Partners in Print
With printmaking all too often a solitary endeavour, it's refreshing to hear of artists and printers working alongside each other in harmony. Artist Clare Curtis and Dan Bugg of Penfold Press shed some light on their printing partnership.
Collaboration in the world of print can occur at many points, from those brave souls who work alongside each other on the same artwork, to multidisciplinary artists working on books, exhibitions or larger scale pieces. But perhaps more important is the relationship between an artist and the printer they entrust to actually produce their prints, be it for exhibiting, editioning or any of the other laborious elements of the artform. There has to be a level of trust, mutual respect and understanding between the two parties that can only be built up over time.
That's definitely the case for Felixstowe-based artist and linocut printmaker, Clare Curtis, and Dan Bugg of Penfold Press in Yorkshire. "For me it's the process of collaboration that's important." Dan explains. "That's where the fun is, so normally new work starts with a conversation between myself and the artist about what we might enjoy making. Ultimately where a print will be shown or sold isn't as important as just enjoying the experience itself," he says.
Luckily, this approach works well for Clare too. "I'm one of those people who is never short of an idea for a print or illustration," she says. "I do have a good imagination but I think a lot of my prints have their roots in something real - a place I've been or something I've drawn. I've always kept sketchbooks and I refer to them all the time. So something I've drawn from life will often be the starting point for a print,” she adds.
Clare's prints are indeed beautiful, with many of them studies of the natural world as well as more prosaic images tempered by a realism that means the odd electricity pylon or piece of garden equipment are left in the image, where other artists might subtly edit them out.
Clare has a theory as to why this might be. "I don't think I'm a real nature lover. I don't like complete wilderness. I'm a gardener when I have the time, and I think that's quite a different thing. Plants are my thing. They give me immense pleasure. Their structure and their pattern are always an inspiration," she says. "But I have to admit I'm a bit of a nerd and I can get quite excited about wire mesh or a bit of corrugated iron! I find these ordinary things can be quite beautiful. I put in my prints what I find visually pleasing and what interests me. By coincidence my prints end up exploring my relationship with plants and the very British passion for gardening."
Clare's initial exposure to Dan came pretty much out of the blue. "Dan approached me a couple of years ago. I'd only ever done screenprinting in an evening class and at a very basic level - for some reason we never did it at art college," she admits. But he says that's just one of many fruitful artist/ printer relationships he's formed over the years. "I think one of the great strengths of the Penfold Press is the sense that we're all in it together, artist and printmaker working as one to help develop and realise an idea," he explains. “There's no hierarchy or ego involved. All the artists are incredibly supportive and keen to collaborate and share ideas. I'm proud of the work I've made over the years and of being able to offer artists a way of further progressing their ideas through print. The studio itself isn't a huge commercial space, instead it's a place where artists, family and friends come together. It's this feeling of togetherness and of shared endeavour that I love."
Dan goes on to explain a little of how Penfold Press first started. "After I graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2000 I moved back to Yorkshire with the idea of setting up a small studio. I wanted to make printmaking accessible to artists who had no real background in the subject but who nevertheless had a real interest in all things print. "During this period I met the illustrator Mark Hearld. Mark was also a recent graduate of the RCA and we soon began collaborating on a series of linocuts, printed patterns and screenprints. The energy and sense of fun we got from working in the studio helped Penfold Press grow and I think this was reflected in the work we made. After that I Invited others to make prints and I got a feel for publishing as well as printing the work. The name Penfold Press came about after I misread a sign on an old Pinfold in my village. A Pinfold is a gated enclosure where stray or lost animals can be housed until their owners come to reclaim them - instead of animals my Pinfold/Penfold offers a home to wandering printmakers."
Today, Clare believes that the journey - or wander up to Yorkshire to physically collaborate with Dan every time a print is being prepared for printing and editioning is time well spent, especially as, in Felixstowe, she says there is little in the way of a printmaking community. "I am the printing scene in Felixstowe! I spent five years in London establishing myself as an illustrator. To be honest, it was hard and although I was getting work I wasn't earning enough to feel settled and secure in London so when the chance came along for me to move into what had been my grandfather’s house in Felixstowe I took it. I knew having the extra space would allow me to start printmaking,” she admits.
Clare’s love of the work she does with Dan is certainly reciprocated. “I regard all the artists I work with as good friends - we have mutual enthusiasm for collaboration and we enjoy what we do - hopefully this comes through in the finished print and in turn finds an audience through either the Penfold Press website or one of the galleries I work with.”
Dan concludes by saying that Penfold Press is continually evolving with ongoing print projects upcoming in the next few months from artists Emily Sutton, Clive Hicks-Jenkins and more to look forward to. For Clare, the ideas never stop coming, although she is sure Dan will factor in to any of their future developments. "I'm just starting to work on an idea for a picture book. Out of this new prints are bound to evolve so I'm really hoping that it won't be too long before Dan and I are working together again."
Written by Jake Kennedy