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Inspired by the Fens

Emily Cooper is an illustrator and printmaker inspired by her local landscape in East Anglia. Read Emily's contribution to 'Stories within Our Isles', where she talks about growing up in the Fenland landscape, and how it inspired her analogue way of working.

Images of the landscape of East Anglia started popping up within my work during my second year of living in Bristol, studying Illustration at UWE. Visits home were few and far between, and I would spend that time outside walking our dog, Ollie, through the nostalgic landscape of my childhood. I saturated these short breathers from city life with the sights, sounds and solitude I found in the expansive grass and wetlands of the Fens. The landscape of East Anglia is characterised by its infinite skies and vast horizons – a weird and wonderful flat plain of dykes and drained marshland. Now Spring, the sky is blue and cloudless, birds of prey circle in thermals and skylarks sing above the striped fields. Every bird call is crisp and clear; each gust of wind is amplified as it makes the long grasses whisper and dance. Time passes slowly.

At a glance the Fens can appear bleak, but a moment of stillness soon reveals a landscape that is alive with movement. To me, it is the effect of the ever-changing light on the grasses, reeds, fields and trees, layered like strata in rock that I want to capture within my work. I like breaking down the vast flatness into layers of pattern, building up an abstracted version of the landscape I see before me.

An accidental love of birds has also recently started working its way into my illustrations. My mother’s passion and extensive knowledge of local birdlife has rubbed off on me, and now I catch myself naming birdcalls and excitedly pointing out Buzzards and Marsh Harriers! …It surprises me too.

My work is generally done entirely by hand. I enjoy slowing down the process of creating a piece through the craft itself, especially printmaking. Since creating my first drypoint etching in my Mum’s studio as a child, I continue to work this way – I love the physicality of the technique. Images are created by drawing directly onto acrylic plates with a metal tool. The plates are then inked and hand-printed through a press to produce a limited number of original prints, each slightly different.

Photography plays a big part in my practice – I often piece together sections from different photos to create a new composition, which I will later turn into a print. Other times I will take a photograph and leave it as just that - a moment of stillness documenting what is actually, subtly, a dynamic landscape.

Photographs & Words by Emily Cooper | @emcooperstudio

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