice as an artist? 

Much against my father’s wishes, I took an old fashioned visual art/art history degree at Aberystwyth University; a taster of many techniques combined with an academic art history course. It was only in the final year that I gravitated towards printmaking and settled on linocut which was a bit of a coward’s choice at the time. I was the only student in the year to print and, alone in the print room, lino seemed the most familiar and safest technique. I was so fortunate that the head of the school, Alistair Crawford, was a fine printmaker and gave up an hour a week to tutor me unofficially. He was a great influence at college and taught me that it was OK to be working differently to the other students. I married the summer I left university and worked for many years in the photographic industry in picture libraries, managing the work of professional photographers. It was only in 2005 that I returned to printmaking after stupidly dithering for a year while some family friends urged me to take their Albion Press. Once I took the leap and went back to printing, I started small with local shows and open studios and have slowly grown my audience. I travelled to Japan in 2009 to study traditional Japanese woodblock and that marked a major leap in my career and the start of my teaching work. Now I combine teaching with my own work and a little writing.


Cherry Trees, Stormy Sky 78cm x 34cm Japanese woodblock

 

The prints you create play a lot with shape and colour, what is it you’re exploring in your practice? What are the driving questions behind your work? 

Although my work is concerned with the rural landscape, my real interest lies more with shape and rhythm. I make observational sketches and take photos (if I am totally honest, working outside isn’t my favourite thing - I’m always too hot or too cold and in need of a proper chair!), but the real work is done in the studio. I know I work better with a structure and best when I am outside my comfort zone, so each project I start begins with giving myself a brief that will push me to try a new approach, maybe the composition, maybe the materials, maybe tacking a new subject. I often work in sets or series of pictures as I find it both more of a challenge and more satisfying to create work in groups that work as a series as well as stand alone works. 

I am far more interested in shaping the world to fit my compositions than I am in depicting specific places. I am almost always looking to create work that can evoke a feeling of the familiar in the viewer, not in the sense of a map reference, more in maybe the memory of a walk or season. I also want my work to give the viewer solitude and space, the last thing I want in my landscapes are any people and preferably no buildings either! There’s usually a way out of my compositions; distant fields, maybe a path or simply space to slip through between trees. I’m not looking to change the world with my work, rather more to give people a break and time to take a breath.


Leysdown-on-Sea town sign showing the reverse with words from the local people combined with freehand painting. "The locals picked the colours that back the word part of the sign - sometimes public art demands artists work very much with what they are given!"

 

The colours in your work can be changeable even within the same palette, talk to us about your choice of colour and the methods you typically utilised to create your prints?

I very much let the colours I use develop as I work. I never have a colour plan and my preparatory work is always just in pencil. I have a rough idea of the colour, usually based on the sort of feel I want for the work, and that starts me off. Once I am printing, I assess the colour as I go, each layer of the print dictating what is needed next, rather like cooking by tasting rather than with a recipe. I always mix old colours into the next colour and part of that dates back to needing to save money on ink as a student. But I do honestly find that mixing inks, or watercolours if I am working on a Japanese print, from start to finish keeps the colour range appealing and cohesive. I do occasionally make rules about colour - I’ve been working on some garden seasons and the rule there was to get a deep oxblood red into each of the four prints, while keeping them naturalistic and sticking to the plants which grow in my garden; that certainly pushed me to be creative. 


Observational sketch of Cheddar Gorge - "I’m not good with heights so I had to inch forward on my bottom with feet very firmly planted to get this view"

 

You also create a variety of public art pieces, how do the processes differ and what about creating art in a public forum inspires you to continue making, specifically for public places?

I have worked on public art projects in print; I created a collection called ‘Fourteen Views of the Island’, a set of very large Japanese woodblocks for the NHS on the Isle of Wight and a series of more abstract prints of the South Downs for a hospice near Eastbourne. All the other projects have been works in vitreous enamel on sheet steel and I am about to embark on a series of way finding signs for my local town of Aylesbury. Public art is very different from my studio work in that it is so much more about working as a team and to a set of demands and ideas from the client. It is also about being flexible and innovative. My first project came when I was barely back on my feet as a printmaker, let alone capable of being called a professional. I found myself designing and hand painting what was, at the time, the largest painted enamel installation in Europe. Mercifully I was far too naive to appreciate the full impact of the responsibility and used my administration skills from my business days to break it all down into achievable steps and simply slogged through it until it was all installed! 

I am always very conscious of the responsibility when I am working on public art. It’s not about me at all, more me using my skills to give the viewers ownership of their space. When I designed my South Downs prints for the hospice, I knew I was working for a place where the right picture in the right place might distract or help a patient or relative, so I tried to make the landscapes gentle and still, but open and filled with air and space, keeping them slightly abstract so that the viewer could use them for their own narration. The sign at Leysdown-on-Sea was quite different - I went down to Kent and chatted to all sorts of people on the beach and we developed a sign that celebrated the nostalgia of the seaside holiday on one side while I used the reverse of the sign to paint a coastal scene, using caravan roofs to make repeating patterns along with the wind farm out to sea - I loved the caravan parks, all full of families and hen or stag parties having a good time.

It pays to be utterly pragmatic with public art: construction often throws up the need to change dimensions or budget may alter and it’ll be up to me to keep the artwork excellent. The artist can be tasked with everything from planning a full budget to making sure the artwork can survive a midnight climb by the local drunks, so I’ve had to research all sorts of alien subjects to make a project work. My top tip is to always discuss plans and listen to the construction workers or people on the factory floor. If there’s a best way to do something, or the artist's idea is going to cause manufacturing problems, they are the people to know. They also come up with great ways of working around a difficulty. I also enjoy the project meetings, the chance to work with people who normally have nothing to do with artists. My all time favourite comment came after a long meeting with a district council, one of the officials came up to me afterwards and said ‘What a relief, when they said we had a woman artist, I thought you were going to be doing something about wombs…’ I as sorely tempted to pop one into my work for him, but I resisted.


Rain off the Coast of Scotland 60 x 45cm reduction linocut

 

Teaching; either through your workshops, one to one studio days or technique guides, is something that is really important to you. Why do you find it such an essential part of your practice and what is the most rewarding part about doing it?

Teaching is a great privilege. I started teaching when I came back from Japan where the passing on of a skill is often seen as the most important aspect of an artist or artisan’s life. While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I do think I am a far better artist for teaching. Like public art, it is an exercise in letting go of my ego and simply using what I know to tease the creativity out of other people. Taking a complete stranger’s ideas and having to explain how to turn them into the best print possible has helped me to understand my own work so much more and there is nothing like a room full of expectant people to concentrate the mind. I also get to meet all sorts of amazing people who want to print for a whole range of reasons. I’ve taught all sorts from an opera singer to a plastic surgeon, engineers to barristers along with fellow artists - who wouldn’t enjoy working with such a range of talents. 

I think the most rewarding part of teaching is watching someone realise that they can create and becoming excited about continuing to make art. So many people I teach arrive and tell me that they are no good, or can’t draw. If I can make them see that it isn’t about what they think they can’t do, it’s about starting somewhere and building on the initial idea to create an artwork then I am happy. I also find watching other people peel off new prints ridiculously exciting. Nobody is more thrilled than me to see a student's print appear, I try not to jump about clapping, but it does happen.


Section of the Great Western Street Murals, Aylesbury. Vitreous enamel on steel panels 5m x 140m 

 

You’re really active in showing your work on a regular basis either your personal or public art pieces, have you got any shows lined up for 2017?

I have indeed. I have a solo show at Obsidian Art in Stoke Mandeville throughout April and, as always I will be opening my studio to visitors as part of the Bucks Open Studios event in mid June. I’m going on the road too and will be at Printfest in Cumbria in late April and am artist in residence for the Patchings Art Festival in Nottingham in July.


Garden Seasons Series - a set of four reduction linocuts each one 25 x 50cm

 

MORE OF LAURA’S PRINTS AT www.lauraboswell.co.uk

INTERVIEW by HANNAH SMITH