The subject of my first blog for For the Love of the North could not be closer to home – not only are Carol Nunan’s stunning prints impressions of my beloved home county of Northumberland, but she is also my next-door-neighbour. Her creativity, passion and humour are infectious, felt far and wide by all.
Carol is an artist and printmaker known for her collagraph and monotype prints of sweeping Northumbrian vistas, rugged coastlines and the iconic places that adorn them, such as Hadrian’s Wall, Sycamore Gap and Dunstanburgh Castle. Beginning her artistic career as a graphic designer in Dublin, Carol initially worked for the Irish television company, RTE, followed by a move to Gosforth where she was employed as a design manager for the international consumer goods manufacturers, Procter & Gamble, working on household goods such as Ariel, Fairy Liquid and Lenor. She discovered a passion and talent for printmaking four years after leaving P&G whilst at home with her two young children. Now, based in the idyllic woodlands of Hexhamshire, Carol works in a light-filled and airy studio, surrounded by wide, expansive fields, unruly hedgerows, and sagacious woodlands, spanning as far as the eye can see: the perfect environment in which to create. The natural world is one that Carol alludes to frequently, her works being testament to this. Often, delicate fronds of fern, sprays of cow parsley and whispers of grass will be appliquéd onto the printing plate, resulting in real, organic impressions of the natural landscape.
I was fortunate to spend time with Carol in her studio and see first-hand her creative process. The grey, wet morning was quickly filled with colour and warmth upon stepping into her studio and taking in the colourful prints drying from the old oak beams, fluttering gently like sails in the breeze, drawing the eye to the shelves adorned with a myriad of sumptuous inks in shades of turquoise, magenta, violet and orange. A childhood spent in the sun-saturated Zambia heightened Carol’s aptitude for colour, a keenness she has upheld throughout her life. Her prints distil the spirituality and ethereal nature of Northumberland; a band of pink streaks across the heavens, and a haze of yellow glows halo-like around a tree.
Carol will only decide to execute a print if it feels instinctive, therefore allowing herself to create prints that are truly unique and original, working in the purest, most heartfelt way. The process of printmaking contains an element of mystery and the unknown, as the image is only revealed at the climax of the process. Thus, Carol has to employ a concoction of intuition, patience, and trial-and-error in her process: but this is the beauty of the medium - the forgiving nature of printmaking allows for numerous results and edits, each one evocative of a different feeling or time. She works with the seasons and the varied flora and fauna they foster respectively. For example, owls will be seen to fly across deep purple skies, silhouetted against an Autumn moon, deer will peer through wintery woodlands, and curlews will flit above landscapes tinged with the freshness of spring, and later, the heavy richness of summer. Texture is crucial to convey an accurate impression of the rugged Northumbrian landscapes, so scraps of old wallpaper, netting, foil and gesso are adhered to plates to build up a realistic surface. But, as is often the case in the natural world, what lies beneath the surface is similarly as fascinating as what lies above, therefore Carol strips away layers of the plate to reveal the roughness beneath. Silhouettes of figures and icons are much preferred, details forsaken for swathes of colour and texture.
As the natural environment is so core to Carol’s work, she takes utmost care in ensuring her mark upon it is minimal and aims to honours it instead, an endeavour she is deeply successful in. As well as incorporating plant life and scraps of discarded material, she also reuses fragments of unwanted old prints made by previous students, both saving them from being wasted whilst providing them with a new, revitalised purpose. The impact of her prints is huge: colour, texture and shape leap out at the viewer, overwhelming all the senses, but her environmental footprint is minimal. She is incredibly aware of the impact, be it good or bad, humans have on the natural world, and feels it her duty as an artist to take as little from the earth but give plenty back to it.
Carol’s adopted home of Northumberland has provided her with endless and profound inspiration; with its sweeping landscapes, historic landmarks and pristine wilderness, it truly is an artist’s haven. Bronze Age ruins are enshrouded by pitch black skies, punctuated by points of brilliant white stars. Crumbling, mossy stone walls brokenly delineate swathes of green and yellow fields. Behemoth castles sit on rugged coastlines, silently observing the breaking waves and circling Arctic terns. All beg to be captured by Carol’s keen eye and be forever impressed upon paper in the form of her stunning prints.