In our latest Fresh Design Interview, Sara Walker talks to multi-media artist Debbie Chessell about why she loves lino – and not as a floor covering!
“I grew up on the Isle of Wight and moved to London to do a BA in fine art at Kingston School of Art,” says Debbie. “I then spent just over a year living in Hackney collaborating with the Affordable Art Fair, an event which has now gone global and was originally set up to make art more accessible. My work with them involved running artist competitions for an art supply company, during which time I also went on a residency with the Royal Drawing School at Dumfries House, Scotland and with the First Floor Space in Croydon, London.
In the last six months I decided to take the plunge as an independent artist, moved back to the outskirts of London and here we are!
“Throughout my degree I focused on oil painting, mainly creating artworks that question our relationships to ornamental, often gaudy objects. I also began running creative community events that used art as a medium to bring people together to discuss difficult topics (such as my festival Confronting Rape Culture, funded by O2). After graduating I found printmaking – currently my practice is a big mash up of lino printing, oil and watercolour painting, drawing, teaching and creating public art.
“I have always loved colour and making big bold marks. My parents have photographs of me sitting in a highchair, grinning my face off, head-to-toe covered in bright paint! Saying that, the two main people who helped me gain confidence making strong, expressive marks were my school art teachers, Alistair Bridle and Karen Sunderland. They taught me to feel comfortable taking risks with my work, which has allowed me to experiment freely with how I use colour, subjects and the mediums I work in.
“Lino printing is a form of relief printing, basically meaning any areas carved away will not print. I carve my work into various kinds of blocks, such as traditional artist linoleum made from linseed oil and wood pulp, soft cut vinyl and Japanese vinyl, all of which hold marks slightly differently therefore changing the feeling of a work. While carving I keep a range of tools at hand and use them instinctively to create different textures, much like using a selection of pencils.
I also vary between hand-pressing my work and using a mechanical printing press as each method offers unique characteristics and levels of control. In terms of colour, you need a substance that is tacky enough to be rolled out thinly and sit on the surface of your block and not run into the marks you’ve carved out. I use a selection of pre-made printing inks, my favourite being Cranfield’s Safe Wash Relief Ink, and inks that I mix myself.
“I began experimenting with lino printmaking a few years ago completely fell in love. I found the most fascinating thing about lino is, unlike drawing, there is no greyscale: a mark is either there or not there. It therefore lends itself perfectly to creating bold, repeating patterns – I’ve used printmaking to create wallpaper patterns, wrapping paper, kitchen utensils, canvas bags and clothing. Transforming lino’s bold binary into representations of soft, subtle subjects (like shadows or skin texture) also encourages versatility; the tonal limitations of lino printmaking inspire me to constantly reconsider my drawing styles and play with the technical elements of making a print. Breaking an image down into a multi-block print is one of my favourite ways to capture more complex subjects as each new layer brings a whole heap of options and chances.
“Relief printing has been used by artists for hundreds of years – lino printing first hit the art scene in the late nineteenth century shortly after linoleum was invented. Big names such as Matisse and Picasso have been drawn to the strong qualities of lino-prints – today it has been adopted by artists, illustrators and designers the world over.
I’m currently collaborating with iconic furniture store Heals to run a custom-designed workshop in their Kingston store on the 30th March. I really can’t put into words how excited I am about this collaboration with Heals, I was absolutely blown away when they asked me. I have wandered round their stores for hours just marvelling at the beautiful objects they have displayed, it’s one of my staple places to go for inspiration. I’ve even made paintings of their Christmas decorations!
My workshop is inspired by their enthusiasm for radical, cutting edge designers and their constant celebration of traditional craftsmanship.
Apart from the Heals event, Debbie Chessell runs workshops nearly every week – everyone from absolute beginners to long-practising artists turn up! “My main aim when running any creative course is to make a relaxed, friendly and supportive environment in which people feel comfortable to experiment, ask lots of questions and develop their skills. I run printmaking, painting, drawing and other creative courses both independently and with organisations including Kingston Council, The Lamb Pub, The Museum of Futures, The Community Brain, The Garlic Farm, The Centre for Community Development, A Lesson in Nature and First Floor Space.
Right now I’m the artist in residence for ShedX, an award winning creative project in Tolworth, London, that helps the local community to define and improve the future for their town. I’m currently planning a large public art project that brings people together through workshops, open calls, performances, creative events, writing and more to result in a giant knitted beehive that’s big enough to walk inside… Keep your eye on my Instagram, Facebook and website to find out more about that!
Main image shows Debbie Chessell in front of her prints and handmade wallpaper made for a residency with First Floor Space, 2018. All images (c) Debbie Chessell.
Feeling inspired? Why not catch up on some of our previous interviews:
- No Place Like Home: An Interview with Brooke Copp-Barton of Home Interior Design
- King of Design: An Interview with Carole King of Dear Designer’s Blog
- Off the Wall: An Interview with Olga Shevchenko of Olenka Design
I love that canvas bag – who knew lino could be SO versatile!