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My studio life: Norman Ackroyd

Published 1 November 2013

Norman Ackroyd RA has been working from a former leather factory in Bermondsey for 30 years, where he has a printing press and an etching press.

  • Norman Ackroyd RA is known for his aquatint work. Having trained in Leeds, he went on to the Royal College of Art in London and lived in the United States for a time before returning to London to take up the post of Professor of Etching at the University of the Arts in 1994.

    In the 1980s Ackroyd emerged as a landscape artist, creating works that range from minimalist, nearly abstract impressions, to detailed images. His subject is the ragged landscape, with traces of human habitation, though the human figure rarely enters his work.

    In 2013, Ackroyd was featured in the BBC series What do artists do all day?

  • Changing times

    Changing times

    “I’ve been in this studio in a former leather warehouse in Bermondsey for 30 years now. The area has changed a lot in that time – it was very desolate when I moved here with a three year-old and a one year-old.”

  • Welcome!


    “I live on the top two floors, which is also where I do my watercolours. Oil painting and etching are all done here on the first two floors.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • "Probably the best etching press in Europe"

    "Probably the best etching press in Europe"

    “This large printing press on the ground floor dates from around 1900. There was no expense spared building this machine. It took Welsch, the firm that Whistler used for his copperplate prints, two years to make. Later, it was fixed up by the artist Merlyn Evans, who died without leaving a will, and it was then offered to me in 1975. It’s probably the best etching press in Europe and it’s an absolute delight to be able to work with it.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • A good luck charm

    A good luck charm

    “The little figure on top of the press was brought back from the Congo by a girlfriend in the 1970s. It’s a good luck charm. I’d only just bought the press and it’s been there now for nearly 40 years.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Mixing pigments

    Mixing pigments

    “On the plate here is a mix of saturated sugar with black pigment. Then a film of acid-resistant wax is added. It’s a mix of beeswax, bitumen and resin.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Order among chaos

    Order among chaos

    “Cleanliness is important, believe it or not!”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Work in progress

    Work in progress

    “Here are some pieces I’m working on at the moment. In the centre is Thirsk Hall up in Yorkshire. It’s for a wedding invitation.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Former glories

    Former glories

    “My assistant Niamh does all the letterpressing, which we do in-house on this small screwdown press. The cricket balls on the shelf each represent a five-fer. I played for the Private Eye XI from 1973 to 2003, and took about 35 five-fers in total. My best was a nine-fer – but I got slower and slower as I got older and then finally stopped.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Golf of course

    Golf of course

    “As well as cricket I also love golf. I actually practice my putting a fair bit here in the studio. My favourite course is Lahinch – it’s a wonderful, old-fashioned golf course, with mad holes. It’s like going back in time to the 1890s.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • Rhyme and reason

    Rhyme and reason

    “These are a few lines of Milton on the staircase. I have a huge poetry library upstairs and I know and work with a lot of poets. People like Seamus Heaney, Douglas Dunn, Bernard O‘Donoghue. I’ve done poetry readings at the Bodleian Library in Oxford too.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • "Traces of habitation"

    "Traces of habitation"

    “The pins in this map represent places I’ve been to and produced work. The big pins are where I’ve done full sets – places like St Kilda, Shetland, and Orkney. What interests me is when people have lived there – I like those traces of habitation. When I go on trips I charter a boat with a few people – the likes of Ian Ritchie, Chris Frayling and his wife Helen, Robert Macfarlane… I love places like the Flannan Islands, High Island, which is just south of Inishboffin (it’s owned by poet Richard Murphy) and the Shiant Isles. They’re owned by Adam Nicholson – he’s a poet too.”

    © Eamonn McCabe

  • The pubs of Whitby

    The pubs of Whitby

    “This year I’m doing the North Yorkshire coast. So I’ll head to Whitby, visit some of the pubs, and talk to the boatmen. You want a local skipper who really knows how to land on certain islands. Then you find out how much they earn in a week and you’ve got to match it. You also need a good young mate who’ll pull you out out of the water when you fall in!”

    © Eamonn McCabe