I’m Sarah Cemmick, a linocut printmaker based in the Eden Valley in Cumbria. I have been printmaking for over twenty-five years (give or take a couple of children mid-way through) having graduated from the University of Sunderland with a degree in environmental illustration.
My degree didn’t specialise in printmaking but the print studios were directly below the illustration department so I found myself spending a great deal of time below stairs. My final degree piece was an 8ft tall ostrich in lino. This started my love affair with lino.
I was lucky to be supported by the Princes Trust young business enterprise as soon as I left university so I became self-employed from graduation.
Describe your printmaking process.
I use traditional grey lino for all my prints, I prefer this to vinyl. All my prints are made using linseed oil inks either on traditional printing papers or a fine Japanese tissue that has gold and silver foil flecks.
I’m not a traditionalist in printing though as I prefer to use watercolours to finish my prints. I know this is perhaps against the grain for some but I prefer the finished results, I think it’s the illustrator in me breaking out.
How and where did you learn to print?
Part of my illustration degree was to create a linocut after a sketching trip to the Washington Wetlands Centre in the northeast. I had a drawing of a sleeping duck on the water surrounded by reflections which I carved on brown lino with disposable bladed tools, it’s a miracle I still have all ten digits but it didn’t stop my enthusiasm for the medium.
I love the mark making you can create with lino, yes you can have a detailed drawing to transfer to the cutting surface but once you take to it with those carving gouges it can lead you along many paths.
The joy of the first inking, seeing the design appear and then that peel and reveal never gets old. That’s why I keep printing, every cut is a learning curve and a joy.
Where do you work?
About five years ago we took down a fruitless apple tree and built my studio in its place. It overlooks my garden and is about fifteen steps from the back door of my home. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a workspace entirely mine. Designed with my husband David and built by a joiner friend (who also built sets for Star Wars, how cool is that) it’s my sanctuary space.
I have a little John etching press in the centre and four plan chests which are also used for paper cutting and inking surfaces. There is also storage for my framed work and a huge pitch pine cupboard I store my art cards in.
Describe a typical day in your studio.
I spend quite a lot of time on admin from the website, processing orders and paperwork but when I have a printing day all that goes by the wayside.
Always paper preparation first, sizing everything while my hands are clean of ink and preparing the blocks and the cardboard jigs I make to keep the block in the same position for each edition.
Then it's printing. Some days it’s all one colour but when I’m printing my seafood medley I have all my small rollers and about ten colours on the go.
I print in small batches of each design as I now have so many. They are generally all editions of 25 but through the lockdown, I increased the edition size on some new images to make them more affordable.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by wildlife, that’s the main body of work I make and always has been. I’m lucky to live in a rural location so can walk out and see hares, red squirrels and badgers along with countless birds without trying too hard. I also love African animals and would like to get back to making more large scale prints using this subject.
What is your favourite printmaking product?
My current favourite is Cranfield copper ink. New to me last Christmas and I just want to make more prints to use it. That and my trusty press, I’d be lost without it.
What have you made that you are most proud of?
I’m very proud of my ostrich even though it was made at the beginning of my career as a printmaker. This year I was asked by a gallery to reprint it for an exhibition. The blocks have been stored for about twenty-four years so I had no idea if they would print. I spent a good few days cleaning them up, cutting away the original background and making jigs for them. The print is assembled in thirteen panels like a giant jigsaw so I’m able to put each block through the press. It printed like a dream and the results will be on display at the Great Print Exhibition at Rheged in Cumbria from December.
I’m also very proud that printmaking is my full-time job, it’s not easy being an artist especially when you’re married to another artist but we work hard and get to do what we love every day. I’m very lucky and never take it for granted.
Where can we see your work? Where do you sell?
I built a website last year a huge achievement as I’m rather hopeless with anything computer related, so all my prints and cards can be viewed and bought on there. I have a wonderfully supportive following on Instagram. Also, I supply galleries around the UK with original prints and cards.
What will we be seeing from you next?
Next up are a couple of projects, I’m working on a botanical hare collection which will be my 2023 calendar, each month there’s a different flora to accompany each hare design.
I’m also working on two new fox commissions which I need to crack on with!
Do you have any advice for other printmakers and creatives?
Be true to yourself, believe in what you’re making and don’t worry about what others think or social media’s fickle ways. Enjoy the process and keep trying. I have great days when it all goes swimmingly and then terrible days when the print gods refuse to cooperate (black ink I’m talking about you) Oh and always keep your spare hand behind the cutting blade.
You can catch Sarah this weekend (12-14th November) at the Handmade In Britain fair at Chelsea Town Hall.
You can also find her work at the following galleries: The Courtyard Gallery Appleby, Gallerina Darlington, The Tallantyre Gallery Morpeth, The Old Courthouse Gallery Ambleside, The Gallery Rheged Penrith, The Gallery Norfolk, The Glebe Gallery, The Biscuit Factory Newcastle.