Meet the Maker: Becca Thorne Illustration

Tell us a little about your business – what is it you make?

I’m an illustrator and printmaker based in Bristol. I create and sell original prints, repro prints, cards and tea towels, mostly inspired by my love of folklore, wildlife and the natural world, but also food and gardening.

With my commercial illustration work, I mostly illustrate history, food and nature-themes, for clients like The Folio Society, BBC History Magazine, National Trust Books, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust ( @bumblebeeconservationtrust ) and Waitrose Food . I’m also a BeeWalker for The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, so bees feature a lot in my work!

How did you get started in your creative field?

I got into printmaking initially during my Art & Design Foundation course at Hereford College of Art. I’d sneak off to the cathedral and stare at the Mappa Mundi, or take photos of the cloisters and carvings, then I’d hide away in the empty print studio and make monoprints of the things I’d photographed. It never felt like work, it seemed more like I was just procrastinating with silly things I liked while I figured out how to do ‘proper’ art.

I went on to study BA and MA Illustration at Falmouth College of Arts, and one of the tutors there, the wonderful Marilyn Towndrow ( @marilynartgarden ), introduced me to linocutting in the first year, and I found it much easier to be myself with it. When The Folio Society ( @foliosociety ) commissioned me to illustrate Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf in 2009, I finally felt like everything had come together!

Talk us through your creative process…

All my work is created as original linocut prints, even if it’s ultimately going to be digitally printed in a magazine or on a product. Linocut is a relief printing process, where an image is hand-carved into a block of artist’s lino (which is a lot like the stuff used for flooring), then the block is inked-up, paper is placed on top and the whole thing is pressed or burnished to transfer the image to the paper. Multi-coloured prints need several printed layers, either from multiple blocks or from cutting and printing multiple layers from the same block.

I start by making studies of things and scribbling quick ideas and compositions in my sketchbooks, which I take onto my iPad to work up further on Procreate to plan the colours and layers. Once I’m happy with the rough design, I trace it onto the lino, ready to carve and print. I don’t have a printing press, so all my prints are hand-burnished (which is basically just a fancy way of saying ‘rubbed’) with a tea spoon.

What sort of space do you work in?

I’m lucky to have a home studio. It’s our spare bedroom, and it’s lovely and light, with a huge window that looks out over our garden and our neighbour’s gardens, which is great for watching the birds and cats, and it gives a good view of the sunset.

Although it’s my dedicated studio, it’s still our spare room, so any guests have to sleep on the sofa bed surrounded by all my mess! To keep things a little tidier, my amazing partner made me shelves with a special printing table that folds down when I need it, then folds back up when I want more floor space.

What are the values behind your business?

The natural world is incredibly important to me, and I want to inspire other people to see the beauty, diversity and fragility of nature. I also want to ensure that I have as little impact as possible when I’m making and selling my work.

From using recycled paper stickers, paper tape and home-compostable print wraps for plastic-free, minimal packaging, to printing on incredibly sustainable lokta paper and carving from traditional linseed-based lino, which biodegrades (unlike vinyl/speedy stamp surfaces), I try to maintain a low-impact practice. I also work with smaller, responsible UK companies to produce my tea towels and cards, so I can ensure sustainability throughout.

Where do you find creative inspiration? Please feel free to include people/artists you are inspired by.

A long hike in the wilds or a visit to a cathedral or some castle ruins (I recommend Raglan Castle for some really tasty ruins) are great for inspiration, but just strolling to the Post Office or looking out of the window at birds on the rooftops can be enough.

History and nature programmes are always good – anything with Dr Nina Ramirez ( @drjaninaramirez ) or Professor Alice Roberts ( @prof_alice_roberts ) usually goes down well! I also listen to some great history podcasts – You’re Dead To Me on BBC Sounds, the BBC History podcast and Dark Histories ( @Dark_Histories ) are some I always go back to.

I follow some brilliant accounts on Instagram too: @avonwt @bumblebeeconservationtrust @london.mudlark @legolostatsea and @oldenglishwordhord are all good for keeping me inspired. Basically, anything that makes me want to find out more!

Are there themes that run through your work?

Definitely! Nature, folklore, bees….

What do you love most about making?

I love the whole process – the research and the initial sketching and development is where I get to know the subject more and see the design take life. Carving is laborious and often painful on the shoulders, neck, hand and wrists, but can also be meditative and peaceful, and it’s my chance to finalise the textures and shapes of the print. Then, the peel and reveal of the final print, when you’re not sure if it’s going to be perfect or a total disaster! Plus, I’m my own boss and I get to work from home doing something I love!

Which piece of work are you most proud of?

I’m usually proudest of the piece I’ve completed most recently, and right now that’s a piece that was commissioned for author/historian Sara Read ( @saralread ), by her husband, as a celebration of her debut novel The Gossip’s Choice. I was listening to Sara talk about the themes and history of her book on the BBC History podcast when I received the request, so it felt like it was meant to be!

But I’d also like to give a shout out to my work for the Great Bilberry Bumblebee Hunt for The Bumblebee Conservation Trust ( @bumblebeeconservationtrust ), which was such a wonderful job to work on, and I think I’ll always love it.

Describe your work in three words…

Bees, bugs, birds!

Click here to contact Becca

Click here to visit the Becca Thorne Illustration website