Robin Mackenzie | The Life of a Wood Engraver

I am Robin Mackenzie, a printmaker and illustrator, based in the beautiful county of Dorset. I rent a studio in the historic Walford Mill on the outskirts of Wimborne and from here I create traditional wood engravings and linocuts. I alternate between black and white pieces and full colour prints with sizes ranging from just a few centimetres square to a metre or so!

I first came across the art of wood engraving whilst studying at the Arts University Bournemouth, from which I graduated in 2013. A friend of mine had been making some linocuts and I was intrigued by the tools and vintage printing presses he was using to make his work…so I badgered him to show me what he was up to and I created my first print! I have to say it wasn’t great…but I was hooked on the technique!

From there, I read as much as I could about relief printmaking techniques and came across the work of the renowned wood engraver and illustrator, Eric Ravilious. Ravilious’ work is so full of life and movement and you can just tell that he had a lot of fun creating them. He was working in the 20’s and 30’s in England and was tragically killed whilst working as a commissioned war artist over Iceland in WW2. He has been a big inspiration for my work alongside other wonderful illustrators such as Rena Gardiner, Edward Bawden and Norman Ackroyd.

When I began creating prints and learning how to use the tools, it felt more like remembering a technique, rather than learning a new one. This does not mean that things come easily or go right every time though! I am constantly learning through experimenting, making mistakes and challenging myself.

My inspiration comes mainly from the Dorset coastline. I absolutely love walking the coast path and either photographing or roughly sketching the changing shapes and light cast over the rugged forms of the cliffs and rocks. From there, I return to the studio and begin to piece together compositions that I can turn into prints, deciding whether it will be a small monochrome wood engraving or a larger coloured linocut.

When making my coloured work I utilise a technique called reduction printmaking where only one block is used to create all the colours in the image. The image is drawn out and only the white areas are cut away, the block is then inked with the lightest tone in the print, for example, light blue and printed. Anything I then want to remain light blue in the print is cut away and I ink the block in the next colour, for example a mid green. I then cut away the green and print the next colour…this continues until only the darkest areas are left on the block. So there is no going back!! Hence, sometimes why this technique is called suicide printing! I like it because you can adapt the image and colours as you progress and you have to make bold decisions and stick by them. It also leads to truly limited edition prints that cannot be repeated.

See more at Robin’s website.