Tim Mara's shocking sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 48 has cut a career in its prime and robbed the printmaking world of one of its major figures.

Mara was not just a leading artist, but a top man in a top job: head of printmaking at the Royal College where his combination of hands-on virtuoso technical skill, imagination, artistry, and good-natured kindness inspired those students lucky enough to pass through his hands. His calm thoughtfulness stood him in good stead when he took over as head of Fine Art at the Royal College, an arduous task which he seemed to carry lightly.

Tall and good-looking, sartorially smart and ever the gentleman, his charm and courtesy was both welcome and unusual in a casual laid-back art world.

I first met Mara at one of the Bradford British International Print Biennales. It was the late 1970s or early eighties. He won a prize in 1982 and 1984, (one for a clever Self Portrait with Contour Gauge) and I distinctly remember his image on the Biennale catalogue cover and poster. It showed a girl in a multi-coloured dress, decorated with red ovals a bit like lipstick mouths. He also exhibited a complex print of Op Art check and striped dresses. I know because I still have the image.

Mara was well known in Scotland as external examiner and exhibitor. Only weeks ago he showed at Glasgow Print Studio, a great triumph of innovative art using ordinary everyday objects as inspiration. I gave him a glowing review - ''formidable eye, expertise, and experience''. As ever polite, he rang to thank me. His voice is still on my answering machine.

Mara was born in Dublin, grew up in London, and trained at Wolverhampton and the Royal College. He taught at Chelsea for 10 years, before joining the Royal College staff in 1990. There he quickly made his mark, inviting many visiting artists like Kate Whiteford, and even critics like me, to talk to students. While other departments festered with political intrigue, his remained - like himself - calm and friendly.

In his own work he was a consummate technician ready to use 40 different coloured overprintings in exact precision on his vividly patterned narrative interiors. In recent years this complex elaboration gave way to minimal images focusing on one familiar object. His 1997 diptychs using the optical tricks of reeded glass took an exciting new path. Tragically we will never see where it led.