Recognising the growing number of emerging contemporary makers across UK that are using traditional craft techniques as part of their practice, we think it is important to highlight some Dorset based creatives in our new Culture+ short film series; Contemporary Dorset Makers.
We will start with Robin Mackenzie, an illustrator and printmaker specialising in wood engravings and lino-cuts. Here we chat with him about life as an emerging contemporary maker based in Dorset.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a number of projects which is really testing my multi-tasking and organisational skills! I am working on engravings for a book, a project for Wimborne Minster and also making linocuts and wood engravings based on the Dorset Coast for a solo exhibition later this year at Durston Castle in Swanage. I have just completed a new piece ‘Tyneham’ which features a new technique I am using of fading the ink to create more interesting effect with the use of light in the image.
Are you largely commissioned based or do you sell prints of your work mainly?
I take on a variety of commissions and also create work to sell from my own studio and other galleries and shops around the South West of England. I’d say the balance is about 50/50 between commissioned work and self initiated prints. I enjoy both but really love the commissions particularly when I see the finished image in context on a product or in a book for example. I particularly enjoyed enjoyed working on bespoke illustrations for Ardbeg Whiskey packaging in 2016:
You use traditional craft techniques to create your work. Do you think people are still interested in these processes?
Very much so! I run a workshop in wood engraving or linocut from my studio at Walford Mill Crafts every month and people seem to really enjoy the opportunity to try a traditional technique using the intricate tools and the vintage printing press. It is also fun for me as everyone brings a different approach to the technique and I enjoy helping people from many walks of life to create a successful piece of art on the day.
Do you see a craft revival happening in the UK – and what does that mean for your practice?
I believe there is a craft revival across the UK. I think people want to buy or turn their own hands to a craft that involves both the mind and the hands to create something authentic and that has a story attached to it. Take Barn the Spoon based in London for example. He makes beautiful hand carved spoons that have a sense of tradition and narrative to them and people seem to be really responding to that. I believe people want to buy objects that are enjoyable to look at and to use. I have seen this in the response to my own work, people love to see how a print was made and all the elements that go into it. I hope that through showing this it makes a piece that they choose to buy, just that bit more special for them.
Do you face any challenges as an emerging contemporary maker either within the region or wider afield?
There are always going to be challenges and obstacles to overcome if you want to make your living in the craft world. It is a very competitive field and it involves a lot of dedication and commitment to be able to do it! For me the biggest challenge has been getting my work and my name out there, but I have overcome this by focusing on making the best work that I possibly can and networking with as many people and companies as I can to promote my craft. I have been very lucky with help from various organisations such as Devon Guild of Craftsmen and the Arts Development Company and I am very grateful to them.
Who inspires you most?
I am inspired by so much and by so many! Renting my studio at Walford Mill Crafts alongside other makers and creatives means that I am constantly surrounded by wonderful work and inspiring ideas. I love ceramics and sculptural pieces along with the work of many excellent printmakers. I particularly admire the engravings of Eric Ravilious and Lynd Ward who were both working in the 1930’s, their work has so much life and drama and I really think they were absolute masters of the medium of wood engraving.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In 5 years I would like to be working in a very similar way to today! I would love to continue receiving new and exciting commissions and I shall definitely be continuing to explore the Dorset landscape in my prints. I still want to do a book cover, just so I can see it in Waterstones! And I would be honoured to be elected to the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers at some point.
Watch Robin completing the ‘Tyneham’ piece in our Culture+ short film Contemporary Dorset Maker series:
You can see more of Robin’s work on his website here
Next up on the Contemporary Dorset Makers series we will be sharing work by calligraphy pen maker and designer Tom Gyr who we recently saw at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as part of their artist studios showcase.