Artist Study: Norman Ackroyd / Mapping the Cornish Coast / Monoprint and Etching Prep

Now that I live on the Cornish coastline, I am particularly drawn to the works of other artists who focus in on the landscape of the UK coast. I am a big fan of Norman Ackroyd's dramatic, monochromatic etchings of the British Isles, but only recently watched his episode in the BBC documentary series 'What Do Artists Do All Day?'.

In the documentary Ackroyd describes his process in depth, taking the viewer through a day spent in his studio. The documentary opens as he begins his day, pouring coffee and making a bowl of porridge. A daily morning ritual for him, as it is for me.

"Some days I have a very big production day, and today is one of those. I always start off with a good bowl of porridge. Porridge was a thing that I had every morning, before I went to school from being about the age of three. Old habits die hard.'

Ackroyd speaks about how it's very important for him to get into the right state of mind as he works. In the studio, Ackroyd uses the sketches he makes on location to inform his mark-making on the etching plate. His initial sketches are crucial to his practice as they help him 'remember being out on the boat..' He said that "Even in the middle of London, mentally I'm right out on the top of the Shetlands." In the documentation of his day, the viewer follows the progress of the etching from the initial skeches Norman made on a boat on the Scottish coastline to putting the plate through the print-press in his London studio.

The map Ackroyd keeps in his studio, which holds pins of scenes he has recreated in etchings, is something he often refers to as he works. Mapping, cartography and a sense of place is evidently important to his work.

"I was absolutely fascinated by maps as a child, to the point where I would almost imagine lying down and living in them. Aerial shots are dramatic, but they're not what I want. Take, for example, the St Kildans, before they were evacuated. The abstract shape of that landscape was the background to their lives, they understood it completely, it formed the essence of the environment they lived in and carved their homes from, and it's that feeling of place that I'm trying to communicate."

Watching this documentary on Ackroyd and his practice inspired me to move away from the architectural shapes integral to my work and instead create some geometric-shaped etchings to mimic the cliff faces I have photographed on recent adventures. I headed to the print room and began the process of making up the etching plate with help of the printmaking technician Bianca.

Sitting on the rock face on Sunday, overlooking Porthleven beach, I felt completely 'at home'. I felt warm and comfortable, despite the chilling winds. Although not a habitable space, the moment embodied what I think the word 'home' is all about. That's the feeling I want to inject into a series of work that will act as a visual map of the places in Cornwall that resonate deeply with me and have made me feel at home here in first year.

Whilst waiting for my plate to dry, I tried my hand at making some monoprints for the first time. Although I may move over to the offset press to create backgrounds for my finished etchings, I will also be trying out a few using monoprinted backgrounds. There's something spontaneous and exciting about monoprinting - it's that element of suprise when the paper is peeled away from the plate once it's passed through the press.

Next week I will be continuing my work in the print room, trying out various compositions with my etchings and abstracting the landscapes that embody a sense of feeling at home for me here in Cornwall.