I can’t believe it’s been nigh on a year since the last Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park. No wonder Santa started buying me anti-aging cream years ago; this life lark sure does flash by.
Anywho, last time I was there, I walked past the Cornwall Contemporary stand and a beautiful woodcut caught my eye:
That same wee chap is currently pride of place in my bedroom, awaiting a second hang opposite my bed. Inn’ee adorable?
I chased down the artist, Rob Braybrooks, and grilled him on his beautifully delicate observations of nature.
Tell us a bit about your work. What do you do? How long having you been doing it?
My work is made by combining two contrasting media; namely a dark, painted board overlaid with a lighter natural birch veneer. It’s taken me a while to know quite what to call the style of work. Galleries often call it ‘wood-cut’, and visitors to exhibitions have suggested marquetry, though really, it is neither. I currently call it ‘hand-cut birch relief’, though actually I quite like the fact that it is tricky to categorise. I guess I wasn’t thinking of a ‘genre’ when I made my first piece. It was an idea that I got excited about and it just happened.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love living in West Cornwall. I get onto the coast path daily walking the dog, so there’s more natural inspiration than you could wave a stick at. It’s a fixed, rugged topography, where the birdlife and flora change with the seasons.
In fact it was a rare North American wader, a Long-Billed Dowitcher that was the subject of my first piece back in 2010. I had taken photographs of this bird feeding at the water’s edge just below me. I got home and adjusted the lighting and contrast on Photoshop and was left with a stunning black and white image; a beautiful, elegant wading bird, framed by concentric ripples.
I cut out the image from a large piece of 12mm plywood and the negative space became a dark painted board beneath.
That Dowitcher was just doing its thing; yet for me it was a turning point. Within a matter of months, I had set up my first exhibition, left my job teaching Design, and was taking on private commissions as an artist/designer. I love making art, so it’s been an exciting few years.
Which is your favourite piece?
My favourite piece is probably the one that creates a sense of longing when I see it. It’s called Mounts Bay, Low tide (below), a simple composition of a familiar environment with plenty of space to get lost! I think I like getting lost!
How has your work evolved over time?
The subject matter is changing, I’m getting into some more architectural studies and the work features more fine detail now. There are more ‘monochromes’ these days to complement the silhouettes. I used to work as a design engineer, so I’m enjoying making pieces with technical and geometric detail.
Tell us some more about your artistic process. Do you start with a photograph, or do you work from life? Or do you even work from memory?
I take a lot of photographs for inspiration, I sketch out ideas and throw in things from memory too. I’m always looking for lines, shapes, silhouettes and black and white visuals. I use Photoshop to make up a scaled composition, transfer the linework to the wood and than cut it out by hand on a ‘Hegner’ Saw (The best £70 I’ve ever spent on Ebay!). I make my own boards, paint them and then fix on the birch relief image.
What do you most rewarding and challenging about being an artist? (whether you answer this question will depend on your answer to the previous two)
Hmm, I love the challenge of making commissions. It’s good when a buyer can have creative input in a piece of work. The rewarding bits are meeting art lovers at exhibitions and achieving that point of assembly when a picture finally comes together.
Which artist’s work do you admire?
Geoffrey Garnier, Alasdair Lindsey, Elspeth Braybrooks
What is your favourite artwork, and why?
It’s a pastel picture that my Mum gave me, one that she did. It is a view of Brodick Bay on Arran, the sky is heavy and misty and the sea flat and dark, it’s not moody, just serene and really quite beautiful. I love it because of the associations: brilliant holidays on the west coast of Scotland and mum, a brilliant artist who left us inspired.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
Perhaps it’s all about getting stuff off your chest, consciously or otherwise. We all respond to things that we see or feel. For me, I enjoy the discipline of ‘process’ and the sequence of art creation. I make visual records (in wood) of things that I find interesting or beautiful.
Your nature-focused work really reflects your Cornish home surroundings. Tell us something about Cornwall that no one knows.
My family are farmers in West Cornwall, so I have a real affection for the area and the Cornish outdoors. There is a rich cultural scene happening down here. ’Carn to Cove’ is an organisation that promotes live arts events throughout Cornwall. Anyone visiting should check out the programme. I also think I’ve found the best secret cove in the South West, and where to get the best pasties……If word gets out they will be mobbed! Sorry, can’t say.