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Art Maker: Neil Brigham | Printmaker

  • Neil Brigham works in his studio at his home in Belchertown, Sept. 13. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “Downeast” Courtesy of Neil Brigham

  • “Summer Meadow” Courtesy of Neil Brigham

  • “View from Sugarloaf? Courtesy of Neil Brigham

  • Neil Brigham works in his studio at his home in Belchertown, Sept. 13. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Neil Brigham works in his studio at his home in Belchertown, Sept. 13. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Neil Brigham works in his studio at his home in Belchertown, Sept. 13. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tools used by Neil Brigham, of Belchertown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Woodcut plate by Neil Brigham, of Belchertown. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • “On the Mend” Courtesy of Neil Brigham

  • “River Road Plantation” Courtesy of Neil Brigham

  • “Contemplation: Courtesy of Neil Brigham


Friday, October 14, 2016

Neil Brigham, 54, of Belchertown, makes block prints (or linocuts), which involves carving linoleum and inking the areas that are not carved to reveal the image when printed on to paper.

After earning a master’s degree in 2001 in illustration, he began to experiment with block printing. Encouraged by an early piece that was accepted into the Society of Illustrators annual, he delved more deeply into block-print-based work and developed a portfolio to post on a website for illustrators (www.theispot.com).

His illustration clients include Scholastic, Little, Brown and Company, Outdoor Life and Coastal Living magazines, among others.

Although the graphic and flat qualities of the printmaking medium appeal to him, he says he tries to convey a sense of movement and feeling of depth in his images.

“One of the most meaningful comments I received was from someone who, when looking at a landscape print of mine, said she felt like she could walk into the scene.”

Hampshire Life: What is your creative process like?

Neil Brigham: For a commissioned illustration, I'm usually given some text to work from. Because there are quick deadlines, I brainstorm, doing many small, quick sketches to get my ideas on paper. Usually, something will emerge from these rough ideas as the best solution to the assignment. For personal work, I have a backlog of ideas and I often work from photographs I've taken.

H.L.: How do you know you're on the right track?

N.B.: For illustration projects, once I've sketched out a couple of ideas I like, I'll present them to the client. We then discuss how to fine-tune the idea, or they choose one of the sketches I presented and I start work on the final art. For personal work, I flesh out the idea by sketching until I come up with a final drawing that I will transfer to the block. This acts as a guide for where I will carve. I'm never exactly sure how the print will look until I pull a test print. Once I do that, I can see which areas I want to work on more.

H.L.: What do you do when you get stuck?

N.B.: I go for a hike or walk with the dogs, and I also bounce ideas off my wife to get a fresh perspective. I'm not always successful remembering this, but I try to remind myself that it's OK to try something and have it not be successful. Too often, we can get in our own way by wanting the outcome to always be as close to perfect as possible.

H.L.: How do you know when the work is done?

N.B.: With illustration, it’s often dictated by a deadline. Sometimes it’s better to have limited time to avoid over-thinking the image. When working on personal pieces, I proceed cautiously with the carving. I can always go back in and carve some more. But once I've removed an area, there's no going back. Hopefully, in the end, I've finished the print and have all my fingers intact.

H.L.: What is unique about this art form that people may not know about?

N.B.: With most art forms, an artist uses a tool to make the marks that the viewer will then see, whether it's with a pencil, paint brush, a needle for etching, etc. What they directly lay down on the paper or surface is what becomes the image. With block printing (also called relief printmaking), it's the opposite. Our primary tool is a knife or cutter, and the image is created by removing the negative space (or what will be the white of the paper once it's printed). The viewer will see what we've left on the block, the uncut areas.

— Kathleen Mellen

Block prints by Neil Brigham are on view through Oct. 27 in the Hall Gallery at the Jewish Community of Amherst, 742 Main St. in Amherst. His linocut prints can be found in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

For more information about Brigham’s artwork, visit www.neilbrigham.com.