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Meet the Maker: Helen Bulmer

Meet the Maker: Helen Bulmer

 Hi. My name is Helen Bulmer and I am a printmaker living in Nottingham.

Describe your printmaking process.

I start with a sketch or photograph then play around with it until I’m happy with the composition. I spend quite a long time on this part. I draw it onto lino with a permanent marker to form a key block and then use a second block for the reduction. I plan the colours using gouache which I like as it is opaque so I can paint over an area easily if I feel a colour isn’t working. I usually use about 7 colours in total and print from the lightest colour finishing with the key block which will be in a dark colour though not necessarily black. Maybe purple or prussian blue which are my current favourites. I find the hardest part is getting the registration accurate.

How and where did you learn to print?

I first printed when I did screenprinting for my A level Art which I loved doing. I then completed a degree in Graphic Design during which I worked in a range of printmaking techniques although not lino! My lino printing is largely self–taught and I subsequently developed skills through my work as an Art teacher teaching mono, relief and screen print as part of our art courses.

Why printmaking?

I enjoy the process of developing a drawing into a print and the different stages that the image goes through as it becomes more stylised and simplified. I love the tactile nature of carving the lino which is quite  meditative and is probably my favourite part of the process. I always look forward to starting on a new design and as soon as I finish I’m itching to start on another. I enjoy the technical side of the process and working out how to solve problems as they arise. It’s also about that element of surprise when you pull back the paper and the print is revealed. It is only at the end when all the elements are combined that I can really see what I have produced.

Where do you work?

I’m lucky to have a workroom (bedroom) where I can leave everything out. I tend to do the planning, designing and cutting in here. I do my printing in the kitchen where I have access to water and more surface space. I have a small etching  press which has taken up permanent residence on the dining table and my drying prints are usually festooned around the room.

Describe a typical day in your studio.

I don’t have a typical day.  I always have a print on the go but the ink layers take days to dry even though I use a cobalt drier to help speed up the process. While I’m waiting I will work on one of my new designs which could be in a variety of different stages. If I see some flowers or a group of objects that look interesting I will spend time drawing or I could be planning, carving, working out colourways. As I do the messy printing in the kitchen I tend to fit my work around what else is going on.

How long have you been printmaking?

 In various ways for about 40 years! I got a lot of satisfaction from sharing printmaking techniques with my pupils, which they really enjoyed, but didn’t have the time to think about doing anything myself. It was only after I finished working that I felt I had the time and space to start to develop my own work.

What inspires you?

Mainly still life and the combination of shapes and colours in a group of objects. I’ve amassed a collection of jugs over the years and always have flowers and foliage in the house. I particularly love tulips and decorative patterned textiles and am inspired by the way Matisse uses colour and pattern. Sometimes its just an accidental combination of objects and shapes that attracts me. I also love the work of printmakers from the Grosvenor School of Art and was inspired by last years exhibition at Dulwich Gallery.

What is your favourite printmaking product?

I’ve been collecting my kit gradually over the last few years and wouldn’t want to be without any of it. My favourite product has to be my Pfeil cutters which are comfortable and lovely to handle and a revelation after having used basic equipment for so long. My best discovery has been Ternes Burton pins and tabs which are brilliant for accurate registration. I always use Caligo Safewash Inks as the colours are vibrant and they are easy to mix. The big advantage is that they are water washable which makes clearing up safer and chemical free.

 What have you made that you are most proud of?

I am always excited about each new print until I start to experience difficulties  and then my mind wanders to the next one and the excitement starts again!

Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?

I regularly post work in progress on Instagram and exhibit and sell at local events, fairs and shops. I had a number of events planned for this year which are obviously not now happening so looking forward to 2021!

What will we be seeing from you next?

I have been experimenting with repeat pattern design and am keen to develop some of my designs as repeats which I plan to have digitally printed and use on soft furnishings.

More flowers!

Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?

 Don’t give up and always finish a print. It’s easy to be discouraged when things don’t worked out as planned but persevere and complete the print. Although you might achieve a different outcome to the one intended it could be a pleasant surprise and someone else might like it!

For more from Helen, head over to Instagram: @proofprintpress

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