Irish folklore and the haunting image of the Banshee take centre stage in printmaker Scarlett Rebecca's stone lithography series; the result of a two month long artist residency in Dundalk Ireland, where she studied the contemporary, historical and folkloric practices of death rituals within Ireland.
Scarlett took her inspiration from the neolithic passage tomb at Brú na Bóinne, the iron age sacrificial bog bodies at Dublin Museum and the newly opened Irish Wake Museum in Waterford.
“It was a fantastic experience, and really rewarding to spend two months focusing on my practice, learning about myself and how I work.”
Another emotive and somewhat more personal project was Scarlett’s emotive 'Hiraeth' series (Hiraeth: a welsh word for a homesickness tinged with grief and sadness over the lost, past, or departed). Scarlett explored her own experiences of grief through the lithography process. She carefully combines the patterns from the floor of her own childhood home and the homes of deceased loved ones with portraits. The people appear to be fading into the patterns, faint but still visible, their presence felt throughout the fabric of the house.
Grief is hard to express with words, so where better to explore and express this difficult subject than through art.
Scarlett uses this lithograph print series to discuss these challenging topic, whilst benefitting personally from the creative process herself.
“It’s been incredibly valuable to allow myself time to think and reflect while making the work. Spending time with my memories while doing something that is enjoyable, laborious and calming was a very positive way for me to process my grief. I hadn’t expected to make prints that were really any good, it was just a way for me to anchor my thoughts to something.
"I have been incredibly touched and humbled by the responses I have had to the series and the stories that have been shared with me in reply to the prints. Death, grief and loss are big, scary subjects that are not often spoken about readily so I’m happy to be able to spark some of these conversations with my work.”
Choosing To Be An Artist
The process behind these powerful pieces often starts in a sketchbook which Scarlett describes as a “place for anything”.
“I use a sketchbook for my to-do lists, for drawings, for writing down notes, for sketching out print ideas, for small Welsh language notes (I’m currently learning Welsh). It’s a place where all the aspects of my life combine and scribble over each other.
"I am quite particular about the kind of sketchbook I like; something with thin, smooth pages, and with a gridded or dotted background to use for making patterns. I have recently realised that I haven’t spent any time over the past few years just drawing for pleasure, without structure or intention. It’s an important habit that I want to return to.”
Scarlett has always enjoyed putting pencil to paper, “I think I’ve always been an artist” she explains. At school, art was of course her favourite subject. For a while, Scarlett “tried to move away from being an ‘artist’” by studying printed textile design instead, working as a designer and then moving to illustration where she hoped to find the meaning she was searching for in her work.
“So, I eventually had to give in and accept myself as an artist. I ended up working with lithography by accident. I was working at Brighton University as a Printed Textiles technical demonstrator for maternity cover, and when that ended, I was redeployed into Fine Art Printmaking as the Lithography technical demonstrator. I didn’t know anything about the process at all at that point, so it was a steep learning curve but a happy one as I completely fell in love with the process.”
Championing Print For Future Generations
Having benefitted from the goodwill of fellow printers to guide the development of her craft, Scarlett is now keen to pass on her skills and help others learn the printing process of lithography, and everyone is welcome.
“Printmakers are generous folks, I’ve found, maybe because of the often tricky nature of printmaking, it’s difficult to progress with the craft in isolation. There is always someone who has encountered the same problems as you and who is willing to share their knowledge to help you out. We also seem to be a curious bunch who want to puzzle out how someone else has made their latest prints.
"I have always taught and always loved it, it’s always been an important aspect of my working life. Printmaking is often an underdog within the arts, so I feel it’s important to champion it where I can. Schools and colleges don’t always have the equipment or the expertise to teach printmaking so it often goes overlooked unfortunately, there also seem to be fewer and fewer open access print spaces around. So, I have been teaching classes where students can learn the process at home and learn the skills to be able to make a high standard of print. Working with learners is so rewarding because I can share in their excitement of the process, and it broadens my approach as everyone’s intentions for printmaking are different.”
Scarlett's Studio Space
When not working in a school or college, Scarlett can be found in her own home studio listening to a good podcast.
“Over the years I have had a few different studio set ups, from working in large shared spaces with lots of other makers, to sharing a print dedicated space with a couple of other printmakers. All of these set-ups worked very well for me at the time. Now, I am most happy when I work alone. When I work in open access spaces, I tend to go in late in the evenings when the spaces are empty and I have no distractions.
"I have a home studio now, where I can spread out and I only need to worry about my own mess. I have a fantastic view, a very comfy chair by the window (essential), many neglected plants and lots of shelf space for all the printmaking paraphernalia I have collected. I have a stone lithography press and a selection of stones, along with another smaller press for if I’m doing relief prints. I have everything around me that I need, the commute to the studio is very short which is perfect for those moments when inspiration strikes at odd times, and I can listen to my favourite podcasts without disturbing anyone."
"At the moment I’m writing an instructional book about alternative lithography so a lot of my time is spent on my laptop, so a comfortable and supportive computer chair has become the most important aspect of the studio.”
The Highs and Lows Of Being An Artist
While Scarlett is passing on the joys of printing through her classes and book, she is also aware of some of the challenges that being an artist in the 21st century brings.
“The most difficult part of being an artist is when it is undervalued; through unethical pay, reduced opportunities, reduced arts education or through limiting accessibility to the arts.
"On a personal level; the best part is being part of the arts community and the unifying aspect of that, and the most difficult part is knowing when to, or not being able to switch off.
"The most rewarding part has to be creating valuable opportunities for thinking about and experiencing life, our interactions with the world and each other. Art is a tool for communication and expression, and a means to help us understand the world.”
Scarlett’s lithography is the perfect example of the power of art to communicate, provoke a response and start conversations (particularly on a topic as challenging as grief), creating both meaning for the viewer, and means of expression for the artist through the process.
Find out more about Scarlett's work and classes here!