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Meet the Maker: Gemma Dunn

Thursday, February 14, 2019

I am a painter and printmaker from Salisbury, Wiltshire. I have a background in product design but my love of materials and traditional craftsmanship led me to pursue a career in fine art. I am happiest outdoors and when I’m not occupied with my two young children I can usually be found working on something in my studio or tending to our allotment.


Describe your printmaking process.

The majority of my current work is linocut, which is a very approachable low tech printmaking process. I develop my ideas with two main objectives: to study the forms that are found in nature and to try and express the emotion of my response. I draw a lot. I combine work from my sketchbooks with photography using layers and layers of tracing paper to add and refine elements until there is something that really excites me about the way it’s coming together. The image is then transferred to the lino ready for carving using a couple of maverick transfer methods I developed along the way. The process of carving always adds an element of surprise to the final image because it seems to me there are things that can only be expressed through the tools in the mark making stage. Many of my linocuts are simply inked in prussian blue, making the most of their graphic quality without the starkness of black on white. For coloured images, I like to refer back to my painting studies from life.


How and where did you learn to print?

My first experience of printmaking was at school with blunt tools and old, rock hard lino. It was not an instant love affair! Then in 2012 I came across several vintage Indian wood blocks at a wood fair near Brighton. They were battered and I had no idea what to do with them, but they were so beautiful I decided to take them home. Curiosity led me to investigate how they would have been used and so began my largely self-taught printmaking journey. Books, online resources and a lot of trial and error have helped me along the way. But I am especially thankful to the generous artists and printmakers who share their processes and materials in blogs and in online learning groups such as Linocut Friends (Facebook). This is partly why I also take the time to share my own printmaking discoveries.


Why printmaking?

I make art in many different media including printmaking, but recently I have gravitated more towards printmaking because it forces me to carefully consider the design of an image. Poor decisions about value and composition have nowhere to hide. With the immediacy of sketching and painting, it is tempting to be lazy about these things. It is too easy to fall in love with colour and my own ideas and just camp there. Printmaking takes me further in finding the bare bones of how to communicate visually.

The other thing I love about printmaking is that it feels like total alchemy! The end result is very much a product of the twists and turns of the process itself and the work therefore takes on a life of its own. It’s magical. Forcing me to slow down and trust the process I think has made me a better artist.


Where do you work?

Mostly I work in my studio, but on a sunny afternoon I have been known to carve lino barefoot by the river! I like drawing from life and so a lot of the initial stages of gathering ideas and imagery usually begins outdoors.


Describe a typical day in your studio.

I’m easily bored by routine so I’d say on the whole I try hard not to have a typical day in my studio! Some days my head is full of custom orders, packaging things up, rushing to the post office, admin, ordering materials and prepping for workshops. I find these activities are incredibly draining, so no matter how busy I am I have to allow myself days where the focus is on exploring my own ideas, slowing down with a bowl of homemade soup and fresh sourdough bread, and zoning out with the chickens in their run. I also make time for creative play where I don’t worry about being efficient with my materials or aim for any specific outcome. Most of my best work has its origins in these moments of freedom.


How long have you been printmaking?

I discovered the world of printmaking about 6 years ago. It’s been just over a year since I devoted my time and focus to linocut in particular. That transition came around the time I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which was affecting my joints. In an act of defiance I picked up a large A3 sheet of lino and began what I thought would be my last linocut...!


What inspires you?

The natural world is the finest piece of artwork imaginable. Whether you are looking at it on a microscopic or macro scale, it has wisdom echoing throughout its design on so many levels. I believe it has the power and beauty to heal and restore and I think a lifetime spent discovering the treasure hidden within is a life well spent.


I also spend a lot of time looking at other artists’ work. I am interested in many different disciplines and I find it fascinating seeing the world expressed through another person’s eyes. Even if something is not to my taste, I enjoy finding what is great about it and what I can learn from their process.


What is your favourite printmaking product?

I love Caligo Safe Wash Inks. As a painter, I really enjoy their proper range of artist pigments which feel familiar when mixing, plus they are so versatile and easy to clean up.


What have you made that you are most proud of?

Honestly, it’s not even a piece of art, it’s my studio! I designed and built this space myself on a shoestring budget out of sheer necessity. Previously I was trying to work on a tiny kitchen table, but curious little hands and messy family life were preventing me from growing my business as a practicing artist. I have worked incredibly hard, learning everything from how to build a stud wall to plastering from YouTube videos. It has been paid for in part by selling my work and running workshops, skip diving and bartering. It is finally in a state where I can start hosting workshops from home and I’m incredibly proud of the journey it’s taken to get to this moment.


Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

New work is released for sale on my website in very small limited editions. My mailing list is given first pick. There is also a selection of my original hand printed linocuts and homewares on display at Fisherton Mill in Salisbury. If you are local I’d highly recommend a visit to their award-winning gallery, cafe and artist studios.


I also post regularly on Facebook and Instagram  where you will find some video clips of the methods I use.


What will we be seeing from you next?

I am currently working on a series of linocuts delving further into some of the themes introduced in my previous work. They depict the flow of life that comes through remaining connected - in family, in community, to our resources and in spirit. Being grounded in connection is the foundation on which we can grow and thrive. If you would like to see them when they are first released in early 2019 you can join my mailing list.


Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

Create. Do it for the sheer joy of it, do it for yourself, do it because the creativity is fiery in your bones. But also make the time and effort to grow in your skill because a lifetime of learning is the way to stay fresh and humble in what you are doing. You don’t need expensive tools and materials as much as you need an attitude of perseverance. Start with what you have to hand.


Keep p to date with Gemma Dunn's work:

Website: www.gemmadunnart.co.uk

Instagram: @gemmadunnart www.instagram.com/gemmadunnart

Facebook: www.facebook.com/gemmadunnart

Mailing List sign up form: http://eepurl.com/dxhUjv

 

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