If you’re intrigued to see prints of the Scottish landscape made with Japanese woodblock techniques – or linocut – and printed on an English Victorian press – then you need to see the work of Laura Boswell. (She is currently showing in Edinburgh, in the Birch Tree Gallery , alongside groups of delicate, diminutive porcelain vessels by Rachel Holian).
Why the Scottish Landscape?
“What I really love is the drama and the scale – the sheer space and empty landscape…. and ephemeral light, the way that the light sweeps in and sweeps out and the rain comes and goes – which is again very lovely up here…. the colours are gorgeous, beautiful…” – Laura Boswell
One particular picture had caught my eye, because of its swirling light clouds in the sky. Drawn from the island of Skye, the picture is entitled “Skye Light” – a little pun? Yes, Laura couldn’t resist that – and she also loved “the pudding basin of the hill, the way the light hits it and the gift of the little tumble of stones in the foreground”
After multiple residences in Japan (the most recent being alongside the usually Edinburgh-based Paul Furneaux ) Can we see the influence of Japanese printing techniques on Laura’s work?
“I think some of the things that affected me were the sense of composition, the sense of asymmetry, white space and the fluidity of the cutting of blocks as well…”
In particular, Laura points out what looks like a brushstroke forming the sky in one of her pictures, hanging in the gallery, “Granite”, explaining that it’s formed by painting a brushstroke on the lino, then cutting it out.
She explained that this style is often seen in Japan, as calligraphic style wood blocks would be carved to feature a prayer, to honour ancestors, and printed on paper (viewed as sacred in Shinto religion).
What is distinctive about Laura’s colour palette?
“I use a lot of Prussian blue in my work as a kind of homage to Japanese woodblock, but it produces these lovely kind of luminous greys, I knock it back with burnt umber and it gives a grey that somehow has a life to it rather than a flatness.” – Laura Boswell
“I like the restricted palette and I tend when I’m mixing colours, it’s always one colour into the next colour into the next colour – which I started doing as a student when I was skint and couldn’t afford the inks and they all had to be saved! But actually I think it gives you that control over the palette which I really enjoy.” – printmaker Laura Boswell
Twenty-first century Japanese printing
From viewing a great number of Japanese 21st century prints during residencies, Laura feels that now is a particularly interesting period in Japanese printmakers because of the rise of the independent printmaker, influenced a great deal by the modern Western vibe.
“there’s a lot of studying of etching and mezzotint in Japan. I think that Japanese woodblock is on the rise again now, but certainly in 2000 it was quite low priority in Japan, it was seen as something which had had its glory day, and was now quite irrelevant. That’s now changing and there’s a lot more conceptual printmaking, so it’s coming back now, which is really exciting.”
What about the English Victorian Press?
Many of the works currently on display are of a size only made possible by her new, larger Albion printing press – from 1876 – originally developed for letterpress and excellent for lino printing.
In her lino cut work, Laura uses reduction technique: working with one piece of material, cutting away with each layer – a very risky procedure because of course you can’t recover areas once cut away…
As well as her printmaking, Laura teaches, writes a regular column for Artists & Illustrators Magazine and works on the occasional public art project.
All of this flows into her expressing herself very clearly in spoken and written word, interestingly and with humour – on what inspires her and how she incorporates that into her own artwork. Should you have an opportunity to hear her present, or to see her works, do not miss it.
Her website has a great collection of useful advice to young artists – how to introduce yourself to galleries, copyright issues, pricing works, making greetings cards as a sideline, social media tips
Oh and there are useful tips on visitors to an exhibition: what NOT to say to an artist: e.g. “How long did it take you to make that?” One quick glance at the 26 minute video of her making one print, Mrs Sasuka’s Garden, in the middle of a roomful of tools, and working through a range of techniques, carefully – is enough to answer that as “a very, very long time and with a great deal of care.”
Laura’s husband, Ben, a specialist art photographer , photographs her work, frames it, helps display it at art fairs and also films videos for her Youtube Channel – which is a great place to look over her shoulder as she works.
Laura Boswell’s work is viewable at Birch Tree Gallery, Edinburgh until 4 May. She will also be showing at Printfest, Ulverston, Cumbria from 4th May 2019. She maintains a website, Facebook and Youtube presence.