Hannah Cousins is a printmaker who works in the linocut medium and creates limited-edition prints inspired by her travels.
She and her husband Luke are based in Bristol, though they moved from London in 2015. Since their move, Hannah has joined an artist cooperative and started working on her first book of linocuts — a pictorial journal of a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway.
We sat down to chat about her process, inspiration, and love of the California coast.
How did you first get into printmaking?
While studying for my illustration degree, I tried various printmaking techniques. Lino cutting was the medium that stuck with me and I got really obsessed with it. Everything about it appealed to me — from the hands-on process to the rhythm of printing, to the texture of the ink on paper.
What is the most rewarding thing about working in the medium of linocut?
Creating artwork by using my hands is very satisfying and I enjoy the physicality of the process, but it’s also important to mention the demands presented by the technical aspects of printmaking. It can call for careful planning and an understanding of how two or three different layers of color are going to line up, for example. Perhaps why I have solely stuck to creating lino prints is because the medium makes me work hard physically and mentally, and I really relish that.
How does it challenge you as a creative?
There is always something to be learned with printmaking, and I’m continually aiming to improve or discover new skills. Developing as an artist is also extremely fulfilling and important, but it’s something I often neglect. Stepping away from my home and studio plays a big part in nurturing my creativity.
How is your work inspired by your travels?
I think we see things with an unusual clarity when traveling. It’s partly about being a visitor or an outsider looking in from a different perspective, but it’s also about the state of mind we’re in when we’re away from home; it’s easier to find headspace, be present, and process new ideas.
My work is often a response to a journey or an encounter with a place, or both. Translating what a city, country, or neighborhood feels like tells a story about that place and its landscape. But naturally, my work is specific to my point of view and says something about how I think about the world, too.
Can you tell me about the project you’re currently working on?
My current project is a book of linocuts: a pictorial travel journal documenting my trip down the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is to be printed and published at Whittington Press in Gloucestershire, which has a great history of printing limited-edition letterpress books — all of their books are objects of real beauty.
When did you first have the idea to create the book? How long have you been working on it?
One New Year’s Day, I drove up the PCH to Malibu from L.A. with my husband Luke and one of our friends from home. Driving right beside the ocean was thrilling and freeing. It didn’t take long for Luke and me to add a Pacific Coast Highway road trip to our collective bucket list — it sounded romantic and quintessentially Californian.
Then, last autumn, we booked last-minute flights, a car, and a few hotels. I bought this enormous map of California, which made Luke laugh every time I unfolded it. In a time when we have the whole world mapped out on our phones, it seems humorous that anyone would ever use a giant paper road map, but it felt charming and filled me with nostalgia.
In the evenings, I’d lay the map on the hotel bed and mark out the stretch of road we’d driven that day. I kept a diary, took photographs, and occasionally sketched. Inspired by the landscape, autumn colors, and varied architectural character, I knew I’d start a series of lino prints when I returned to my studio, and possibly a book. So, I was aware of the importance of journaling, but without wanting to take away from my present experience.
Over the last year, I’ve slowly been working on new pieces and processing the sentiments expressed in my diary, which provide a snapshot of the personal journey I was on amidst the thrills of traveling with Luke.
How does linocut allow you to process your time spent in other places in a way that other mediums don’t?
Lino cutting isn’t a very instant medium, so you can’t make an immediate mark on a page, as with painting or drawing, for example. It takes time to carve and print. I try to make the most of the experience of traveling, staying present to absorb everything: the colors, textures, people, and plant life. I document them in a small notebook and then process everything later. This approach is ideal; I like to let a trip unfold before me fully, instead of missing things because I’m focussed on making finished artwork.
Can you walk me through the printmaking process? Do you start with a photo or a sketch, and how do you work from there?
I document day-to-day by photographing and sketching loosely in my notebook. Once I’m in the studio, I plan out what I’m going to linocut, carefully, developing sketches further or drawing from my photographs. If I’m doing a print with multiple colors, each layer of color is carved out as a separate block, so I plan these out using tracing paper so I can see how the layers will work together when printed.
After this, I transfer my drawings onto the lino so that they’re drawn on the block back-to-front. Then I carve out all of the areas that I don’t want to be printed.
When everything is carved, I ink up the block using a roller and relief printing ink. I place the lino face-up on the bed of my Albion printing press, lay the paper on top, and roll it under the press to create an impression. I then roll the bed back out and lift the paper from the block for the moment of truth.
What type of prints do you like to work on most, and why?
The variation of working on architectural and natural landscape pieces is something I love, and the contrast of the two together is even more special. Graphic buildings can look incredibly striking as linocuts, but I find the organic shapes in nature really satisfying to study and recreate. I often find that as I’m traveling, I collect shapes and lines and mentally log them to incorporate into future artwork.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve worked on? If so, can you tell me the story behind it?
Recently, I finished a three-color print of the Big Sur coastline, which really transports me back. It feels autumnal and a bit wild. Working on linocuts of Big Sur has been bliss; there’s such a richness to the landscape there and I found it to be as magical as everyone promised it would be. This particular linocut was developed from a photograph I took along the coast, on one of the many occasions I insisted we stop just to marvel, but now I can’t pinpoint precisely where it was.
How do you transition from your travels to working back at home? Do you have a strong artist community in Bristol?
My studio building, in the center of Bristol, is owned and run by its members. There are about 32 of us, and there’s a good variety in terms of creative disciplines and characters. It can be a lively and supportive place, but is not without its issues — artists and craftspeople are human, and running a cooperative isn’t straightforward.
In Bristol in general, there is a strong network of kind, interesting, creative people. There’s a blossoming food scene and lots of artists, writers, designers, animators, and printers. It feels like a great place to be making work, which always helps the transition.
And lastly, do you have your sights set on any future travel locations?
A road trip through Arizona and New Mexico is pretty high on my travel wish list — I’m really attracted to the colors of the earth and the plant life growing there.