(image Atlantic Roller by Merlyn Chesterman)

‘You can tell any story in print’: White Moose Gallery shows the variety and vitality of Five Women Printmakers

There’s something visceral about print, combining the intellectual and technical to create something which inspires a deeply emotional response. The vibrant White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, Devon, has curated its Five Women Printmakers show, highlighting the variety, vitality and versatility of print to tell any story and highlight any theme.

The show, which features the work of Catherine CartwrightMerlyn Chesterman, Hilary Paynter, Anita Reynolds and Judith Westcott, runs at the White Moose Gallery from April 4, 2015 to June 7, 2015.

“White Moose had already held a very successful exhibition in 2013 of Hilary Paynter’s wood engravings. And Merlyn Chesterman and Judith Westcott ‘s woodcuts formed an important part of our 2014 ‘Bideford Black‘ show, working with lead artist, Pete Ward of eARTH,” Stella Levy of White Moose told ArtsCulture.

“A couple of years ago I met Anita Reynolds while she was still completing her South West Coast Path walk project and really liked her work in response to her experiences; often battling with the elements to get her sketches completed.

“More recently, I heard Catherine Cartwright, director of Double Elephant Printworkshop, give a talk at the Visual Arts South West (VASW) day held at RAMM and on checking her website, instantly thought she would make the ideal fifth printmaker for our planned exhibition,’ said Stella.

“Between them, all five South West based artists have very varied techniques, with strong influences governing their work, so by bringing these five women printmakers together it should prove to be a most exciting exhibition.”

We got in touch with the artists to artists and asked the same two questions to find out more about their practice, and to help compare and contrast their work in this enriching exhibition.

Catherine Cartwright
What stories can you tell in print – why does it draw you as a medium?
My latest work features birds in varying states of ‘still life’, is exploring the concept of ‘to hold’ and the ambiguous spectrum from security to possession to abuse of power. I’m also using the bird iconography in telling a story around Exeter’s closed woman’s refuge.

How do your ideas develop and how do you work, for example are you theme or technique led?
My ideas develop through research and the participatory work I do. In the past few years this has been focused on domestic abuse and working with survivors; I was artist in residence at Exeter’s women refuge on it’s closure last March and I have a new project, The Refuge Manifesto, beginning in May. Am I theme or technique led? Definitely both. Sometimes my love for a technique will pull my decision to use it, but different processes definitely affect the outcome.

Merlyn Chesterman
What stories can you tell in print – why does it draw you as a medium?
You can tell any story in print. What is so wonderful about woodblock printmaking, which is the only kind of printmaking I do, is its indirectness. There are so many stages to it that the end result is as fresh to me as it is to the viewer, even though I know what the print is supposed to be about. The drawing, the cutting, the offsetting and cutting of other related blocks, the playing with colour and tone, the order of printing the blocks, the choice of opaque or translucent ink, the Western or Oriental paper, and of the course the reversal of the whole thing- there are bound to be surprises. Even a straight black and white woodcut will have the character of the wood, knots and grain, as an element that may be arbitrary and lend an outside influence to the finished print, and if one is lucky, an unintended beauty.

How do your ideas develop and how do you work, for example are you theme or technique led?
I work as an emotional response to something that is important to me – whether it is the feel of being in a rough cold sea, or the copper colour of wet rock as the sun goes down. Both theme and technique are equally important, I think. My work must be technically perfect, but not at the expense of what I am trying to say. Good technique is a prerequisite but not, for me, an end in itself.

Hilary Paynter
What stories can you tell in print – why does it draw you as a medium?
There is something fundamentally satisfying about printmaking.  The use of organic materials – in my case end-grain wood – and very sharp tools; shaping with ones hands and printing with ink is tremendously satisfying.  (Those digital printmakers miss out on all this.)

How do your ideas develop and how do you work, for example are you theme or technique led?
As far as ideas are concerned, I am never short of ideas but have to choose which of many possibilities I am going to develop. I have a rough idea and work out as much as I can directly onto the block.  It is a bit risky but the results are more lively. If everything is worked out beforehand, the engraving process could be a bit mechanical.

I use wood engraving because nothing else is so thrilling to work on allowing great detail and range of tone and texture. Recently, I have been making large scale collages, cutting up my wood engraving prints and re-assembling them in unique pieces that cannot be editioned.

As far as themes are concerned, I get excited and interested in a wide range of topics. These have included wild, rocky landscapes and castles as well as social and political comment.

Anita Reynolds
What stories can you tell in print – why does it draw you as a medium?
I use print to describe place. I am particularly drawn to weathered landscapes as well as mans impact on it. The passage of time can be described in print as changes in colour, shape and form.

Print is a very versatile medium, it allows for a great deal of experimentation and risk taking, I enjoy combining different printmaking techniques to create hybrid plates. I use the techniques of drypoint, carborundum and collagraph to construct the plates , I also make large monotype prints from memory of place.

The challenge of using new materials to create marks and textures keeps the process alive for me. The results are not always what you expect and this open minded approach to printmaking makes way for new discoveries, the happy accident is often the beginning of a new approach.

How do your ideas develop and how do you work, for example are you theme or technique led?
My approach to bodies of work are theme led. I enjoy embarking on large scale landscape projects usually based on a journey or a specific place. The work on show at White Moose is the result of a three year project “Outline South West” in which I walked the 630 mile South West Coast Path and produced sketches en route. The sketches were then translated into printing plates back in the studio. The technical decisions came later and the choice of process was entirely driven by the mood I wanted to express, I needed to be as true to the original sketches as possible to ensure that the prints reflected my personal response to the coastal landscape.

Judith Westcott:
What stories can you tell in print – why does it draw you as a medium?
You can do what ever you like with print, there are so many different processes (many used by the five of us in the work on show) and so many variables. Imagination and experimentation leads to all sorts of different avenues opening up and effects being achieved.

I have always loved print because you cannot fully control the process, you cant see what is happening until you ‘pull’ the print off the inked block.

Printmaking encourages reduction, simplification, a focus on what you are trying to get across, economy of method, and risk taking.

I enjoy collaborating with Merlyn Chesterman, another one of the five. We have two new works in the show specifically done for the exhibition. Working together for us shares responsibility of outcome, we play more, risk more, and have fun. We worked intuitively with the two new abstract prints.

How do your ideas develop and how do you work, for example are you theme or technique led?
I am a relief printmaker, so I start with that process. But it does not lead inexorably to a predestined end, much proofing goes on with different inking tried, etc.

My subject matter comes largely from the beautiful North Devon area and the activities that go on here.


  • Five Women Printmakers is at the White Moose Gallery from April 4 to June 7, 2015. The exhibition is part of North Devon’s Art Trek, an open studios event taking place from May 23 to June 7, organised by North Devon Arts.
  • Catherine Cartwright will be giving a printmaking demonstration on Wednesday, April 8, 2015