On a recent Saturday morning we met with Bristol-based printmaker Hannah Cousins at her studio space at the vibrant Centrespace Studios, where she creates intricate and textural travel-inspired lino prints. We chatted about her journey into printmaking, her fascination with Coastal California, her collaborative relationship with her musician husband Luke Sital-Singh and the narrative and inspiration behind her current project ‒ a book of linocuts documenting her trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, due to be published later this year by Nomad Letterpress.
How did it all start? How did you become a printmaker and how did you learn to print?
Since I was young I always loved making things and liked to draw but throughout my school years I couldn’t find one discipline that really suited me. When I studied illustration at university and began the printmaking modules something clicked and I got hooked. I learnt as much as I could and picked things up along the way.
Your main medium is linocut. What made you choose this medium and what do you find fascinating about it?
I think I chose to create linocuts because I found it a really enjoyable, peaceful way to work. The process of drawing, carving and printing suits my temperament and I can spend hours getting absorbed into my work. Generally, I believe the classic, clean prints are the most beautiful so I’m regularly trying to refine my technique without losing the look I love, a tough balance to strike. I can see myself learning to do wood engraving one day; working with a natural material is very appealing to me, it requires a different kind of sensitivity.
There's a strong 'made by hand' feel to your work – why does this approach appeal to you so much?
Original print is something special. Often what sets it apart are the small imperfections that show it was created by human hands. I think people appreciate when time and care have gone into a piece of work, and holding that work connects them to the maker.
How would you describe your lino prints to someone who had never seen them before?
Bold, detailed, textural, travel-inspired, tonal.
What is your relationship with technology?
I don’t love technology, so if I could abandon it entirely then I’d be OK with that; my friends who don’t use social media certainly lead more wholesome, balanced lives! Saying that, it’s pretty essential to be able to communicate with the outside world if you work as a freelancer in a creative field. And I do rely on my camera for documenting during the research stage of a project so I guess technology has its place but it’s not the most important thing to me.
How sustainable is traditional printmaking?
There is this whole world of printers who celebrate the practices of printmaking and support one another. Within this small group I’ve met great people who I’ve ended up collaborating with and I quickly realised that enjoying my work and who I work with, should be my main priority. That’s not to say that it’s not stressful at times and I don’t worry about where the next job will come from but the world of commercial illustration isn’t for me, I dipped my toe into that world after university but wasn’t a fan of the pace or the pressure and the work I was producing wasn’t my best.
What inks and paper do you like to work with the most?
I love Caligo Safe Wash inks by Cranfield, they are beautiful for relief printing particularly if using a hand press, like my Albion and you can create some lovely earthy tones through mixing. In terms of paper, it all depends on the job so I tend to select something different for each project.
What project or commission are you most proud of?
I feel really proud of my current project, a book of my own linocuts which is due to be published later this year by Nomad Letterpress. The limited-edition book, Coastline, documents a journey along the California coast on the Pacific Coast Highway inspired by the colours and textures of the rugged landscape. Creating a body of work alone is both satisfying and demanding but I’m proud of how much my technique has progressed and the work I’m producing feels the most ‘me’.
When it comes to commissioned work, how do you draw the line between your own aesthetic taste and the expectations of a client?
Being clear from the beginning of a project can really help further down the line but I’m lucky to mostly work with people that understand the linocut process and who can visualise how something is going to turn out. Of course, I’ve made work for clients before that I didn’t love but I learnt a lot from those projects so they were still worth doing. So often the problem can be poor communication.
In your New York City linocut series you explored the interaction between urban landscapes and the human psyche. How important is walking for you and your lifestyle? And do you have a recipe for slowing down in a city?
To be honest in my day-to-day life I tend to walk just to get places and I wish that I walked more, for no reason other than to engage with the landscape, I did that often when I lived in London. And that’s what’s so wonderful about being in a big, new city like when I visited New York and having time to explore on foot. It’s a place that draws you in, encourages you to look up and admire the architecture.
Tell us about your long lasting collaboration with Luke Sital-Singh. How do you influence each other creatively and what are your strengths as a team of creatives?
Luckily we are on the same wavelength when it comes to ethos and aesthetic taste so our working relationship came to life very organically and we’ve evolved together. We were both starting out around the same time so I helped Luke out with artwork for his first EP and it snowballed from there. I think Luke thought that having a girlfriend who was a printmaker would be great for providing cheap artwork but I seem to remember that I insisted on being paid for those first records because I was fresh out of uni and felt passionate about artists being paid fairly! Things have relaxed a little now and we both relish the chance to work together and create something outside of the influence of anyone else.
You are also running linocut and letterpress workshops at The Letterpress Collective in Bristol. How did you become involved with them and how does your relationship with this community influence your creative practice?
I met Nick Hand in 2013 and we got chatting about printing. At the time I was living in London and he invited me to Bristol to host workshops with him and Ellen Bills, the full-time printer at The Letterpress Collective. Fast-forward a few years and I’m now based in the same studio building and we spend much of our time hanging out in our local coffee shop. We try to help one another out, I often ask for their advice or get them to critique my test prints, it’s a valuable community to be part of.
Your Pinterest boards reflect a passion for summer, Panama hats and mid-century design just to name a few. When it comes to your living space, how would you describe your style and what would you say that makes your house your home?
I like our home to feel a bit like being on holiday. We are lucky to have a flat with amazing light and high ceilings. I gravitate towards simple, natural, neutral and cosy decor. Much of our furniture came from my grandma’s home who was very selective and always chose good-quality, timeless pieces.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Camping trips and playing in the trees with my brothers, near our house.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My Albion printing press.
What is the most inspiring place you have visited or lived in so far?
India is somewhere I’d love to go back to... the light there is something special.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
California, for the weather and beautiful nature.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
Be your most authentic self.
You live and work in Bristol. Where do you go when you want to relax or get inspired in the city?
Although I love exploring, I’m also a bit of a homebody so sitting on our quiet balcony in the sun, reading a book is heaven for me.
What are you working on at the moment?
My book, Coastline is due to go to press in the next couple of months so I’m completely focused on finishing that. I just finished a few linocuts for the latest Hiut denim yearbook, which is always fun to be a part of.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
To live by the sea.
Could you recommend us a song, a book and a dish?
Song: American Girl, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Book: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Dish: Banana pancakes with fresh fruit and maple syrup (and coffee!)
Thank you, Hannah for the wonderful insight into your personal and creative realm.