Introducing Mr John Broadley

John Broadley's screen print depicts two women weaving lobster pots on the quayside of a fishing village

UK illustrator John Broadley’s new print collaboration with Penfold Press is, amazingly, his first venture into the world of original printmaking. The result, the first in a possible ongoing series on different professions, is a beautifully depicted image of women weaving lobster pots harbourside, and is as considered, intricate and humourous as any of his fine body of work.

Hi John, firstly - are you a frequent printer?

“I’ve never actually done any printing before, as a craft, where the print is the object. I do work in a similar style to a screenprinter, in that I try to restrict the colours I use and create different layers of separations, albeit in a digital form having taken a scan from a drawing. But in my work as an illustrator I’ve often been asked if my work is a screenprint or an engraving, even a linocut.”

How did that start?

“I studied graphic design at Liverpool Polytechnic, graduating in 1991. I’d been freelancing in the early 1990s but I decided I needed a fresh start, and, after taking a job, I started with the intention of creating a portfolio of work but, at the same time, felt so free of having to do commercial things that I ended up making lots of quick pen and ink drawings. I was working alternate weeks on a night shift, so had two weeks off a month in which I began making what would be a huge series of small edition, handmade books. 

“I wanted to make these books in editions of at least five or ten, and had a limited budget, so I used to print these on newsagents’ photocopiers, the office copier, and later on a small desktop copier I bought in which I was able to swap the ink cartridge from black to a choice of red, brown, green or blue. This enabled me to make quite basic two-colour editions from home which I used to bind.”

How did the relationship with the Penfold Press come about?

“Dan contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing a print, mentioning a series of drawings I’d done for The New Craftsmen, on the theme of craft. One in particular was called ‘Ditch the Plastics, Hail the Baskets’, featuring a tinker travelling along a lane towards a village pulling a cart laden with a variety of baskets. Dan suggested that this could be an idea to develop into a screenprint. I liked the idea but didn’t want to use the same image again, and I had the idea that I wanted to show something of a basket being made, being used and also as some way of focusing in on the pattern of a woven basket.”

Tell me about the Willow Winders print…

I found a 1931 British Pathe film called ‘Pot Girls’ which shows two women making round lobster pots. I loved these characters and started working on how to depict the shape of the unformed basket as it was being constructed. I also wanted to feature a typically old-fashioned fishing harbour which would show the fishermen with the baskets, and then brought in a trompe l’oeil style frame which looked like basketwork.

You walk a fine line between the surreal and the traditional, which not many people can get away with?

“I find it helps to ask a professional client what style of my work they have in mind and I often describe myself as a kind of Wurzel Gummidge who has to put the appropriate head on in the morning depending on what I’m working for. My favourite style is the comic strip. I just love that it doesn’t matter what I do. I really indulge what I’m interested in at the moment I’m drawing it. Some of this has been filtering more and more into commercial work, but, obviously with projects like the children’s books I’ve been working on, I’m more restricted.”

Interview by Jake Kennedy. 

Jake Kennedy is a Brighton based artist and writer. 

John Broadley’s first screenprint with Penfold Press The Worthy Willow Winders Weaving Wonderful Withy Pots! is available now.