Last month I had a chat with someone who was interested in my work. She asked me questions about how I became a printmaker and what inspires me, as well as 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 crested styalised 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 one subtly unique.
Where for 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 colour and shapes within nature on my camera to work from back in my studio.
I like to document 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 a lot, for work and pleasure. Moving to Yorkshire 12 years ago has made me appreciate what’s on my doorstop. 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 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 that buy my prints, I think they are too, be it a different time. They evoke childhood memories, special times with family or just simply a favourite place.
How would you describe your style?
My linocuts have a stylised graphic quality which use organic lines and bold design elements. I usually work with a restricted tonal palette and layer semi transparent inks to create other tones. The cut way areas of the lino which are I unprinted create contrast.
When I’m working on a new linocut design I like to strip the details back. 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 in order 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 I will capture the essence of a place.
I use the multi-block linocut technique. Usually each colour will have separately carved lino block. I carve the design for 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 of 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 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. In the beginning 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 for 1-3 days between each colour. 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 much prefer to work with a team, rather than in isolation on my own. 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 mind people that 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 quality of line and the graphic style of the final print. It enables me to distill the landscape down into simple lines.
Where do you work?
Like many artist and makers I first started out working on my kitchen table. I used my very cold and dusty garage for printing.
Redundancy money was the opportunity to convert my garage into a light and airy insulated garden studio. I live in a quite suburb of York, with a view of Holgate Windmill.
I love the quality of light, even in 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 every design goes to plan. The linocut process is a length one. You cant stick Lino back, so a lot of thought goes into the planning of a design.
I think most creatives 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 ready annoyed with myself but I’ve got better and just take a step back and walk away for a while when I’m at number 3.
What are you working on at the moment?
With the longer days of summer, I'm trying to spend as much time as possible out in the countryside gathering inspiration, as well as 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, as well as 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 6 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.
As a contrast to planning and the to do lists of running my business, I like to be spontaneous and explore. I find that going with the flow leads me to meeting interesting people and discovering 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 song 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 discovered my nan’s green fingers too. My garden’ is always evolving as I experiment with growing new things.
I go to my local yoga centre and also enjoy practicing yoga it 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. In the beginning, we would cycle 20 miles with a coffee and cake stop half way. Hence the name ‘Bikes, Bakes and Banter’.
I’ve always enjoyed upcycling or repurposing things. Most of my homeware and furniture tells a story. They are either things that I’ve found at car boot sales and vintage markets or materials I’ve bought on my travels and made into something.
I’m quite handy with a DIY and power tools, so will have a go at most things. I tiled my kitchen with grey metro tiles.
What is your favourite place in Yorkshire?
I just love having so much on my doorstop.
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 late summer when the heather is in bloom. It’s tradition to take a picture together on the walk back up the bank. 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 Hoods Bay. Red roofed houses nestle along a steep road which winds its way 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 beach to Boggle Hole hunting for fossils is always fun.
My greatest success
Can I have two?!
I’m extremely 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 weekend 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 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 National Trust’s Sutton Hoo. To see my designs used in the Sutton Hoo's marketing materials is like a dream come true!
See more about the project here.
What are your aspirations and hopes for your business?
There are so many places and views I’d like to create linocut prints of. The Lake District, Northumberland and Scotland to name but a few.
Following on from 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.
If you enjoyed this you can read about ‘My creative journey as an artist and designer’ here.
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 graphic 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.