Artistic inspirations from the garden
PUBLISHED: 12:17 27 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:17 27 October 2015
Billericay artist, lecturer and writer June Crisfield Chapman specialises in wood engravings, creating stunning botanical prints. Philippa Pearson finds out more about how the gardens close to her home have been her inspiration
Despite a childhood in Scotland, Billericay has been home for June Crisfield Chapman for more than 30 years and gardening has been a passion of hers for all of that time.
‘I’ve always been fascinated by plants and nature from a very early age,’ explains June as we sit in her home, ‘and the botanical form is very inspiring for an artist.’
June was brought up in Ayrshire and went on to study at the renowned Glasgow School of Art, famed for its emphasis on drawing. She is fascinated by faces and character and produces lovely life portraits of leading theatre actors and performers such as Peter Barkworth, Lord Yehudi Mehuhin, Maureen Lipman, Beryl Reid, Julian Bream, Marcel Marceau and many more.
‘I enjoy painting people,’ June says, ‘and I aim to show not only their appearance in the painting, but to get across their personality.’ This ethos also extends to June’s love of plants and nature in her images.
When she was eight years old, a relative gave her a book of 600 things you can do with plants. It was a great inspiration to her, she still has the book, and she began collecting plants and studying their form and intriguing shapes, pressing specimens into books and tagging them with their Latin names. ‘I was always drawing plants and things from nature at school,’ June remembers, something that was much encouraged by the headmaster who taught his pupils to appreciate the natural world. Her interest in literature grew at school as well as her passion for theatre, which has captivated her since she first saw her first pantomime.
Wood engraving has become a speciality and working with this black and white form offers June many possibilities to explore different expressions of her subjects using clean and clear lines. Across 15th and 16th century Europe, woodcuts were a common technique in printmaking and printing. By the end of the 18th century, the process was developed and refined by Thomas Bewick and his technique and style is used by many engravers today.
June uses the middle section of Boxwood for her engravings. It is nice and hard with the grain perfect for strong lines and tonal variations, and is traditionally used for engravings. The blocks measure from 3 x 4 inches for smaller designs, to 5 x 7 inches for more detailed work. Firstly, the blocks are blackened overnight and then the design is lightly indicated with white carbon paper. June draws the design beforehand on paper, and the illustration then takes shape using a range of special pointed chisels to incise the flowing and sinuous lines. When complete, June inks the design with a roller and prints off the illustration: each one is numbered as part of the series. The Essex countryside provides much inspiration for her engravings and she takes notes of plants throughout the changing seasons.
With her love of plant lore and wood engravings, June wrote and produced engraved illustrations for The Countryman Magazine for 11 years and has also given many talks about plant lore in Essex. She also paints and shows flower images in various media including gouache, watercolour, pastel, mixed media and in oils. The medium she uses creates different effects and styles.
June explains: ‘Wood engraving allows me black and white drama and form through sensitive line, while oil paint and hogs-hair brushes allow strong brush marks to suggest form. Watercolour allows form through fluid colour strengthened with graphic.’
June has exhibited her work across the UK including at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden, Chelsea Physic Garden, Natural History Museum, National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Complex, Chaucer exhibitions in Westminster Abbey and St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Glasgow Art Gallery, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
For so much of her work, it is the Essex Countryside that has proved the inspiration.