Like many creatives during the first lockdown of 2020, Marcus Gilmore changed direction with his creative practice. After finishing a graphic design degree in early 2018, he was sure he was working towards a career in graphic design, but time spent confined at home told him that he needed to pull himself away from the computer and return to more analogue methods of creating art.

A keen student of the arts, Marcus has always been drawn to the rich tapestry designs of William Morris, earthen colours of the Arts and Crafts Movement and natural fluidity of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. These influences can be clearly seen in his lino prints. Marcus talks about seeing the carved printing blocks on display on Liberty London’s walls, the tactile nature of textile design and its parallels with lino printing. We discuss the skill involved, carving for the repeat patterns that were used in wallpaper and fabric printing.

Growing up in the Rylands provided Marcus with the nature rich childhood that might well have contributed to his love of all things wildlife. Like Morris he was inspired by nature, and recalls being around eight years old and making illustrated booklets based on his visits to the nearby nature reserve. He smiles as he tells me that he was bold enough to send some of his illustrations to David Attenborough and then was delighted when David replied with a letter of appreciation. He framed it and still has it. What a special memory of his childhood passions.

As he got older, Marcus developed his illustrative style and undertook an illustration degree at Bournemouth University. With much more artworks being produced digitally, he decided to specialise in graphic design and enrolled on a course at New College Nottingham.  

His website charts his progression from pencil sketch to full colour digital illustrations and animations. It includes some of his conceptual designs as well as specific commissions for local businesses. His blog outlines his meticulous attention to detail.

Although Marcus found much of what he has learned to be beneficial to him as an artist, he is feeling much more fulfilled since moving away from digital and back to a physical art space. He has learned that different kinds of prints require a different approach, and how to get the best out of his lino blocks.

He tends to stick to just one or two colours for his prints, occasionally introducing accents of gold to highlight certain details. He has added exotic creatures to his wildlife repertoire and shows me a magnificent Bengal tiger he is currently working on. He tells me he likes to challenge himself with larger prints.

By 2021 Marcus had gained enough confidence with his new art medium and started to release images of his process prints on social media. He found a hugely supportive and inspiring community on Reddit/Printmaking, which he still contributes to. Creativity comes naturally to him, so he keeps a journal to work through his ideas and solve problems.

It’s important with lino cutting to make several sketches of designs, so you can see whether it will work as a print. The vital balance of dark and light, and the variation in texture and detail has to be perfected before you cut – once you have carved your lino you can’t undo it. He advises using quality sharp tools that will give you clean lines with less effort. He draws his designs on the lino block in pencil first, making adjustments before going over the lines in biro.

He feels it was well worth investing in his set of Japanese wood carving tools but also favours those made by Swiss company Pfeil. He tells me that the more pressure you apply when carving, the wider the line, but also, there are particular tools that will give different effects. You can use a V-shaped blade for fine lines, whereas the curved one will carve out wider segments and can be used to scoop out large areas you don’t wish to pick up ink. The action of carving your block can be very relaxing once you get started.

I ask Marcus about contemporary artists that he follows, and he mentions Clare Morgan, an art and design teacher who he met at an art fair at Nottingham Contemporary after following her on social media for a while. Claire can be found on Instagram as @curiousinkyme and is also local, she has been supportive of his work. In particular she has been advising him on how to commercialise his work by varying designs.

He feels his work sits well within the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, which celebrated heritage crafts, the beauty of nature and the value of practical skills. Marcus has no interest in using AI to create art and believes it’s important to preserve our traditional creative expertise. We discuss the merits of the superb new show on Sky Arts Bill Bailey’s Master Crafters: The Next Generation which aired this summer, not least for the multi-talented presenter himself.

Marcus enjoys the sensory aspect of lino cutting and describes it as “sculpture on a flat surface.”  He began running workshops teaching lino printing earlier this year, and says he gets a lot out of sharing his techniques. His sessions delivered at The Plane Tree in Beeston and Yellow Wood Café have been really well received. This has given him the encouragement he needed to run classes in the future.

He really enjoys demonstrating to participants, but then giving them the freedom to develop their own ideas and supporting to get the best results. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop in September, and seeing the whole process from idea to print is pure magic! Marcus fosters a relaxed and encouraging atmosphere in which people can achieve results they can be proud of.

Marcus will be hosting his first workshop over at the Attenborough Wildlife Centre on the 7th of December which will be for a full day. In the new year he’ll be doing full day classes over at Created by Hand at Strelley Hall in May.

Follow him on social media.  

Instagram @marcusgilmoreart

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