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Q + A with artist Rachel Duckhouse

February 19, 2021

We've all been huge fans of your beautiful work for a long time but for any of our subscribers that don't know you or what you do, can you introduce yourself?

Thanks, I’m a huge fan of your work!

I’m an artist, based in Glasgow, working mostly with drawing and printmaking. I work on research based projects to explore patterns, structures and repeated rhythms found in all sorts of contexts, such as the natural landscape, architecture or the flow of water. I love it when I’m working on research that gets me out and about, meeting people and exploring completely new places. I seek out patterns and forms that can been visually investigated and developed through drawing, conversation, archive research and observation.


Your sketchbooks are (in our opinion) works of art as well in themselves. Do you find you're particularly precious when you work in your sketchbook? 

I try not to be precious at all in my sketchbooks, and use them to work things out, try ideas, not think about it too much, make loads of mistakes, pushing towards an idea I can’t quite see yet. The scale is small enough that you can work through an idea quite quickly and not get caught up in the detail for too long. It’s also good for getting a more spontaneous response to what you’re working on, and comparing different ideas next to one another. I love that the sketchbook becomes a physical document of a particular time or project or residency - a bit like a photo album you can pull down from the shelf and go back to and it brings the whole project back to the front of your mind.

Do you only ever introduce colour into your work at the point when you're making a final print? How do you go about selecting colour palettes?

I’ll start with getting the etching plates finished, with the shape cut and the lines etched in, then start playing with composition and colour at the final stage. Sometimes the colours come together quickly and other times it can take ages to get them right. I try not to be driven by a preconceived idea of colour, but to be led by the process and see what happens. I’m learning all the time about how colours work in relation to each other, so on a multi-colour etchings I try not to overthink individual colours, but look at how they work next to each other, or what happens when they overlap. When you get the translucency of two layers right – and both colours are pressed together with the brightness of the paper coming through underneath and the plate tone works with the density of the etched lines, the whole thing combines, and that’s a great moment. 


Do you have a preferred printing process? eg screen/litho etc?

Over the years, I’ve got more and more into etching. When I joined Glasgow Print studio I started with screen printing because I’d done it at art school, but I slowly got sucked into the etching area… that’s’ the beauty of a shared workshop! Etching has become integral to the development of my drawing. Drawing on paper and drawing with etching is part of an ongoing process and I’m moving from pen and ink drawing, to etching, and back again all the time. With etching, the quality of line you get when it’s been acid etched into steel or copper, and the way the metal takes on tiny scratchy marks, and the way the surface of the metal picks up the ink and prints a surface tone - it’s very sculptural and you really feel you’re working with the material of the metal as well as the damp paper and the consistency of the ink – they all work together in a very physical, tactile way.

Residencies play an important role in your practice. What would your dream residency scenario be?

A decent amount of time, a space to work, a new landscape, and good people to show me around - I think that’s the dream combo of elements for a residency. The last residency I did was a dream scenario. Last summer I walked the Hebridean Way on my own for two weeks – though 10 islands of the Outer Hebrides, looking at architecture in the landscape. Then I worked in the studio at Taigh Chearsabhagh, a wonderful arts centre in North Uist, researching and drawing what I’d seen and meeting local crofters who told me more about the sheep fanks I’d become interested in during my walk. It was a completely new landscape and way of life for me to get my head around and I’m still thinking about it and working on the drawings now.

Obviously we've all just spent alot of time in our homes and many of us have been thinking about our interiors in greater detail. Do you have favourite piece of art/textile/piece of furniture that you never get tired of staring at or using?

Do bird feeders count as furniture for birds? My set up now is working at my fold down dining table (the folding up/down of which has become a ritual marking of the beginning and end of the working day), and I face the window of my living room in my tenement flat, four floors up. I don’t have a garden but I do have bird feeders attached to my window. I’m constantly distracted by them (in a good way) and have got to know the different birds really well. There are blue tits, coals tits, a noisy chaffinch, three bullfinches, two nuthatches, a pair of goldfinches and a nervous robin. The most exciting thing that happened last week was when a sparrowhawk swooped down on two bullfinches that were on my feeder. (But they were too fast for it)


Have you been able to maintain some level of your creative practice during lockdown? If so, is there anything in particular you're working on just now?

When lockdown started and I moved out of my studio to work at home, I was working on two exhibitions of prints and drawings, and I’d just started a collaborative research/drawing project. I had to keep working on them all from home and the adrenaline and panic of the situation sent me into overdrive for the first few weeks I think. I’m very lucky that although I can’t print because the Glasgow Print Studio is closed, I can continue to draw the pen and ink drawings for the exhibitions, and those shows may turn out to be mostly drawings, which is actually quite exciting and something I’d never have considered doing before. The collaborative project is sketchbook based – so I can also do that from home thankfully. I’m sharing photos of sketchbook pages during Zoom meetings and the project seems to be progressing just fine without face to face meetings, so far. 


We know you are also a huge fan of music. What are you listening to today?

Ah yes, well I’ve mostly been listening to music whilst drawing. It has to be music that I don’t know, doesn’t have very distracting lyrics or a strong nostalgic connection, so Late Junction (BBC Radio 3) has been amazing. I still love radio - having a person put a playlist together and introduce the tracks, (so much better than a Spotify algorithm) and the two presenters are brilliant. Although I have to fast forward through the jazzy ones, I’ve discovered some amazing stuff, such as Shake it to the Ground by Blaqstarr which I now have to listen to at least 3 times a day. I will always listen to The Breeders as one of my favourite bands ever, and it was great when Tim Burgess did The Last Splash at one of his twitter listening parties recently. I’ve also tuned in to Jarvis Cocker’s Domestic Disco a few times – who knew it could be so fantastic to watch him play Flat Eric and Josh Wink in his living room?

Finally, can you recommend a podcast to us and our subscribers?

Yes! Well I love Adam Buxton. He does all his own jingles. 

There are two podcasts about women artists that I’m learning a lot from and discovering new artists through at the moment – both have great Instagram feeds: Bow Down: Women in Art and The Great Women Artists. 

I also love This American Life, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Ologies with Alie Ward and Savage Lovecast but I associate them so strongly with walking to and from the studio that I haven’t listened to any of them since lockdown… 

I’m listening to a lot of radio drama, and BBC Sounds has a lot of classic Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple and some brilliant contemporary stuff as well. I love the BBC’s Scotland Outdoors podcast too as it connects you to what’s going on in the countryside of Scotland and how outdoor based people and organisations are doing around the country, and they always capture voices and outdoor soundscapes so well. 


To see more of Rachel's work visit rachelduckhouse.co.uk

Please note; for accuracy purposes, this interview was conducted over email in May 2020 during the first Covid-19 lockdown here in Scotland. It was published in a newsletter we emailed out that month and answers are therefore relevant to that time.

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