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If it's good enough for Beatrix Potter

...then it’s good enough for me.



The letter was written in my best joined-up writing, down the margin I’d made a pleasing attempt at a drawing of Peter Rabbit and I’d signed it from Your Biggest Fan. An address and a stamp were all I needed, then Beatrix Potter would know just how much I loved her and her books. The thought that she might write back filled me with a ridiculous amount of joy. (Imagine a small child clutching said letter to her heart, eyes closed, chin raised and a curiously creepy smile on her face. Yep, that’s me.)


I can still remember the moment my mum explained why none of those things would be happening.


I was seven. I cried.


I slowly grew out of Beatrix Potter’s anthropomorphic characters and their adventures. Apart from watching the Miss Potter film I hardly gave her a second thought.


That was until a trip to the Lake District.


We were a few days in when my husband casually asked if I fancied visiting Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top*. I think my reaction shocked us both.


I was 38. I cried.


Hill Top, Nr. Sawrey, Ambleside. National Trust

I have no idea where the tears came from. Maybe it was the thought of walking the same garden path as her. Standing on the stone steps where she’d stood. Seeing the same garden view from her window. Whatever it was, the issues surrounding the never-to-be-sent-letter clearly remained unresolved.



Beatrix Potter standing outside Hill Top

Rachel Moore standing outside Hill Top (sorry, not sorry)

MORE THAN NAUGHTY BUNNIES AND SILLY DUCKS


Thankfully I managed to keep it under control and didn’t create a scene at Hill Top or later at the exhibition in Hawkshead. Still, it wasn't the whimsical illustrations that stood out for me, it was the clear evidence that Beatrix Potter was a very savvy business woman. She knew more than a thing or two about marketing and the power of merchandise.


I remember the buzz words we'd use when I worked in marketing - customer journey, content marketing, cross selling, upselling - whether or not those ideas consciously went through Beatrix's mind it's obvious she had a real aptitude and appetite for business.


She understood our weird need to buy into collections. At the end of each book was an illustrated end plate advertising the next. "Gotta catch 'em all" springs to mind. Beatrix realised the importance of keeping control of her intellectual property rights so patented the Peter Rabbit soft toy. As she did with her books, Beatrix took an active interest in all creative and commercial details.


Patent certificate for Peter Rabbit soft toy from an exhibition at Sissinghust Castle

Here's a quote from one of the displays: "The products she authorised ranged from china and colouring books to jigsaws and even Peter Rabbit slippers. Keeping a close eye on the quality of these items, Beatrix had a high level of input into the granting of licences. She had a strong sense of how her brand should be portrayed and her attention to detail was evident in her negotiations."


Letter from Frederick Warne & Co. Beatrix Potter's publishers on display at the Beatrix Potter Gallery, Hawkshead

A DISRUPTOR


In business, like art, some people just have a talent for it. Yes, it can be taught to a certain extent but I think it truly comes from within, from the gut. My takeaway from the exhibition? Beatrix Potter had a clear vision of what she wanted and despite negativity carried on regardless. She was, what we might call in 2023, A Disruptor.


I’ve had the privilege of working for these types of people over the years. They are very interesting, inspiring and contagiously enthusiastic to be around. Seek them out - in a non-stalker sense - in real life and on social media. Hang out with them, learn from them, you'll have a lot of fun along the way.


"KEEP OFF THE JELLY!"


You might be thinking by now, that’s great but what's any of this got to do with printmaking? Well last year I took a workshop - Beatrix Potter: Drawing Nature - where the tutor mentioned that during Potter’s lifetime her drawings were reproduced onto china using a gelatine printing plate. My ears immediately pricked up. Printing using a gelatine plate (Gelli / gel printing) is something I’m very familiar with and had been led to believe was a relatively new printmaking technique.


I did a bit of research and turns out it’s been around for over 100 years. Back then they were called jellygraphs or hectographs - hecto meaning 100, graph meaning to draw or write, so I’m guessing suggesting 100 prints, interesting huh? It worked by means of a transfer process and used special inks to create multiple prints.


That same month, during Medway Open Studios, a gentleman visited my studio and I was demonstrating how to use a Gelli plate when he told me he'd seen the same sort of thing before, back in the 1940s. He explained that whenever summoned to the headmaster’s office he was told in no uncertain terms to “keep off the jelly!” - i.e. the gelatine printing plate used to copy letters and documents.


I guess with the introduction of copy machines, manual then electronic, the hectograph fell out of fashion. I’m glad to say that in 2023 they’re back in vogue and being used to create beautiful works of art. It’s my go-to print technique for no pressure, speedy results. From the ethereal to the graphic, Gelli Printing is so versatile.


You can make your own gel plate by clicking here and learn how to use it at an online Gelli Printing Course or along with other printmaking techniques at an in-person Printmaking Course in Rochester, Kent.




MORE TEARS?


Environmentalist, conservationist, farmer, entrepreneur, naturalist, archaeologist, geologist, entomologist, author and illustrator are just some of the titles given to Beatrix Potter. During her lifetime she wrote and illustrated 28 books, which have been translated into 35 languages and sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. She left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to the National Trust.


Wow, what a woman!


I love reading the stories of her walking the Lake District hills amongst her Herdwick sheep - a breed she helped save from extinction - in wooden clogs and layers of well-worn tweeds doing as all artists do, taking the time to look closely, noticing more than most and appreciating every changing shade, shadow and shape.


Beatrix Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77. At her request, her ashes were scattered at an undisclosed location above her beloved Hill Top.


Just as well, had I visited, I’d have probably cried.

Mr McGregor's wheelbarrow at Hill Top kitchen garden
 

*clearly not the fan I thought I was considering I didn't know this fact.


Hill Top is owned and managed by the National Trust. It’s currently closed to visitors for the winter season and reopens on 18 February 2023. I refer to it above as Beatrix Potter’s House although she never lived there, using it as her writing studio and taking inspiration from the garden for her illustrations.



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