There is a legend that people in the village of Wing in Rutland once tried to keep spring there forever, attempting, but failing, to fence in a cuckoo to stop it from flying away. Printmaker Angela Harding’s studio, situated in her garden in the village, looks out onto open fields, bearing witness to the seasons that continue to change. As we approach winter, Angela finds a time of reflection. “There’s a settled mood,” she says.
She works in her studio right through the cold months. “I love looking out on the snowy fields. I always say I have the best office in the world.” Angela has been working out of her studio for about 17 years. It’s accompanied by another building, used for packing, which her husband built over the course of three years. “We have plenty of studio space but a tiny house!” Angela says. “We spend time away from here, so it suits our lifestyle to not have too much to look after.” Her family is spread across the country, and she is influenced by rugged coastlines and the dramatic Derbyshire peaks as much as the rolling landscape that surrounds her.
Angela studied fine art in Leicester in the early 1980s and had an introduction to printmaking during her first year. “I absolutely loved it. I didn't really move out of the print room after that.” After a few years travelling, she returned and became part of the group that started Leicester Print Workshop in 1986, then based in a small terraced house. It became a registered charity in 1993, providing an open access studio to support artists, and Angela later became a director.
She found herself drifting away from her practice, which is what she most enjoyed, so gave up her job at 45 and set herself a two year deadline to start making a living through printmaking. Then, she moved away from being an etcher, towards being a lino-cutter, as she could do a lot at home without much equipment, more quickly. She cut the lino blocks at home, travelling into Leicester to create the print editions. “I wish I'd started doing it seriously earlier, because I never looked back after that.”
Today, Angela uses Japanese double-sided vinyl which she likes as you can cut quite finely, along with traditional lino, backed with hessian. She creates the key block first, which features the main elements of the design and serves as a guide for adding the colours. She cuts the design into the surface using a V-shaped chisel or gouge. “You're letting the light in,” she explains, “and what you leave behind is what is going to hold the ink.” Angela uses a Victorian-style Rochat Albion press, a modern replica made in High Barnet, London.
Then, the background colours are silkscreen printed. She mixes the colours herself, using a binder which is a transparent clear gel to create different hues. “You can mix up quite a lot each time,” she says. “I use lots of blues and greens. The same colours run through much of my work.” Angela uses around five to six layers of colour for each piece. “Sometimes when it's simpler it's better, like anything in life really,” she says.
There are often birds swooping through the swirling skies of her prints. “When I got my first job, the first thing I bought with my wages was a pair of binoculars to watch them,” she says. The sense of a quiet observer witnessing the dynamic movement of nature is intrinsic to her work. “There’s a sense of joy in movement,” she says. “The designs have a kind of tension, even though they're still. I think that gives them energy.”
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by Joanne Crawford.