Maker in Focus - Christopher Noble - Printmaker
Since 1976 I have been an artist printmaker, which means I produce signed original limited-edition prints. Initially I worked with screenprinting processes, which involves using layers of stencils by which ink is squeezed through onto paper using a bar of rubber, and later, solid polyurethane in a wooden handle. I could use anything up to 60 individual stencils in larger prints. Around 1999 I began to investigate the use of computers and by 2000 had moved over entirely to producing images digitally. I now work from my purpose-built studio space on top of my house in Hereford. For as long as I remember I have been fascinated with reproduction of images, for instance using rubber letters and image blocks to print from – they were known as ‘John Bull Printing outfits’. I would colour the pictures by hand. I made my first lino cut at the age of about 11, printing in the form of silk screen printing featured in both my ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level art at school. At one point I had to choose between history, geography and art to study at ‘O’ Level, so it must have been at that point that I began to concentrate on the notion of being an artist.
I went on to the Foundation course at Coventry College of Art and Design before going to Cardiff College of Art to study Fine Art at degree level (known then as a Dip. A. D.). Whilst there was nowhere in the UK where you could do a degree in printmaking, I did spend a great deal of my time in the print workshops learning about etching, lithography and photo screen printing. I then went to the Institute of Education at London University to gain distinctions in theory and practice on my postgraduate teaching certificate.
I taught art and printmaking in a couple of London schools before leaving to set up my own studio practice in a newly formed group workshop in Stow-on-the -Wold in Gloucestershire in 1976. I remained there for nearly 8 years before moving on to my first independent studio in Stroud. I first showed with the Guild in 1981 as an invited member before joining in 1983. I’ve twice been a committee member serving a total of 7 years, designed the big Summer Show in Painswick three times and even acted as a deputy treasurer for a couple of years when we handled a lot of cash from ticket money!
Now I’m semi-retired, and not reliant on my work for a living, I don’t have a regular work pattern for each day, but simply work on what I want to print, and supply a handful of galleries and submit work to exhibitions both here and overseas. Between 1998 and 2015 I was a lecturer in Professional Practice at Hereford College of Art teaching across 11 degree courses how to set up and run a self-employed creative business. I still have some connections with the college.
I still get excited when I see the finished work being printed off on my own large format printer. The craftmanship is complex in its relationship of ink and surface/media, and I push the process to the limits, which often requires a large number of sample strips as proofs ensuring the colour is exact and the detail crisp and the final surface exactly as it should be. I work with only the finest pigmented inks and coated acid-free papers (mainly Hahnemuhle German etching paper 310gsm) which require the perfect matching profile for ink and paper.
Being digital, once the final image is decided upon, I can rely on the process to produce a perfect match every time, unlike the problems inherent in hand-printed screen printing. What I learnt about using multiple layers in that process I can now use in designing my current work. There are few down sides other than some of the mind-boggling technical issues using different design programs. These days the motivation and inspiration come from the existing body of work and drawings. I can always go back and revisit ideas, sometimes from years before, but where I have now developed methods of dealing with ideas once thought too complex (and certainly out of reach of screenprinting). Many images are now abstract but often derive from the landscape – textures and colours with overlapping patterns. I like to show the workings of an idea, in such a way as to leave traces behind in the manner of a palimpsest, where older workings are not entirely obliterated – in the way for instance that the landscape is a record of all the imposed natural and man-made patterns resulting in a palimpsest.
Other work is created in a 3D program allowing me to visualise imagined worlds where I can make objects that are then ‘coated’ with my imagery from my own prints. Currently I am working on the idea of bringing together the abstract and 3D imagery in one print – something of a challenge I have to say. All printmaking depends upon the creation of a matrix which stores the information to be printed whether that is an etching plate, a lithographic stone, a carved woodblock, a stencil or in my case a digital file that contains all the information to create the print.
I am inspired by many artists and craftspeople, such as the painters Albert Irvin and Roger Cecil for the complete yet different mastery of scale, colour and texture. I’ve come to admire the prints of Howard Hodgkin, particularly for his refusal to engage with the ‘fetishism’ of printmaking – common particularly in finely wrought but empty woodcuts where technique is seen as all important. For me content is everything. I’m as likely to be inspired by the texture of a piece of ceramics or the use of a grain in a turned bowl, but never as an end point but merely as a starting point.
Recently I have achieved some success in showing in international print exhibitions, such as the Portuguese International Print Biennales including the forthcoming International Print exhibition in the Douro Valley, Portugal which runs from the start of August to the end of September 2020 in 14 venues. Last month I was invited to take part in a mini-print show in Argentina. A recent challenge was to convert one of my larger prints into a high definition metal panel (Chromaluxe) – the outcome pleased both myself and the client and might open the door to specially designed work in this format.
As well as producing original prints – and I emphasise they are not reproductions of anything pre-existing – I have created a range of greetings cards using exactly the same essential techniques and qualities as the prints. The complete range is available from the Guild’s Gallery in Clarence Street.
Late 2017 I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Myeloma – a cancer of the blood in the bone marrow, so difficult to treat. It is incurable but treatable so my days are rather dictated by how I am feeling. Currently just starting a new regime of treatment after a period of remission. So I am limited in what else I do when I’m not printmaking. I read a lot for pleasure, still paint, and love a good movie. Both my daughters work in the creative industries – hardly surprising as they always saw me printmaking as a natural activity.
If I weren’t an artist I might have followed a career in my other favourite subject – geography.