FOR some reason printmakers have never quite achieved the status that painters have.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as Albrecht Durer, but down the years few have reached the dizzy heights of their creative counterparts and gained fame and fortune.

Ulverston-based Printfest has tried to change all that raising the profile of the increasingly popular art form.

Since its inception in 2001 it has provided a fantastic and fabulous shop window dedicated to the exhibition and sale of contemporary handmade prints, offering the opportunity for the best of the UK’s printmakers to gather under one roof, to share practice and learn from each other.

Printfest 2018 runs from May 5-6 at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall, with 44 successful artists selected from 77 who applied to show work in what’s regarded far and wide as the UK’s foremost artist-led printmaking festival. Last year’s event attracted more than 1,700 visitors when it returned after its first break in 16 years.

Apparently, the visitor survey showed that more than 40 per cent of visitors were from outside Cumbria, and nearly half of them stayed in South Lakeland for several days, boosting Ulverston’s economy and promoting the town.

And sales topped £57,000 over the terrific two day show.

Printfest was founded by printmakers Judy Evans and Ronkey Bullard, with the help of Chris Benefield, who owned the well-known Tinners’ Rabbit in Ulverston.

Judy is still part of the team alongside Tina Balmer, Valerie Madden and Sally Bamber, chairman, Keith Bamber, treasurer, and returning member Janet Benefield, the wife of original chairman Chris, who sadly passed away in 2015.

Newby Bridge printmaker Katie Edwards, winner of the Founders’ Award in 2017, and Alyson Dickson, who has exhibited at Printfest nearly every year since it started, are also on the forward-thinking Printfest team.

Attending this year’s Printfest will be the Zillah Bell Gallery, which champions the festival’s best newcomer prize and will have a stand in the Ante Room at the Coro. The Thirsk-based gallery represents several previous Printfest Printmakers of the Year: Katherine Jones, Anja Percival and Jason Hicklin.

With mere weeks to go before this year’s highly regarded gathering will have Ulverston buzzing once again, Printfest chairman Sally Bamber says for her printmaking is a form of alchemy: “The printmaker sees something or feels something.

“They make sketches. They then take up a zinc or copper plate, silkscreen, a lithographic stone or lino or wood. And they often make their own collagraph plates from whatever they can find.”

Sally explains that printmaking is a celebration of ink on paper as the printmaker selects and mixes their inks, and through a process of application and working with printing presses, they edition a set of unique handmade prints: “Some of the printing presses are fabulous ancient presses, possibly used by great names of the past. One of our printmakers’ presses came from the Royal Academy, which could have been used by Joshua Reynolds. The printmaker feels that history when they turn the handle for the plate and paper to travel through the press.

“Once the print is framed and hung at an exhibition, then we visitors get to stand in front of it. We get to see something, to feel something, and the alchemy is complete.”

Planning for the future, the Printfest committee has put down a challenging list of ‘would likes’ that would benefit all in the Ulverston community.

Included are local workshops in printmaking techniques, a printmaking workshop with a fulltime technician, an Ulverston printmaker’s gallery, a tie up with the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, regular talks from artist printmakers at the Coro, a winter edition for the Christmas sales market, a printmakers’ mentoring scheme and a Printfest Fellowship Programme that would be tasked in raising awareness of printmakers in the north of England, creating a northern hub for printmaking.

And so to the 2018 line-up which includes gifted leading lights of Cumbria’s printmaking fraternity such as Kendal’s Jamie Barnes, Marion Kuit and Angie Mitchell; Katie Edwards of Newby Bridge, Ulverston’s Julian Milner, Mark Pearce of Ravenglass and Debby Akam and Sarah Cemmick both of Penrith.

Printfest includes an opening talk on Thursday, May 3 (6pm) by Printfest’s Printmaker of the Year Gail Brodholt and the Printmakers’ Printmaker (voted in by her peers in 2017) Georgina Bown.

Gail works with the lino-cut technique to portray images of transport and travelling. Meanwhile, Georgina works mainly with the drawing technique of monoprinting which she has adapted and mastered over recent years.

Printfest is open Saturday, May 5, from 10am-5pm; Sunday, May 6, 10am-4pm.

Gail Brodholt’s vibrant City of Gold linocut features at this year’s Printfest, held from May 5-6 at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall

Up there with the UK’s best some of the artists pictured preparing for Printfest 2018, which takes held at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall on Saturday and Sunday, May 5-6. Pic JON GRANGER