I’m Eric Gaskell, born in Wigan, going through school in 60’s and 70’s. I was always good at drawing but only really finding out about art as a 17 year old sixth former. Before then I’d never heard of even Van Gogh or Picasso (let alone anyone else). For the last 37 years, since leaving art college, I have been making “things” for myself, other people, publishers and companies in one way or another. Illustrations, graphics, typography, design and art. I have always made the effort to draw, whatever else was happening, and whenever possible to exhibit work in open, group and one-man shows.
Describe your printmaking process.
Drawing. Then more drawing. Depending on the “idea”or the motif that would be drawing from life or drawing entirely from my head. This means some of my work is quite abstracted (with no particular idea of how the print will develop) and some very figurative. But it all starts with drawing. When I have “sort of” got something I can work with I transfer to a block, that could mean a highly detailed drawing or it could be a very loose set of boundaries. I try to decide in advance if it will be a reduction or a multi-block linocut but more often than not I will go for a multi-block, which means I can leave open the option of a reduction as well. Annoyingly this path often leads to confusion and progression dilemma. Whether it is highly figurative or very loose I will always transfer the key block (whether that has lots of info or little) to the other blocks, at least this way I know they will register. With highly figurative work it is around now that I will give each block its colour ways (on the understanding that they could change). From here on out it is more a matter of flying by-the-seat-of-my-pants, however I do always proof on a very regular basis, probably a little too much sometimes. It’s only by this constant proofing that I can work out the next sets of cuts, it’s a bit like playing chess and being aware of the next 5 or 6 moves ahead. Here is why making multi-block, reduction print (which is how the majority of mine end up) can be problematic. As you cut less from each block, than a typical one-block reduction, your options are always open. So knowing when to finish can be difficult. In the end you do though, generally because I put it to one side and don’t do anymore for a month or so.
How and where did you learn to print?
I went to Wigan College of Art where, when we did any printmaking it was principally intaglio. It was also a bit ad hoc, I don’t remember a lecturer being there very often so we would mix our own acids until there was a pungent green smoke. When I moved to Sunderland Art College the print rooms were a lot more professional, certainly not as relaxed as Wigan. I spent my time split between painting and intaglio/linocut. The head of printmaking Dave Gormley was brilliant, he was very good at prompting you to push your work, quick to questions your motives and technical skills but always there to add comments about the best way to achieve something. Although mainly linocut/etching I did dabble in typography (producing a small book), litho and engraving, but always went back to lino.
I am one of those printmakers who actually is a painter, who also makes prints. My working process tends to push me toward bright, graphic shapes and compositions which can be developed in either discipline. Most of the time it ends up as print - but sometimes it goes down both avenues.
Where do you work?
In my studio at home which is big enough “just”, to print and paint. My painting area was the bigger, but over the years that has shrunk as printing took over.
Describe a typical day in your studio.
Generally the first thing I do is check my emails - just in case I have sold something (which I do amazingly) and check out the world. I usually have some form of work on the go, so I will generally take time to see where I up to with those pieces. That could be either print or paint as I usually work on both at the same time, often the same motif crossing from one to the other. I try to spit my time between printmaking and drawing (painting fits in there, but not as much) so while I am waiting for colours to dry, or for some form of inspiration about what to do next, I will draw. Often that will mean leaving the studio to draw in front of the motif, sometimes it is drawing from drawings, to work out what either the next step in the print or painting is or to push forward an new work. I spend an inordinate amount of time prevaricating through drawing, looking at new angles, new shapes, marks, textures etc. Sometimes they do actually get used, most of the time they are added to 1000’s of drawings that time forgot. I don’t have a set time for doing things as such, but I do try to have a couple of prints going at the same time. That means I try to get two colours a day on each. Clearly that leaves time for the multitude of other things like; drawing, vacuuming (it has to be done), eating and most important of all - daydreaming.
How long have you been printmaking?
The very first “real” print I made, with real tools, in a print-room was in 1976. Before that I couldn’t really say that any printmaking I made at school was done properly.
What inspires you?
Apart from a list of painters/printmakers as long as my arm, generally the world around me. I am principally a figurative artist, so the majority of my drawings are from life, which get transferred and many times lose their “reality” in the print process. For many years what I has really inspired me are man-made structures, things with angles and shadows. Which is why I like the canals, they are man-made but also have the benefit of water which adds a separate dimension.
Having said all that I have for around 10 years been making work based on my genealogical research. I’ve even managed to have several one-man shows of the work around the UK. This is a very different type of work, based on shape, iconography, abstracted colour and often - text.
What is your favourite printmaking product?
That is really tricky as without good tools, ink and paper I wouldn’t be able to do anything. But the two things I use a lot at the moment are extender/water-soluble vehicles which let me play around with colours and newsprint which lets me soak up colours to produce subtle tints.
What have you made that you are most proud of?
From a printmaking point of view there are two things fairly recently, one “Narrowboat” because it was commercially successful and I actually sold out the edition very quickly. The other a triptych “Rugby School 1, 2, 3” because it was a departure from work I had been doing (and in effect closer to my drawing/painting) and commercially the opposite of the other print.
Where can we see your work? Where do you sell and teach?
I try to show work several times during the year, in one-man shows and often in group shows (with the Printmakers Council and SGFA). I do have work in galleries (which sadly come and go) and at the moment have work in The Fosse House Gallery in Dunchurch, The Pump Rooms in Leamington Spa and Audlem Mill in Audlem.
Ellesmere Port Museum: 11 May - 9 July
The Glass Museum, St Helens: 11 Nov - 12 Jan
I am fairly mobile and teach linocut to any group that would like me to, so I have taught in Cheshire, Stoke, Coventry and to numerous small groups locally. I also open up my own studio to groups of 3-4. I have in the past taught in Art Colleges, but recently teach regular classes in Rugby at The Percival Guildhouse and to an Art Society in Weedon. If anyone would like me to do the same just email me.
What will we be seeing from you next?
The work I am making at the moment is moving away from the three-dimensional reality of previous work, toward a more stylised view of - in this case - tumbling water, something I have played with a lot. That of course doesn’t mean that in the future I won’t be bouncing back and forth between reality and abstraction.
Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?
Whenever I am asked this the most important thing I can say is - draw. Often the reply is, “I can’t draw” my answer is, It doesn’t really matter if you can or can’t. Fundamentally the art of drawing is the act of seeing. To draw well you need to look a lot, most people give the world a casual glance, they don’t really “see” it. Drawing also lets you develop ideas, it lets you experiment with mark-making, texture and composition and all very quickly. If after you have made all those squiggles, and dots and marks and you still want to be able to draw, in an academic way - then take classes, but never think that in order to make an interesting/engaging linocut that you need to be able draw at a very advanced level.
To see more of Eric's fantastic work, visit his website.