Photographer James Warman has been working on an ongoing project capturing images of local artists in their studio. Using the definition of an artist as being one who works with their hands, head and heart this series of shots take a peek into the often hidden world of the creative process. This week the spotlight is on wood engraver Ellie Cliftlands.
Tell me a little about yourself and your art?
I am a Whixall based artist, focusing on Wood Engraving. It is a medium that I connect with and always come back to. I studied illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) where I had the full intention of going into children’s book illustration. I found I could inhabit other known illustrators well, such as Quentin Blake and Beatrix Potter, but I was yet to find my own style. I then went on to do an MA in Children's Book Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art; still very much, until the end, intending to become a Children’s book illustrator. I still hadn't found my own style but what I had found was wood engraving.
How did you first get into your chosen art?
What I’d started doing at DJCAD was Wood cut, this is where you cut along the grain (unlike engraving, where you cut on the end grain) but I kept trying to create finer images until finally a tutor suggested it was more like wood engraving. Wood engraving I didn't try until Cambridge and that is the style/medium I found for my final children’s book, which was very experimental; I didn't have enough time to make it fully cohesive, as one block could take a week to carve (at that point) and a few days to refine. I made over 10 for the book. Wood engraving is a costly medium to work in and I was awarded a grant from the Society of Wood Engravers to buy all the tools and blocks I would need for the project.
Where do you feel the inspiration to create your art comes from?
I have always created art but I knew I wanted to be an artist at 14, however that might have manifested itself. Wood engraving is magical. The subject you are drawn to make a print of is precisely the thing it’s made of, the natural world around us. There are plenty of wood engravers that create prints of buildings and man-made structures but I guarantee the subject we all come back to is nature and wildlife. You will often find me crouching on the floor trying to take a photo of the underside of mushrooms (Hint: turn your phone upside-down) and standing in flower beds.
The last year has been especially challenging for so many of us. How have you managed, both personally and creatively?
Other than not working in a shop two days a week, life didn't alter much, I just made more. It meant I didn’t have to stop if I didn't want to with nothing cutting up the day and the flow of the process. The only thing that was - and still remains - a challenge is selling work. Last year was the year that I was supposed to take off as an artist, having just had my first solo exhibition at Theatre Severn and, like many other people, that opportunity ground to a screaming halt.
Has the pandemic or lockdown had any influence on your work, either positively or negatively?
The influence on subject matter didn't change and I’m not sure it ever will but, with the freedom of nothing but time, I found my self enjoying other mediums. I hadn’t used acrylic paint since the beginning of University, had never tried oil painting and lino isn't something which I practice much. Trying lino was a cheaper way of working out if I enjoying using colour in my printmaking. I don’t. As the mighty king of wood engraving, Thomas Bewick showed, colour can be inferred from careful depiction of tone.
What plans do you have for your art going forward?
Wood engravers who have done it all their lives say that they are still learning, so that’s what I’ll do. I will also try to get my work out there more; this is something I struggle with but, as the world is slowly getting back to normal, that is what I am working on.
What practical advice would you give someone wanting to to take up your form of art professionally?
The art from is incredibly expensive and a risk to start. You really have to feel it and want to create even if you know no-one is currently buying it. You can be great at drawing, painting and creating but with wood engraving there has to be a connection. It’s a craft as well as an art form and you must be prepared for the hours and days it takes as well as the fine motor skills you need. Not to mention good eye sight. This is all before you work out how to market yourself. I am still getting the hang of this.
Where can people see your art?
You can find my work on Instagram (@elliecliftlands), Etsy (Ellie Cliftlands Printmaker) and I have a website (www.elliecliftlands.co.uk). You will also be able to find my work at an upcoming exhibition at Bear Steps, Shrewsbury, from the 18th of October until the 30th.
To see all the artists featured in James's Hands, Head & Heart project head over to https://jameswarman.wixsite.com/hands-head-heart