Inky chaos and curls of wood: we talk to printmaker Robin Mackenzie
Updated: Mar 7
We have a real fondness for the work of Robin Mackenzie, so much so that we asked him to design FOLDE's ident of Melbury Beacon. Amber caught up with him recently to find out more about his work and inspiration.
What attracted you to printmaking and illustration, and where did you learn your trade?
I studied illustration for my degree and believed I wanted to be a children's book illustrator until I set foot in the print room... Two factors contributed to my wandering into that haven of inky chaos: I had just received a bad grade for a series of paintings and I was in a bit of a huff and had announced that I was giving up painting! I also was beyond frustration with digital printers which never seemed to be able to reproduce the look and feel of an original painting once scanned and printed. So, I needed something that wasn't painting and something that negated the need for digital printing... behold the linocut! What a revelation! I could cut it with fun tools and print it on an 150-year-old press. This was the thing for me. I later came across the work of Eric Ravilious, which I discovered to be wood engravings so I decided I had better learn that too. There is a quality to a wood engraved line that is just not possible in lino.
What do you engrave your designs on?
I mainly engrave on lemonwood, boxwood or vinyl floor tiles. The tiles are harder than traditional lino and hold a better line when working on a large scale. Nothing competes with the wood though! The sound, the little curls of wood and the crispness of print are unrivalled by any other medium.
Tell us about your printing press...
I have worked my way through a series of printing presses, from a teaspoon stolen from my grandmother's cutlery drawer to a tiny wooden press from Germany, to a slightly bigger roller press, which always seemed to slightly stretch the paper - not something you want in a good print - to my current 1854 Hopkinson and Cope Albion Press. It is a dream to work on and comes with such a feeling of connection to all those printers who must have used it since it was made in Victorian London 167 years ago. I wouldn't swap it for anything.
You're well known for your lovely collection, the A to Z of Dorset; was it difficult choosing just one location for each letter?
The Dorset Alphabet was a lovely project to work on but definitely came with a few challenges. Namely, trying to find places in Dorset that began with X, Y and Z. I have a love of the nautical, so X became 'X Marks the Spot' because of the Pirates in Poole harbour; Y became 'Yachting in the Harbour'; and Z... well, that had to be Zig Zag Hill up above Shaftesbury! I am very pleased indeed with the whole alphabet, and it's lovely to receive pictures from customers of it hanging pride of place in their kitchen or living room.
Do you have a favourite location or subject that you keep returning to in your work?
In 2018 I had an exhibition entitled Jurassic Coast at Durlston Castle up above Swanage. I spent the year before the show exploring and discovering new locations along Dorset's stunning coastline. It is a treasure trove of views, hidden caves, sandy beaches and towering cliffs. I don't think I will ever get bored of it and new ideas for prints arrive in my head whenever I walk the coast path. Having said all of that, I am off to the Shetland Isles to make work for a new exhibition this year so my answer may change...
We know you take commissions - you created our beautiful ident for FOLDE. Who else have you done work for?
I really do enjoy commissions. They are quite often full of backwards and forwards between me and the client, constant changes, moments of hair-pulling frustration but at the end my work appears in a book or on a whisky bottle, which is the most gratifying feeling for what I am doing. I have recently worked with The National Trust, SAGA Cruises and The Old Stile Press in Wales. One of my favourite commissions to date was creating the design for a glass entrance door for Bridport Museum. I created the design as a large linocut and it was then etched onto the glass front door. That was brilliant and will be seen hopefully for a long time to come.
You also teach: tell us about your classes.
I enjoy teaching and sharing the process of linocut and wood engraving with anyone who wants to have a go. It is fulfilling to pass on the skills and I tend to learn something new from each student . Everyone has a different approach and it's refreshing to hear new ideas or about other artists that I can look to for inspiration.
Where can people see your work?
I am based at Walford Mill Crafts in Wimborne and, in normal times, anyone can come and see me working in my studio, have a chat and purchase prints directly from me. The Mill houses a selection of other wonderful craftspeople so visitors can see a whole host of exciting things happening around them and speak directly to the makers. I also teach my classes in the Mill's purpose-built education space.
Find more of Robin's work here
Follow him on Instagram
A selection of Robin's prints are available in The FOLDE Collection