Monica MacDonald

Monica MacDonald

Monica Macdonald Ralph is an etcher and book artist who lives and works in Sussex. Her deeply atmospheric prints combine a wonderful acuity of nature observation with the inevitable unpredictability of the acid on the plate. Read more

Macdonald Ralph came to etching after a long period of experimentation with ceramics, batik and painting. After travelling down from Liverpool, where she was born, to study at Sussex University in Brighton, she spent time in Botswana as a volunteer. The colours and shapes of the land in Africa inspired her to paint, and her teaching experience there prompted a journey which saw her train as a teacher at London University, where she made frequent use of a large and well-equipped pottery studio in the basement. She then worked in a college in the east end of London, moving on to train other teachers.

Then, in the mid-1980’s, she discovered etching. She had returned to Brighton and begun a printmaking course at the University. The first medium she attempted was screenprinting, but she found it difficult to shape her ideas to suit the process. She then tried etching and immediately found a closer match between what she wanted to communicate and the techniques available. She has said: ‘it's probably a mixture of the opportunity to create a relief texture which you can feel, and the sheer unpredictability of the action of acid on metal.’

‘Etching excites me because it encourages experimentation. There are so many ways to make marks on a plate. It’s a journey into the unknown. Even though I attempt to control the action of acid on metal there is always the possibility, likelihood even, that something will vary during the process and a least some of the marks will be unexpected. When this happens I like to go with the flow, to let my ideas be influenced by serendipity.I like to combine a variety of techniques—etched lines, aquatint tones, open bite shapes, soft ground impressions. Sometimes I create an image on a single plate, other times three plates are printed, layering one colour over another and building up texture. I use steel and copper plates, choosing steel for its vigour and for the character of its course surface and copper when I want fine lines and a cleaner surface. Often it is the rhythms, texture and patterns of the South Downs that give me the starting points. Ideally I like to take the plates out and begin to work on them in the open—making sketches and taking photographs to guide me as I complete the process in the studio.’

Macdonald Ralph has hinted that some new subjects might soon enter her work: the animals who live in the trees and undergrowth that surround her garden studio. ‘[S]quirrels, woodmice, hedgehogs, toads, frogs and newts… These friends have yet to be included in my etchings, as indeed, have our two cats. It's always been the trees, fields, hills, cliffs and ponds that feature, but that might change.’ We’ll have to watch this space…



Following a sucessful open house exhibition as part of the Brighton festival, Monica has been hard at work producing new and exciting work. Whilst the work on this page provides an overview of what we have avalible Monica is very prolific and new work keeps arriving. If you would like to see more prints please call in to our shop.