in conversation with: Joanna Cohn

Studying for an MA in Fine Art at CSM, Joanna explored her interest and developed her practice in printmaking, specialising in both traditional methods including etching and woodcut. When couldn’t visit her etching studio during the pandemic, she began to experiment and explore the ancient print technique of taku-hon. In this conversation with Joanna, she talks about her creative process of etching and woodcutting in more detail. We also discuss about her memorable moment during her time in CSM before the pandemic, her latest work, her enjoyment in working with different colours and her upcoming plans for 2021.

What is the most memorable moment during your time in CSM before COVID closes the uni?

My most memorable moment at CSM was making my first etching on the induction day in the print studio at Kings X. I had always wanted to learn about etching, and it was even more exciting than I had imagined. This was the beginning of what is an ongoing fascination with printmaking and its diverse possibilities.

What is your studio practice like? Did it change because of COVID? Any routines or rituals you follow?

With Covid, I continued to paint, but couldn’t visit the etching studio. I began exploring ways to continue to print without a press, and after a lot of messy experimentation began to explore and adapt the ancient print technique of taku-hon.









We love the colour you used in your work! What does the earth colours you employ mean to you and your practice?

I enjoy working with colour, and it’s interesting you mention the earth colours as I used to base my palate on these since learning about renaissance paint techniques and palates. But I also enjoy using bright colours, both man-made and natural pigment. There is a fabulous book about colour called ‘Bright Earth’, Philip Ball which chronicles the history of colour showing the relationship between art, science and technology when it comes to colour and perception. 


As a painter, I am particularly interested in the sensation produced by colour and its ‘affective’ potential.  

Can you describe one of your works and tell us a little bit about it?

‘Light on Earth’, is a print/ painting which incorporates elements of printmaking.  It measures 150cm x 670cm so it is very large. I made it by laying paper on various textured surfaces of the studio floor and working inks and pastels into it. This painting began in a similar way to a ‘takuhon' print, (the ancient Chinese method of printing surfaces by dabbing ink onto paper which is laid over a textured surface) or a ‘frottage’ painting. My physical engagement created indexical marks which react to marks recorded on the surface beneath as they become visible, reminiscent of the etching process.


I left a patch of light in the centre of the piece- which shows the layers beneath. It hasn't been photographed well, as it is large and I had to photograph it in sections!


‘Light on Earth’, 150 x 670 cm


This painting was made by simulating the natural processes of corrosion, sedimentation and evaporation as I add and remove layers of pigment, ink and pastel on the surface and allow these to dry at various speeds. 


'Light on Earth', 150 x 670 cm, Detail



What at first appears an abstract image created by recording the small sections of the studio floor becomes a vast imaginary continent. The micro becomes macro. By finding borders using colour and line, I can create a map-like image, and I have used the blues and pinks of traditional map makers. But I deliberately leave my borders somewhat ambiguous. The form is symmetrical, but inverted- so the two opposite ends of the work are made by recording the same textured fragment of floor, but turned upside down. 







I hope this piece will inspire thought and questions of the desire to record the natural world in art works and mapping, and our related human desires to find understanding using tools of art and technology, but also the related desire to own and possess lands.


I think of the map as a body too, the surface of the land is the surface of the skin, or the bark of a tree which holds evidence of all life and death in its traces and scares. 


Can you describe your etching and woodcut process?

I have been focusing on hard ground and aquatint etching on zinc, but have also explored numerous other techniques including sugar lift, carborundum, white ground and soft ground. These all have wonderful possibilities of texture and tone.


I usually work with reductive wood cuts, but have also used woodcut to add layers to etchings which adds texture and depth and can react to the other images it lies beneath or is superimposed onto in unexpected and exciting ways.

What do you find most exciting in our contemporary culture?

Marmalade.

What takes you to cloud 9?

Marmalade. Made by my partner, Simon.



Tell me your favourite word in any language, and explain why?

My favourite word of all time, and the word and the emotion surely behind all art, is ‘Sehnsucht’ in German, or ‘saudade’ in Portuguese.  These words have no literal translations into English, but mean yearning or longing for a return to an unknown and ideal place/ state/ time/ love. Sehnsucht is a yearning for something unattainable, that we have never and can never achieve and yet miss with what feels like nostalgia.

Can you tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you?

Alongside my art practise I am also an actress and singer. I spent many years working in the west end in musicals, and Equity, (the union for actors) kindly awarded me a bursary towards my masters.




Do you have anything exciting planned for 2021?

I have had two works accepted into this year’s Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition which is an actual physical exhibition at the Mall Galleries, which is so exciting. Even though I’ve really enjoyed being included in online galleries and competitions, it will be wonderful to show and see physical work again. I have also just found out I am one of three winners of the Nasdaq 2021 Art Competition and my work will be exhibited in their Global Headquarters in Time Square, New York.


If you want to see Joanna's work right now: her painting ‘Pangaea is being hung at the Nasdaq Global Headquarters in New York this month and will be displayed on the Nasdaq tower, Times Square at the beginning of August.
Her takuhon monoprint work which is nearly 7 metres accepted into the PrintMakers council exhibition ‘Ecologies of Change’ exhibition at The Royal Over- Seas League 16 September - November. She also currently has work exhibited at The Royal Geographical Society, The Gore, and in Dalby Forest, Yorkshire, which is part of the Earth Photo Competition, and also in the Federation of British Artists current exhibition Figurative Art Now. And last, she has work going into the Woolwich Print Fair this autumn.


To follow the projects Joanna Cohn is working on, you can visit her Instagram and her website.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
where's the frame - ‘in conversation with’ is a weekly series featuring emerging vanguard artists. Stay tuned for more interviews, published every Friday.