WHEN Norman Ackroyd opens his mail each day he is reminded of his youth.

“That’s my dad’s boning knife,” he says as he picks up a small implement, the blade worn from years of cutting and sharpening. “I use it as a letter opener.”

The son of a south Leeds butcher, being born and raised in Yorkshire brings a sense of pride to the Royal Academician who started out at Leeds College of Art and is now one of Britain’s leading etchers and printmakers.

Arriving at his vast studio in London’s Bermondsey, in the shadow of the famous Shard, gives a clue as to the creative man within. A small loop of string hangs from the tongue-and-groove door, which, when pulled, produces a charming sound like a tea bell. It is, Norman explains, rigged up relay fashion, all the way to the top floor.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Norman Ackroyd in his Bermondsey studio. Picture: Jill MeadNorman Ackroyd in his Bermondsey studio. Picture: Jill Mead

The former leather factory - “I wanted a factory, not a shed in the back garden, it’s an industry not a hobby” - where Ackroyd has lived for 35 years, offers the space he needs for the manual processes he goes through to create his prints.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Norman Ackroyd's printing press. Picture: Jill MeadNorman Ackroyd's printing press. Picture: Jill Mead

Ackroyd’s acid-etched copper plates, keenly observed and painstakingly crafted, depict scenes from across the world - from his home county to Scotland, Ireland, and as far afield as the Galapagos Islands.

His travels have led him to the untamed edges of Britain, the wild, remote outposts that stand on the fringe of the land, battered by the ocean.

Cape Wrath, Muckle Flugga, the Butt of Lewis, Skellig, Dingle, Hermaness…these rugged coastlines and exposed archipelagos have captivated Ackroyd, whose journeys to these exhilarating spots have produced a vast number of etchings and drawings, mostly captured from the sea.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Map of northern Britain showing the spots Ackroyd has sketched. Picture: Jill MeadMap of northern Britain showing the spots Ackroyd has sketched. Picture: Jill Mead

From the unstable decks of boats - some working trawlers - he sketches the scenes that eventually grace the walls of galleries.

“I’m a pretty good sailor, so I don’t mind what the weather is like,” he says. “I have been out on some rough seas.”

It is these starkly beautiful, haunting works that he is bringing back to his roots, with an exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The Furthest Lands showcases a vast range of work that explores the western edges of the British Isles.

Ackroyd’s keen observation and dexterity captures the very essence of these isolated, wind-battered outcrops, encased in walls of sleet, frothing waves and excitable seabirds.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Off Hermaness, Shetland, 2018. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture ParkOff Hermaness, Shetland, 2018. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Starting in the extreme north of the Shetland Islands, the exhibition journeys south over 950 miles to the far south-west of Ireland, through a display of the artist’s intricate etchings and a collection of watercolours.

Ackroyd made his first etching over 60 years ago at Leeds College of Art, now Leeds Arts University. One of his early works, Storm Over Gildersome (1959) - an atmospheric etching on steel which depicts the skyline of the Yorkshire village - features within the exhibition and has never been shown before.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Storm over Gildersome. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture ParkStorm over Gildersome. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture Park

He was encouraged by his mother Clara – he was able to set up a studio in a bedroom vacated when an elder brother left home - and his art teacher. “Life is about persistence and luck. Luckily I had a great etching teacher, Norman Webster.”

Webster lived to be 96. “Nearly all etchers live to be a great age,” says Ackroyd, who turned 80 this year, reeling off a list of names including Picasso.

The Royal College of Art followed, then a period in New York, where many artists gravitated at that time.

He draws directly onto a wax-covered copper plate, exposing the copper into which acid will bite. It is then rolled with ink which, when wiped, remains in the etched indentations.

The subtle tones in his work come from 'aquatint', a fine resin that settles onto the plate and, when heated, adheres to create a soft wash across the image.

Prints are produced using an imposing, manually operated Victorian printing press, “passed down from artist to artist”.

Growing up in Hunslet, Ackroyd developed an interest in landscape at an early age, on fishing trips with his elder brother Harry, 12 years his senior. “When he came home from the RAF he took me up Ribblesdale and Wharfedale. We would run more than two miles for the train, with our fishing rods and sandwiches.

“I took my drawing book - I was never that interested in fishing. We had a Primus and cooked some wonderful field mushrooms.”

For a penny, he would take the tram to spend afternoons in Leeds Art Gallery.

A desire to explore was simmering, as he immersed himself in maps. “I’ve always loved maps, from being at junior school,” he says.

Later inspiration came from Daniel Defoe’s 18th century account of his travels through Britain, and Samuel Johnson and James Boswell’s book of the same period depicting their journey through the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides.

He has etched along the Yorkshire coastline, from Saltburn to Flamborough. “We hired a boat from Whitby. It is a glorious coast, I know it well,” he says. “My parents were married in Bridlington. They loved it when they were young and courting, and we used to have holidays there when I was small.”

In his studio he has a large map of the British Isles, dotted with coloured pins, showing the spots he has etched. Among the most remote, is Sula Sgeir a small, uninhabited Scottish island in the North Atlantic, more than forty miles north of Lewis and best known for its population of gannets. “It is deafening and stinks to high heaven,” he says.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Stac, an Armin evening, 2010. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture ParkStac, an Armin evening, 2010. Picture courtesy of Norman Ackroyd and Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The father-of-four enjoys visits to family and friends in Yorkshire. “It’s only two hours on Grand Central.” Drinking his preferred Yorkshire Gold tea, he speaks fondly of his home county. “I recently visited my sister Margaret - we had the best fish and chips at Murgatroyds in Guisiely. As good as fish and chips are in London, they are never as good as they are in Yorkshire.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tools of the Trade. Picture: Jill MeadTools of the Trade. Picture: Jill Mead

As part of the exhibition Ackroyd will host a series of events at YSP including, on February 16, an etching demonstration using sugar lift or soft ground etching, in which he will show the process behind creating an aquatint etching from start to finish, working from his plein air watercolour drawing books through to a final print. The following day, he will be in conversation with long-term friend John Bell from Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which houses the largest collection of his works outside his studio.

Awarded a CBE in 2007 for services to engraving and printing, Ackroyd has exhibited across the globe. Earlier this year one of his prints, St Kilda: The Great Sea Stacs, appeared on a British stamp as part of a collaboration between Royal Mail and the Royal Academy.

Ackroyd hugely appreciates the way he makes a living. “My dad always used to say: “When are you going to get a proper job?” he laughs.

Returning from far-flung, inhospitable landscapes, he is always pleased to open the door to his studio. “I feel more tranquil here than anywhere in the country. I’m completely at peace with myself.”

Amanda Peach, YSP's retail programme and development manager says: "I first learned about Norman Ackroy's work in the early 1990s. His astonishing printmaking skills were immediately evident. I was delighted when, after making initial contact in 2017, I received a beautiful, handwritten letter acknowledging his eagerness and excitement to plan such a show with YSP."

* Norman Ackroyd: The Furthest Lands, YSP Centre, West Bretton, Wakefield WF4 4LG, runs until Feb 24.

For details visit ysp.org.uk; T: 01924 832631