At the beginning of this year I received a phone call from Radio 4 asking me if I would be willing to make prints to illustrate the 2018 Reith Lectures. Well, I hardly needed to think about it, the answer was "Yes". It sounded interesting and definitely something I wanted to be involved in. The BBC had seen the work I had produced for The Greenbelt Festival and wanted something with a similar feel. Later I found out a little more about the lectures I would be illustrating. The speaker would be historian, Professor Margaret MacMillan, talking on the subject of War and Humanity. I was asked to produce an illustration for each of the five lectures, plus one more to be used as the series image. These pictures would be used across all the Radio 4 social media platforms, their website, other promotion and invites, as well as the physical backdrop to each lecture itself.
Amazingly, MacMillan planned to talk with just a few notes, so there was no transcript for me to work from to ascertain the details of each talk. I was given a loose idea of the subject of each lecture and with guidance from the producers and media team worked through lots of ideas to arrive at the final six designs.
I made each print using the reduction relief printing process. This essentially means that instead of having a separate printing block for each colour, just one is used by cutting away each layer of colour in between prints until all the layers have been printed on top of each other - this means that the printing block gets cut away to nothing and can't be used again, there is no going back to make changes once all the cutting has been done.
I knew that these illustrations would all be shown either digitally on a screen or as commercially printed media, so the original prints themselves would not be the finished work - a new thing for me. After I had completed the first 'Series' image as multiple 2-3 colour reduction prints, it was decided that the colours weren't right. As I mentioned before, completed prints can not be altered once the layers have been cut away. Fortunately I'd had the foresight to print each colour separately as well as a completed print and so these separations were each scanned and the colour altered digitally and compiled again just like when a traditional print is made, layer on layer.
I made the decision from this point on that for the remaining five images that I would print each one in the same colour separation way, but still use the reduction print technique so that I could be sure that the registration [lining up] of all the layers would be accurate. I printed each layer in black ink as this would be best colour to scan. Some of the lecture images had as many as 7 layers. The prints themselves were relatively large to make sure enough detail could accurately be cut into the image as I knew they would be blown up to cinema screen size. This makes for a lot of cutting!
It might seem strange to go through this whole time-consuming printing process when actually the final image is compiled on a computer, but the style of illustration the commissioners had seen of mine and wanted to use in their own work was a 'printy' style. There is a particular quality to relief prints that I love - the lively little marks that are part of the image, showing the artist's hand in the carving of the block and the only way for me to do this authentically was to actually make the prints the old fashioned way!
I worked alongside graphic designer, Wilf Whitty, at Ratiotype who helped me by scanning and digitally layering all the finished images, while I cut and printed late into night in order to get the work completed in time for the BBC's deadline.
The lectures take place in London, York, Beirut, Belfast and Ottawa and are broadcast in June and July 2018 on BBC Radio 4 - you can listen again via their website, where you will also find all my illustrations.