1. Sutton Hoo, National Trust: Linocut illustrations commission

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

In December 2018 I was contacted by the graphic design agency Design by Journal about creating a series of linocut illustration for the National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo. These were to be used across a range of on-site materials and leaflets when Sutton Hoo first welcomed visitors back at Easter 2019, revealing the first phase in a series of major reinterpretation works. Of course I said yes. Producing illustrations that would be used by one of the National Trust’s places was a dream job’.

‘What’s on at Sutton Hoo’ , Welcome to Sutton Hoo’ and River View Walk’ leaflets for National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo

It was a very tight time line to work to. I received the brief on 22 December and the illustrations where needed for the first week in February. That’s no mean feat for 12 linocuts!

I was given photographic reference and rough drawings of layouts by Journal. The team were an absolute delight to work with. It makes such a difference when your client is so enthusiastic about your work and is quick to respond with feedback. Over Christmas I sketched the designs. I carved test prints of the key areas of each design, so everyone could understand what the finished design would look like. I printed these before sending everything to Journal to send onto Sutton Hoo for approval. The main challenge with linocut is that you can add extra details but you can’t take them off. So it was important that the final sketch and test prints where approved before starting to cut the designs.

Linocutting the nightingale bird linocut illustration for National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo

Throughout January I spent nearly everyday, including weekends, working on the project. Carving lino is very hard on the wrists and takes a lot of concentration, so I broke it down by doing some everyday. Being the coldest time of year the lino was harder to carve, so each morning I lit my log burner, just purely so that the lino would be easier to work with. Discovering the delights of audio books, I listened to David Attenborough, amongst others, whilst working. Given that many of the illustrations were of nature, this seemed rather appropriate too!

You’ll see on many of the photos that the lino is tinted. I used a green water based block printing ink to stain the lino so that I could see the carved lines easier. In some places I used white paint and black ink or a Sharpie pen to define where I would cut.

Once all the designs where cut it was time to print. Firstly I made quick test prints so that I could get final sign off on the designs. Once approved, I printed all the designs in black oil based ink onto white paper. The illustrations were to be scanned and digitised by the design agency so I just need a good crisp print for each design. Once recoloured another agency 'Thats Brave' used the digitised linocuts on a series of marketing materials. The first three leaflets and signage have been created using seven of the linocuts. The other illustrations will be used in further marketing materials over the next year.

Printed linocut illustration of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon gold belt buckle.

In total I spent 27 hours carving the linocut illustration in 15 minute time blocks. In addition to that was another 42 hours of research, sketching and printing etc. Once breaks are added in, that’s a lot of work to fit in over 6 weeks. Even though that included Christmas, New year and oil-based inks drying, I still managed to hand deliver the final linocut prints to Journal in Leeds on 1st February. They and Sutton Hoo were delighted with the final results.

For me the icing on the cake of a project is always client feedback...

“We came to Michelle with an idea to tell the story of Sutton Hoo and its landscape through illustrative relief prints – how nature and people have left their mark there for thousands of years. She really bought into the brief from the very first conversations – she asked the right questions and helped us to develop an ambitious project on a tight deadline and budget. She wholeheartedly threw herself at the project – working tirelessly and meticulously to translate sketches into beautifully intricate prints. Throughout the creative process, Michelle was a joy to partner with and her enthusiasm shows in the end result. We were (and still are!) thrilled with the illustrations, which really showcase Michelle’s craft and bring our vision to life perfectly. They are exactly what we had hoped for – a set of illustrations with a genuine, hand-crafted quality which cannot be achieved by any other means.” Paul Spencer – Design by Journal

Finished linocut block of the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon gold belt buckle

Over the next few blogs I will share each of the linocut illustrations and show you step by step how I created these.

‘What’s on at Sutton Hoo’ leaflet showing Anglo-Saxon gold belt buckle and copper butterfly linocut illustration

‘River View Walk’ leaflet showing nightingale bird linocut illustration for National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo

‘Welcome to Sutton Hoo’ leaflet showing linocut illustrations for National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo

‘Welcome to Sutton Hook’ leaflet showing linocut illustrations for National Trust’s place, Sutton Hoo

See the step-by-step blogs about how I created each of the linocut prints for Sutton Hoo in the links below:

Part 2. Sutton Hoo gold belt buckle linocut illustration

Part 3. Sutton Hoo copper butterfly linocut illustration

Part 4. Sutton Hoo river view walk leaflet - Nightingale linocut illustration

Part 5. Welcome to Sutton Hoo leaflet - Linocut illustrations

There are five more linocut illustrations which include King Raedwald, wild flower meadows, geophysics, grazing sheep and Basil Brown. These will be used later in the year for further Sutton Hoo marketing materials. I’ll share these as soon as I can.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I loved creating the linocuts.

Get in touch if you would like to chat about any commercial linocut illustration commissions.


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© 2016  Michelle Hughes