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Meet the Maker: The inspiration and process behind my linocut prints

Last month, I had a chat with someone interested in my work. She asked me questions about how I became a printmaker, what inspires me, and what I do in my spare time. Here’s our conversation.

Tell me a bit more about what you do.

I’m a graphic designer and printmaker based in York. I create limited edition linocut prints inspired by nature and the great British countryside. I tend to work mainly in linocut, which enables me to create stylised silhouettes in blocks of tonal colour.

My most recent work takes inspiration from the Yorkshire landscape and coastline.

My prints are designed, carved, inked and printed by hand in my York studio, making each subtly unique.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My work reflects my love of nature and the great outdoors. I go cycling and walking to gather inspiration. I don’t like to just grab a photo from Google. I need to see, feel, and experience the landscape for myself. Observing my surroundings, I capture the colours and shapes within nature on my camera to work from back in my studio.

I like documenting my inspiration trips through photographs and stories in my blogs. Read my inspiration bogs here.

How does Yorkshire inspire your prints?

I used to travel around the world for work and pleasure. Moving to Yorkshire 12 years ago has made me appreciate what’s on my doorstep. Yorkshire alone has such a diverse range of landscapes.

When I work on one of my prints, I’m transported back to a moment in time, the walk or cycle ride that inspired the print. I try to capture the essence of a place from my connection with the landscape. On walks, friends often say that they now ‘experience a view through the eyes of Michelle’, which is rather lovely.

Listening to the people who buy my prints, they are too, be it a different time. They evoke childhood memories, special times with family, or simply a favourite place.

How would you describe your style?

My linocuts have a stylised graphic quality, which uses organic lines and bold design elements. I usually work with a restricted tonal palette and layer semi-transparent inks to create other tones. The cutaway areas of the lino, which are unprinted, create contrast.

I like to strip the details back when working on a new linocut design. I’m interested in noticing geological detailing, lines and pathways that make up the landscape. I use a paired-down colour palette and simplified lines to do that.

My linocut prints often include pathways that lead your eye through the image, and trees are often a key feature.

Can you describe your design and making process?

I start with one of my photographs. Sketching ideas and roughly colouring them up, I plan how to capture a place's essence.

I use the multi-block linocut technique. Usually, each colour will have a separately carved lino block. I carve the design for the first colour into one lino block, often known as the key block. I then transfer this onto another piece of lino for the next colour to be carved. This is so I get my print registration (how my colours line up). I repeat the process for each colour to be printed.

Once I’ve carved all the lino blocks, I start test printing to see if the design works. I adjust the blocks if needed. I mix all my own colours using semi-transparent oil-based inks made by the local company Hawthorn Printmaking Supplies. The ink is applied to the raised surface of the lino block with a roller or brayer.

The inked-up block is placed in a jig that I’ve made to aid registration. Paper is laid on top. Initially, I used a wooden spoon to hand-burnish my prints. I now have an etching press, which is a little like a mangle. As I wind the handle, the inked-up block and paper pass between two rollers at high pressure, which transfers the ink onto the paper.

I allow the inks to dry between each colour for 1-3 days. In turn, I ink up and print each colour on top of the other. 

What drew you to setting up your own business?

I didn’t plan to. I couldn’t imagine working as a commercial designer in highly pressurised head offices for the rest of my career.

I had been visualising ideas for what to do next. I didn’t think setting up a business would work as I prefer working with a team rather than in isolation alone. I don’t feel like that now, as I have daily contact and feedback from customers and clients.

Redundancy in 2016 was the shove I needed, and there’s been no going back or regrets.

I feel so much more creatively energised than I did before. I love being able to work with like-minded people who share similar values and interests.

What drew you to printmaking?

I have always loved working with my hands and making things. I tried a small linocut at a craft fair. I loved the spontaneity of making marks with the tools, the line quality and the final print's graphic style. It enables me to distil the landscape down into simple lines.

Where do you work?

Like many artists and makers, I started working on my kitchen table. I used my freezing cold and dusty garage for printing.

Redundancy money allowed me to convert my garage into a light, airy, insulated garden studio. I live in a quiet suburb of York, with a view of Holgate Windmill.

I love the quality of light, even on the greyest day. I have windows overlooking my garden, so it brings the outdoors in. It’s such a relaxed place to work. Listening to birdsong is quite idyllic. Find out more about my studio make over here.

When it goes wrong

Not all designs go to plan. The linocut process is a length one. You can't stick Lino back, so a lot of thought goes into planning a design.

Most creatives are very self-critical and are their own worst enemies. I have a poster on my studio wall with each stage of the creative process.

I used to get annoyed with myself, but I’ve gotten better. I just stepped back and walked away for a while when I was at number three.

What are you working on at the moment?

With the longer days of summer, I'm spending as much time as possible out in the countryside, gathering inspiration and developing new designs in my print studio. I’ve recently been on walking and cycling trips to St Bees, Ennerdale and Buttermere in the Lake District, Northumberland and St Abbs, and the Esk Valley in the North York Moors National Park and the Yorkshire Coast. I’ll be working on new linocut designs from the photos I took over the next six months.

I will use some of these new designs to apply for York Open Studios and Printfest next year. Some of my new North York Moors prints will be saved for a group exhibition with York Printmakers at the Inspired by... Gallery at the North York Moors National Park Centre in Danby next year.

What do you do when you are not printmaking?

I’d never get bored! I enjoy so many different things.

In contrast to planning and the to-do lists of running my business, I like to be spontaneous and explore. Going with the flow leads me to meet interesting people and discover new places.

It’s important to unplug and unwind. When I take time out, I like to tune into nature. I enjoy the simple pleasures of listening to bird songs with a morning cuppa. I like taking close-up photos of plants and wildlife in my garden.

Since moving from London to York, I’ve also discovered my nan’s green fingers. My garden’ is constantly evolving as I experiment with growing new things.

I go to my local yoga centre and enjoy practising yoga in the evenings in my garden. I often end up watching the clouds float by.

I started a social cycling group in 2016. We cycle together each week, often cycling 45 to 65 miles now. We’ve grown together. Initially, we would cycle 20 miles with a coffee and cake stop halfway. Hence the name ‘Bikes, Bakes and Banter’.

I’ve always enjoyed upcycling or repurposing things. Most of my homeware and furniture tell a story. They are things I’ve found at car boot sales and vintage markets or materials I’ve bought on my travels and made into something.

I’m handy with DIY and power tools, so I will have a go at most things. I tiled my kitchen with grey metro tiles.

Cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

What is your favourite place in Yorkshire?

I just love having so much on my doorstep. In the Yorkshire Wolds, it has to be Thixendale and Millington Pastures for its sweeping chalk curves. I love cycling and walking there.

In the North York Moors National Park, it has to be the Hole of Horcum. I love seeing it change through the seasons. This is one of my favourite walks with friends and family, especially in late summer when the heather is blooming. Taking a picture together on the walk back up the bank is tradition. Read my blog here.

In the Yorkshire Dales, I recently discovered Swaledale. It’s beautiful for cycling and walking. Stone barns and dry stone walls punctuate the landscape. The hay meadows at Muker are stunning in spring. I'd recommend the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway. Read my blog about it here.

My favourite part of the Yorkshire Coast is Robin Hood's Bay. Red-roofed houses nestle along a steep road that winds to a delightful bay. If I’ve walked along the Cleveland Way from Ravenscar, it has to be fish and chips, followed by ice cream on the beach. If the tide is out, a walk along the coast to Boggle Hole and hunting for fossils is always fun. 

My greatest success

Can I have two?!

I’m incredibly proud to have taken part in York Open Studios. This year, 150 local artists and makers opened up their studios to share how they create their work. It has always been a much-loved date in my diary. Two weekends of visiting inspiring studios and the opportunity to buy directly from them. I never imagined for one minute that I would be taking part one day. Over the two years I’ve taken part in it, I’ve had over 1,000 visitors to my studio.

In December 2018, I was commissioned to create a series of 12 linocut prints for the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo. To see my designs used in Sutton Hoo's marketing materials is like a dream come true! See more about the projectt here.

What are your aspirations and hopes for your business?

I’d like to create linocut prints of so many places and views: the Lake District, Northumberland and Scotland, to name but a few. 

Following the linocut illustration commission, I recently created for Sutton Hoo, I’d love to design book cover illustrations, too. 

I’m also interested in collaborating with other people, be that for community projects or specific events. You can read about  ‘My creative journey as an artist and designer’ here here if you enjoyed this.


With thanks to Tom Jackson and Mike Pringle for photography and Beetroot Box for my video.


About the author

Michelle Hughes is a printmaker and designer. Her linocut prints are inspired by nature; her love of gardening and the great British countryside.

Michelle loves exploring the countryside by bike or on foot, camera in hand, capturing

ideas for her next prints. Back in her garden studio, Michelle creates simple but stylised silhouettes based on her photographs, and cuts these shapes into lino. She hand prints with an etching press, using oil-based inks to create tonal blocks of colour. Michelle’s prints are limited editions.

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