An Interview with Karen Keogh

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We recently interviewed artist Karen Keogh about her work and studio. Karen predominantly works with a three plate etching technique; inspired by the colours and patterns found in cities and landscapes.

Something Old Something New‘Something Old Something New’ – Three plate etching

Tell us a little bit about your artistic background and education
My artistic background is rather eclectic. I trained to teach art at Roehampton University in the early 1980’s, specialising in ceramics. I first discovered printmaking at Putney School Art. I taught ceramics at secondary school level for a few years. In the mean time I was studying printmaking at Morley College in London under the amazing Frank Connolly. I also studied at the London College of Communication.

When did you know you wanted to be and artist/printmaker?
I knew I wanted to be an artist from around the age of 11 years old after doing a week’s course in ceramics at the Chelsea Pottery in the King’s Road. My school in Twickenham had a fantastic art department, and that was where my passion developed. I was lucky to have grown up in London and visited galleries and exhibitions with my parents from an early age.

What does your typical day in the studio entail?
I share a studio with 4 other artists, a picture framer and an architect, in West Dulwich. It is a quirky building that used to be a bakery. We have wood burning stoves. It is still freezing for the first couple of hours, in the winter. I have tried fingerless gloves, but still can’t feel my fingers!

My typical day entails lighting the stove. Trying to warm my hands up! I am either drawing in preparation of making a plate, working on the plates or printing the images. I usually spend around 5 hours there daily.

I also teach art to children in my home studio, so have to be there by 3.30pm. Teaching has been an excellent way of extending my knowledge of techniques and art history. I am always on the lookout for new projects that will inspire the children. I recently visited an interesting show of African Prints at the British Museum, and the children are now making animal collagraphs for a Noah’ ark effect. Inspired by John Ndevasia Muafangejo

Karen Keogh's StudioKaren Keogh’s studio

Three plate etching, appears to be your predominant medium of choice, what is it in particular that draws you to this process?
I have been making 3 plate etchings for the last 15 years or so. Once I had mastered this technique, after my 10,000 hours, I was hooked! I can produce great depth of colour, and texture with 3 plates. The colour variations are endless. I quite often use the primary colours. I particularly like the Lawrence French 88 process colours.

I also enjoy producing painterly monotypes. I paint onto the back of a plate using oil paints thinned with white spirit. It is a spontaneous process, very different from the sometimes painstaking method of making etching plates.

First Plate and 2nd plate'St Pauls by Twilight'‘St Pauls by Twilight’ – First and second plate
'St Pauls by Twilight' ‘St Pauls by Twilight’ – third and final plate

As your subject matters are mainly landscapes and cityscapes, do you work from photographs, plein air paintings and drawings?
My landscapes are inspired by my environment. Most recently, I have been concentrating on London. I sketch and photograph my subjects. The finished image is often quite different from how I first saw it in my head. For instance my Battersea Power Station image ‘ After the rain’ was not a dark image to start with, more of a sunny day. That image was hung at last year’s Royal Academy exhibition were the image was made into to a card and a poster. The edition of 75 sold out.

What challenges (if any) do you face with your work and how do you overcome them?
There are many technical challenges working on zinc, particularly using 3 plates. I guess it is experience that helps me to overcome them. I usually make the first plate which is the key plate and the darkest. It will have the most information on. I then have to offset this image onto the second plate where I use aquatint to produce the tone. The first and second plates are then offset onto the third plate. The registration has to be perfect, which also involves lots of adjusting and filing of the plates. I love building up textures on my plates. Often I use numerous techniques on each one, including hard ground, soft ground, sugar lift, spite bite.

'After The Rain'‘After The Rain’ 

Which artists have inspired you the most and has your taste in art changed in recent years?
I have been inspired by numerous artists during my career. In the early days, Picasso –well, I still am. He was a master of all mediums. Raoul Dufy and his use of colour. I find all the Fauves inspiring. Of course David Hockney’s prints are amazing. The recent show at Dulwich Picture Gallery confirmed this. Peter Doig and his watery, icy images are wonderful.

What is the most valuable piece of advice anyone has given you that you still use today?
I have a mantra that started at Morley College, which is ‘ just one more print’. There is always time to print one more, even if there isn’t. You never know what this next one might look like. The joy of printmaking is, that you never quite know what you will end up with, even after all these years of experience. I have always felt, there is nothing like the thrill of opening the kiln or seeing what you have produced when you throw back the blankets on the press. I guess this is not quite the same if you use one plate, hence my addition to 3 plates.

Have you got any projects/ exhibitions coming up?
I will be showing some new work at the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers (RE) annual original Print show in May. I was elected a member in 2008. It will be at Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern. I will also have work at LOPF (London Original Print Fair) at the Royal Academy with the RE in April. Later this year I will be showing in a mixed printmaking show at Cambridge Contemporary art gallery.

Bankside Gallery BannerBankside Gallery Banner

To see more of Karen Keogh’s etchings, monotypes and paintings, visit her website
www.karen-keogh.co.uk.
Make sure you watch her brilliant video ‘A Glimpse of St Paul’s’.