The other day I took my little car for a spin to Richard Croft’s studio to pick up some of his new Linocut prints for the gallery.
We bounced over the hills, and headed towards the Mourne Mountains, starkly silhouetted against a bright blue sky. I drove up the gravel driveway of number 187 where I found Richard sitting in his little sun house.
Richard’s house and studio are situated in Dundrum, perfectly placed beside a windswept shoreline, sun-dappled sea and imposing mountains that so often appear in his work. Richard Croft is both a painter and print maker of high acclaim and he and his wife Helen Kerr, the highly accomplished batik and stitch artist, have lived here for over 30 years.
Fruit trees and flowers surround the old stone house, and little doorways lead through narrow stone corridors to old cellars. Where wine was once stored, now instead, house row upon row of paintings, still life and portrait, landscape and seascape, from modern to impressionist. Through another doorway you will find a small framing studio, with a chunky old bench and a well-used hand saw, and, of course, yet more artwork!
For Richard is a prolific artist, there is rarely a time when he will be without a sketchbook, you could chart an entire lifetime through the beautifully rendered drawings on their pages. From holidays in Cornwall and scenes outside cafes in Majorca, to musicians in the Ulster Hall, friends and family, or even hospital stays, it is all there, simply and honestly captured in pencil and ink.
Dozens of these sketchbooks fill the cupboards in his studio. The drawers are filled with loose drawings which he later uses as the basis to create his paintings and prints.
Sketching from life, as opposed to using photographs, allows him to “reduce (an image) to what is essential”, and this is never more necessary than when creating a linocut print.
Each print that Richard creates takes at least a month of work. His preferred print medium is Linocut, which is, essentially, a print produced when a design is cut into the surface of a piece of lino, which is then inked, and pressed onto paper (in a printing press).
This sounds simple enough, but you also have to consider that the image produced will be the mirror of what has been cut into the lino, and as you introduce more colours the whole process becomes more laborious, as each colour has to be applied separately. Richard creates prints with up to eight colours.
To give you an idea of the process, I’ll start from the beginning.
It all starts with a sketch. Within this sketch Richard will think about his colour pallet and reduce the colour range down to a maximum of 8 different colours. This in itself is a challenge as the eye sees a multitude of colours - a painter has the ability to mix colours as they go, to create different hues and tones, but with a print all the colours must be pre-determined before any actual printing can begin.
Next he will draw the image in reverse onto the lino (so that when it is printed it ends up the right way round!)
Then he will cut the lino and print the first colour. If the final number in the edition (ie total number of prints made) is to be, say, 24, then he will produce 24 prints of the first colour on 24 pages – and these will all be hung to dry.
Next he goes back to the lino and cuts more off, inks it, and prints the second colour on each of the 24 sheets, and, again, hangs them all up to dry.
This process of cutting and printing is repeated for each colour, by hand, until the final image is produced. So for an 8 colour print, in an edition of 24, the original piece of lino (in various states of cutting) will have passed through the printing press 192 times…
This is part of the reason that Richard keeps his editions low, and each print, due to its handmade nature, will have slight differences. Once a print is sold out, it cannot be produced again – the original piece of lino will be in an irreversible state!
Having seen Richard’s studio and work in progress first hand, I am in absolute awe of the time and dedication that goes into producing this kind of work. The misconception that a print maker's print is anything like a reproduction is so very far from the truth!
And where can Richard be found when he is not in his studio painting or printing, or out with a sketchbook, or working out his next piece of artwork? In the garden, cutting the grass.
If you would like to see more work by Richard Croft click here.