This week Brighton Journal spoke to Karen Potter, a local printmaker who creates linocut and lithograph landscapes. Karen always has a sketchbook to hand, and carries out her preliminary drawings in situ. We discussed what attracts her to printmaking, as well as her favourite things to do locally.
Featured Image: Karen in Connemara.
What are you doing today?
On a rainy morning, I am sorting through my sketches and photos from my recent visit to Connemara, West Coast of Ireland. A place that is very dear to me.
Describe were you do most of your creative work.
I do my preliminary drawings in situ. I always have a sketchbook with me and have been known to stop the car and try and capture the image regardless of whatever mission I should be on. I can then work on my Lithograph plates or linocut back in my studio.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
I have recently finished my largest lithograph to date. It was a challenge to work the plate 85 x 56 cm. Images were initially drawn onto a Litho stone (Lithograph means stone print, lithography works on the principal that oil and water do not mix) using a greasy crayon or ink, nowadays we use prepared metal plate. The Litho plate works by holding an image fixed to the plate by chemicals on the area drawn, then water is applied and is repelled by the greasy image. Once the ink is rolled on to the plate it will only stick to the greasy area and can then be transferred to paper via the printing press. My lithographs are built on layers of colour, each layer is printed by hand and building from light to dark. The process is very slow, each layer has to dry fully before the next colour is applied. This latest image is called “Dawn Light” and is inspired by early morning light across the bay in Connemara where I stayed for three months last year.
What make you decide to become an artist?
I had always drawn and painted since childhood, so after my family no longer needed my undivided attention I returned to studies to achieve my desire to paint. I came across a printmaking certificate course at the University of Brighton in the early 1990s and became completely hooked on learning the art of printmaking.
What are you currently working on?
Work in progress is a lithograph image of the Sussex Downs with the evening light fading on the slopes. I love the way the Downs are shaped by the weather and by generations of farming and cultivating this unique landscape.
What are the key themes in your work?
Light – the way the mood of changing light changes the landscape and sea. Colour is very important to my work rather than line. I see light as blocks of overlapping colours reflected in my images.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
I love it when someone tells me they couldn’t live without it. I love it too when they send me a photo of the print they have it hanging in its new home.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
Printmaking is an ancient art. I love working on a new Litho plate and not being totally sure of the final image. It is a very technical process and you have to dissect your image by colour and marks working from light to dark. The layers of colour are mixed with a transparent oil which allows colours to shine through giving depth to the image. As each print will be slight different from its edition as the plate is inked and printed separately.
What equipment could you not do without?
A hard question as I need everything from a press to chemicals and ink. But to keep it simple, a box of oil pastels, paper and my eyes. I only have a relief press at home. I print my lithographs at BIP Art Studio, Kemptown, Brighton.
Who or what inspires you?
The artist who started my passion for printmaking was a German artist called Kathe Kollwitz, she was a wonderful printmaker and her images are inspired by her working and living amongst the poorest people in Berlin (her husband was a doctor) during the 1st World War and the depression of the 20s and 30s. Also I spent 4 years learning the technique of Lithograph and Etching at Grand Parade, University of Brighton, on the wonderful array of old and modern presses they had in the print department, and had a master printmaker as my teacher.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
I feel so blessed living and working in Sussex. I live in a small rural village and my studio overlooks down and above Lewes. You don’t have to go far to have wonderful views and inspirations.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
When I can I get out and walk along the South Down Way. I love seeking out Dewponds, a unique feature along the downs. The wildlife around the ponds is fascinating.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
Locally, I love the Towner Gallery and Hastings Contemporary previously Jerwood). I prefer small galleries and my favourite is Tate Gallery, St Ives.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
I would have love to have learnt from Picasso, his art of reduction linocut. I love working with lino and this method is very difficult. The reduction, or ‘suicide’ method of lino cutting uses a single piece of lino to produce a multi-coloured print. The lino is gradually cut away as each colour is printed and the image emerges. Sometimes only a very small printable area remains for the final, darkest tone. As the block is essentially destroyed during the process, a reduction print can never be reprinted.
What’s your favourite colour?
Shades of green, blues green, olive green, lime green… basically green.
To find out more about Karen and her work, take a look at her website and Instagram. Karen’s work was recently exhibited during Artwave 2019, and shows during the Artists Open Houses at the Printhouse, Fiveways. She prints at BIP-ART and is a member of Sussex Art Collective.