Bonfield Block-Printers

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Artist craftsmen, Cameron Short & Janet Tristram live and work in a quiet nook of west Dorset where they take inspiration from rural life - its rhythms and traditional skills...

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How did 'Bonfield' come about?
We founded 'Bonfield Block-Printers' in late 2015. Having spent the previous couple of years restoring our derelict home - the original village stores - we established our workshop within the old shop space. 'Bonfield' was the name of the original stores.

Do you work together or specialise in different elements within the work?
Idea generation is often, but not always, a shared process. We discuss thoughts a lot. Giving the idea life - by drawing it - is generally done individually. Carving the block is more often than not done individually too. When printing, we invariably work together; registering a repeat is not an easy task!

Can you explain your working process?
Whether the work is commissioned (involving a third party) or personal and speculative, the process remains pretty much the same. We start with an idea; this then becomes a sketch. The sketch is honed until we arrive at a finished drawing. A block - either wood or linoleum - is made up (Cameron's job!) before the drawing is transferred to it in reverse. The image is then carved by hand - a labour-intensive business - using gouges. Finally, the block is inked and proofed on paper, using our press.

What are your respective favourite parts of the process and why?
We honestly couldn't choose one part of the process over another. Having a good idea is always gratifying. Drafting it brings great pleasure. Carving in relief and intaglio (mark making) is both exciting and therapeutic. Inking the finished block never fails to thrill - it's the first time you really see the power of the cut line. Printing onto fine linen or paper can feel like a triumph. 

What are the tools of your craft?
Pencils, paper, solid blocks (wood or linoleum), sharp carving gouges, linseed oil-based inks, rubber rollers and a robust proofing press made in 1904. To fully realise an idea requires energy and enthusiasm, and a certain stubbornness (to carry on when things aren't going right) is also essential. 

Where and how did you learn to print?
Janet trained in Printmaking at Wanganui School of Art, New Zealand, back in the mid-nineties. Cameron is pretty much self-taught. His was a steep learning curve with lots of mistakes made and frustrations felt. We are both still learning and honing our practice.

What role does the rural existence play in your work?
Our work is rooted in our love of the countryside, bygone rural life and the folklore of trees, plants and animals. We are extremely fortunate to live in such a bucolic area - a quiet nook of west Dorset - and we find inspiration in every direction. There are fewer distractions. We walk a lot, throughout the year - this helps us to maybe notice more. Cameron also works in and with nature from time to time, hedgelaying with his brother, Ben. We're lucky enough to have friendships with genuine country people. Their stories are interesting. Also, personal memories of the countryside born of Cameron's upbringing on an out-of-the-way Hampshire farm work their way into Bonfield's imagery.

You reference a number of different artists and makers as influences - can you tell us a bit more about why and in what way they've influenced your aesthetic/approach?
I suppose we're both drawn to artists who interpret rather than replicate reality. Their work has a feeling, a mood - there's something in it that's far off and difficult to touch. Samuel Palmer had it, Robin Tanner too. Marthe Armitage (Cameron's mentor) has it. It's a kind of timelessness. In everything we do, we try to convey this feeling. That is where the real art is.

Is there a project/technique/philosophy you're particularly drawn to or working on at the moment?
We try to convey our ideas in as beguiling a way as possible. All our projects excite us for this reason. Whether it's a repeat for upholstery textile or a singular image to be framed, there will be a story, a stance, a memory or a truth flickering beneath the surface.

www.bonfieldblockprinters.com

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Photographs Sam Walton

Interview Julia Jarvis