Moving to the dale helped Holly find her groove
Holly Magdalene Scott is an artist/printmaker based in Barnard Castle. Known for her detailed, hand-printed linocuts, her work conveys a life long enchantment with the natural world. Long since spellbound by the birds and animals on her family’s Northumberland farm, it was no surprise to those who knew her when she became a professional artist. After gaining a degree in Fine Art from Newcastle University and studying counselling and teaching at night, Holly began working as a creative youth worker in underprivileged areas, dabbling in drawing, painting, and bookbinding in her spare time. Leaving the job she loved to up sticks to Teesdale, things fell in to place and she finally found time to nurture her own creativity.
Have you always been an “arty” person – are you from a particularly artistic family?
My mother told me she knew I’d be an artist from the moment I picked up a pencil. I would spend hours quietly drawing birds and animals as a young child, completely absorbed in my creative endeavours to the exclusion of all else. Not much has changed.
Art has always been something that just flowed and for as long as I can remember I have always had the compulsion to draw and make. I think we are all a bit like that in the family – whether it be through painting, drawing, music, photography or ceramics.
I was greatly encouraged in my creativity, especially by my grandmother Audrey Magdalene who didn’t seem to mind the vast amounts of mess I would make. She kept every drawing I ever did and all of my bizarre cardboard sculptures until the day she died.
What attracted you to the linocut medium as opposed to other forms of art?
I picked up linocut completely by chance. About six or seven years ago (when I thought of myself as an abstract painter) a group of arty friends and I decided to run informal skill share workshops amongst ourselves in our shared studio.
I took part in a Japanese ply woodcut workshop under the tutelage of my friend Cindy Robinson Begg. Whilst I didn’t feel like I was particularly good at it at the time, I really enjoyed experimenting with the relief printmaking method. My only previous experience of relief printmaking was cutting my finger trying to carve some tough-as-old-boots lino in a school art lesson. I didn’t make anymore prints until a few years later, when I rediscovered the lino cutting tools Cindy had given me whilst moving my belongings to Teesdale to live with my partner Andrew.
From then on, I was bitten by the lino-cutting bug, and realised I did have an aptitude for carving after all.
There is something quite earthy and timeless about the carving process. It really suits me. It just felt like a good fit for my personality and subject matter. Something just clicked when I moved to the area. Surrounded by such beauty, I really found my “groove”.
Carving is very meditative – it can only be done slowly and with focus. I find the process very beneficial in many ways. The design is carved in reverse and negative, so it requires the ability to think in these terms whilst making every single mark – marks which cannot be erased.
It is somehow simultaneously a simple yet complex process. I love the natural variation and the uniqueness hand colouring lends to each print. It satisfies the painter in me,
Relief printmaking is an ancient artform yet seems so fresh and contemporary. I love that duality.
How did you develop your skills – are you self-taught, formally trained etc?
I suppose technically I am formally trained as I hold a degree in fine art from Newcastle University, But I couldn’t say I learned anything useful in the four years I was there. I have very much learned through my own exploration and experimentation with different mediums and techniques.
What inspires your designs?
My designs always come back to my love of nature. I am lucky to have spent my formative years running free on the farm which gave me a deep connection to the land and all of its inhabitants. I have always been fascinated by the natural world, especially birds.
I am very conscious of their significance in my everyday life. They are ever present, and I spend a great deal of time watching them, whether sparrows in the garden or ravens on the fells. I feel like birds inform my understanding of the world and that my work taps in to something much older and broader – mankind’s fascination and constant dialogue with birds. From a (human) evolutionary point of view, birds were old when we were young. They have always been there, and our histories became closely intertwined over time.
Birds provide a daily soundscape, herald the seasons and have been thought to foretell the future and connect us to the past. They are so deeply embedded in our culture, folklore and religion, present in our language in the form of idioms. As symbols in art and allegory in literature. Their impact is huge and far ranging.
Above all, they are just so beautiful and endlessly fascinating to watch. I’d say my inspiration comes in equal parts from the birds and animals I encounter on my daily walks, and images from the past that I hold in my mind, like photographs pinned to a noticeboard.
Is there one piece that you are particularly proud of, or which holds a special place in your heart?
Probably my hare linocut “The Fellow in the Grass”. It is the first linocut I made where I took a step back and thought “actually, that is quite good”, and I began to seriously work at honing my skill and promoting my work.
It gained a lot of attention and is still one of my best selling hand-coloured linocut prints. Having previously been a shy sort of person it was a turning point for me.
Would you hope to develop your art into a long term career or do you anticipate working as an artist alongside another vocation?
In the past I have tried various other vocations, but found that whilst I was judged by others to be good at these things, they just didn’t feel right and left me with no time for my own creativity. I studied counselling and teaching, and brought these elements together in the form of being a creative youth work practitioner.
I loved inspiring young people to be creative and unlock their potential and still indulge that side of my personality through running occasional art classes and getting involved in community projects. I was always a bit of a square peg in a round hole and I feel true to myself since becoming a full time professional artist.
What have been your best/ most proud achievements in art to date?
Seeing my artwork on the posters, invites and promotional materials for an open exhibition at Ferens Gallery, in Hull, was quite special. It was a big moment going to the preview and walking in under a large poster with my own artwork on it. Another proud moment was when my piece The Quarrel was selected as part of the Curators Choice at Newlight Art Prize and exhibited at Scarborough Art Gallery.
I was very proud to hang and sell my prints in Ripon Cathedral as part of The Great North Art Show and even prouder to have been awarded the prize for best newcomer. I felt like triumphantly shouting at career advisors of yesteryear: “See, art is a real job.”
And what are your ambitions for the future?
My ambition is to really get in to the larger scale prints I have been designing. At times I have felt creatively frustrated, caught up in a loop of printing, framing and delivering existing work, so I really want to concentrate on producing the new body of work I have had in my mind’s eye for sometime.
Some artists have found the lockdowns a creative period. How has the Covid situation affected you?
The Covid situation has been pretty disasterous for the arts in general, but I feel lucky to have kept my head above water throughout.
Personally, I feel that the strong sense of community and accessibility of beautiful open landscapes has made the experience far easier mentally than if I had lived in an urban area. I dread to think what it would have been like to hunker down alone in my old attic flat in Whitley Bay!
People have really looked after one another in Teesdale and I have forged much stronger connections with neighbours, which has been a really positive thing to come out of a very strange time.
People are practical, adaptable and resilient here – we embraced technology to stick together. Virtual choir practice has been brilliant.
Professionally, lockdown gave me time to step off the treadmill and take a break from production and think about where I wanted to go next. I spend a great deal of my day outdoors anyway, but lockdown gave me permission to spend the time really observing the things close to home which we can often miss or overlook whilst scurrying about leading our hectic lives, such as common garden birds and humble little field mice. I spent a lot of time photographing birds and animals and drawing more detailed draughts of designs in an unhurried manner.
Your work has been on show at The Station, Richmond. Why is it so important to resume exhibitions?
I personally love physical exhibitions. I like to meet people and I like to know who bought my artwork and where it ends up. I love to hear people’s stories and find out what attracted them to or made them feel connected to my work.
I had a print journey all the way to Australia and survive two house moves before being hung in its final resting place. I would never have known that had I not met the family in person and connected with them on social media. It is satisfying to know people gain pleasure from looking at my artwork, and always an honour that someone wants to display it in their home.
Have you been able to make plans for the rest of the year or is it still a tricky situation as restrictions are slowly lifted?
I have been invited to exhibit at Tennant’s, in Leyburn, again this year, but other than that I plan on really getting in to cutting and printing my huge backlog of designs which I devised and draughted out during lockdown. With things slowly opening back up I look forward to travelling further afield and delivering my work to new stockists.
Where can people find out more about your work?
Facebook: https://www.face book.com/ThingsOfWonder. HollyMScott.
Website: https://www.holly magdalenescottprintmaker. bigcartel.com.