A Story on the Artist

A story on Joanne B Karr's work Sea area Fair Isle and the processes behind it. This work is exhibited as part of Highland Print Studio's show this month 'Mirror Images'

Written by Gordon McKerrow

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Recently I joined Highland Print Studio as part time administrator with a keen focus on marketing and journalism. After much deliberation between myself, our studio manager John, and director Alison we have decided to issue a short newsletter on a studio artist and their work to keep you all up to date with the goings on here, and to learn more about our members and their work. We currently have the exhibition Mirror Images running until the end of the month in association with Connections North. The show works on the theme a sense of place. We have chosen to introduce you to Scottish artist Joanne B Karr as her work, Sea area Fair Isle (seen below) not only expresses a true sense of place but involves the intricate printmaking process of polymer photogravure. Predominantly a textile artist, she enjoys finding inventive ways to attract new audiences while adding new perspectives to artefacts of which little is known, very much like the jumper used within Sea area Fair Isle which is at the centre of our story.
Joanne grew up in the village of Brough on Dunnet Head in Caithness, the most northernly point of our Scottish mainland where the local harbour was her playground as a child. A young Joanne can be seen below proudly holding a catch of cod wearing the same jumper the print Sea area fair Isle contains. The harbour she used as a playground was built in the 1830’s and consists of one, long slipway, inhabited not so much by boats now but by the great grey seals of the Pentland Firth who use it often as a laying area. The slipway and lighthouse store at the harbour were originally built by the Northern Lighthouse Board to land and store supplies for Dunnet Head Lighthouse. At that time many men used the harbour as a sheltered haven for their fishing boats to protect them from the blistering storms of the Firth in between their fishing trips. This was a great benefit to the local fishermen giving them a more secure docking point for their boats. The Harbour was eventually gifted by the Munro Family to ‘The Pier Committee’ later to be formalised as Brough Bay Association, who continue to maintain the harbour’s facilities. The image of Joanne seen within the photogravure print Sea area Fair Isle is the photograph taken in the 1970’s of her holding a fresh catch that she caught with her father. She would often go fishing with Mick, her father, who is captured below, looking remarkably like a member of The Beatles holding a gargantuan halibut with a friend. The jumper she’s wearing in the 70’s image was a gift from her aunty Eileen who purchased it in the Western Isles while working as a cook on a boat sailing in and around the islands.  The jumper was hand knitted and has a Fair Isle pattern. Joanne kept it all these years and decided to use it as the subject in the piece for Mirror Images to express her sense of place.
From left to right:
Joanne holding a fresh catch of cod in the 1970's. She is wearing the same jumper used for the print Sea are Fair Isle.
Joanne's brother seemingly  more proud than Joanne herself at the multiple catches.
Joanne's father Mick on the left with a friend after catching a gigantic halibut (wasn't the largest catch they caught in their history).
An  image of Joanne standing on the harbour at Dunnet Head eagerly watching her father prepare their boat for fishing.
The Process

To begin working on the piece the jumper is photographed here in the studio. The image is then merged with the original 1970’s photograph in Photoshop and a monochrome digital transparency is created which can be referred to as a positive.  
The plate used for this printmaking process is a polymer micraclon plate which is a steel back plate with a light sensitive plastic polymer coating. The desired monochrome image is exposed onto this plate and then developed in water. The plate is then dried to reveal subtle tones and intaglio ink is applied, much like the traditional process of etching. This ink is forced into the subtle textures and then finally polished with tissue.
For Sea area Fair Isle the paper used to press on is Fabriano Artistico which requires a minimum of twenty minutes soaking time in the water bath. This makes the paper malleable and perfect for printmaking. We place the paper and the plate onto the press, in this case the elegant Rochat press is used. Two tones of pressure is applied over the plate to create the print. We now stretch dry the print for four or five days. The process isn’t over yet though!
Joanne now hand tints the monochrome print with watercolour creating the depth and textures you can see in the finished piece. The text Sea area Fair Isle is  now screen printed on, and afterwards, a warm glaze process is applied, to give it that extra punch. An edition of twenty prints were made. 
Joanne using intaglio to ink the plate. She will force the ink into the subtle textures and then polish with tissue. 
The artist now hand tints the monochrome print with water colour. 
The screenprinting process in which Joanne adds the text Sea area Fair Isle. A warm glaze is also added to the print to give it a finishing touch.
Joanne signing her twenty editions of the print Sea area Fair Isle.
Joanne is currently working on a commission for Cumbria Archives and will be artist in residence at Sumburgh Lighthouse and Visitors Centre May 2016. She still goes fishing with her father from the very same harbour at Dunnet Head. 
Highland Print Studio
20 Bank Street
Tel: 01463 718999


Highland Print Studio is a charity registered in Scotland, Charity No. SCO 04981
Highland Print Studio is funded by Creative Scotland and Highland Council.
Highland Print Studio is a company limited by guarantee, company No. 99312 and a charity registered in Scotland, Charity No. SC0 04981