Kevin Holdaway: “My work resonates beyond the barrier of the frame”

flat iron in shadow

Flat Iron in Shade

Make no mistake, Kevin Holdaway, a linocutter/printmaker who’s been senior technical instructor at DeMontfort University in Leicester since 1990, knows his way around a reduction print.

He’s also had some unusual brushes with other aspects of the print world, and the wider art world, including dalliances with the Fluxus movement and Concrete Poetry. But it’s his reduction linocuts that I adore.

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And how could you not? These almost photo-real depictions of beautiful buildings and features are the kind of prints that – after you’ve got back up off the floor from fainting over the accuracy of Kevin’s technique – make you double and treble take. How has he done that??

Some of these prints have 26 layers for goodness sake. The man is TALENT.

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Albert Bridge

So yes, I pestered him for some responses…

 

Hi Kevin. When did you start linocutting?

I suppose the first time I thought about it was when I was a student at Leicester Polytechnic in the late 1980s. I participated on a short week-long course with an artist called Elaine Kowolski. I was late for her first lesson having been delayed in the café from an overrun art history lecture, and she lambasted me and said I’d have to catch up in my own time. Which I did, just to prove her wrong…

Did you have any formal training?

That was a Fine Art degree, and it was actually taught by two great printmakers, Roy Bizley and Mike Hale.

Who are your printing influences?

My influences are from my environment. I think Picasso’s linocuts from the 1950s are great – but the lazy git didn’t bother to reverse his dates so they’re all back to front! I always tell my students what an amateur he was. Personally though, my influences are my experiences of the world and reactions to it.

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Zeus

What does your role at De Montfort entail exactly?

I’m the chief technician and traditional printmaking instructor. I cover all the aspects of traditional fine art print apart from lithography. I can do stone lithography and have taught it but the powers that be have devised a facility that tends not to lend itself to long-term techniques.

I dismantled the litho press many years ago and instead of throwing it away it sits in my studio at home, along with the 200 litho stones I saved. You don’t know anyone who might want the odd stone do you?

What kind of people do you teach – is it varied?

At work it ranges from foundation students, fine art, design crafts, graphics and illustration and all the other courses we deal with. Fashion textiles, contour, knitwear architecture and so on. Basically, any student that wants to know anything about print can arrange for it to happen.

When I teach privately around the country it can be anyone from beginners to masters. I’ve had all types of people – some want to learn from me and my work process.

How did you come to work with Alison Knowles?

We had a lecturer called Nicholas Zurbrugg who worked in humanities and he had contacts all over the world. He’d bring in artists for symposiums and brief week-long schedules, and he organised a series of works to be made with me, the master printer, over a couple of the days while they were here.

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Kevin with Alison

I met Alison and we made the October Suite in 1998 as part of her celebration of being at the university.

I also worked with concrete poet Edwin Morgan and sound artist Henri Chopin.

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Edwin Morgan poem screenprint

What’s been your experience of working to commission?

It is a challenge, to be honest, as the work I make is really my experience of the environment and I prefer to have the decision made by me as to what I print. If I get a chance I’d actually go to a place and correlate and compose photos and drawings to get my own feeling for it before I start.

How do you go about preparing for an exhibition?

My last show was the Lino King in 2015 at Stockport Art gallery. It was a retrospective journey of my work from 1987 to the present day, up to that point. You could say it took me 28 years to get that show ready.

But on a more serious note it’s important that the work deals with the space sympathetically, and you need to balance all the hanging opportunities with care or you’ll end up losing exposure to some work. The space around a piece of work is important and I know that my work resonates beyond the barrier of the frame so it needs more space.

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The process page on your site is brilliant, and so informative – why did you go to such lengths to set this up?

People look at my work – and any work to be honest – and have an idea of what they’re looking at, process wise. Often people think my work is produced either by another process or even photographically.

So I’ve spelt it out to make sure they understand the process perfectly and to educate them not to have a stereotypical view of what they look at. If I can make someone stop and relook at something and say, oh my god, I didn’t realise that you could do that, then I’ve done my job. I want people to engage with their environment and take more note of what they see and realise what the potential is.

What are you working on right now?

I’m continuing to enjoy making work based on my environment. I look back at my early work from the 90s and wonder how I’ve progressed, but at the time I thought it was brilliant. It was, I suppose, but I look forward to the next 30 years and wait with anticipation on how my work will evolve and develop further.

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Newcastle

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Enthusiasm and love for your medium is important. If you hate doing something then change it. Enthusiasm is infectious….

Kevin’s website is here, and he is on twitter here. All hail!

Matthew Carey Simos: “My work sits somewhere between the real and the fantastical…”

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Matthew Carey Simos is one of those artists driven by obsession. Or maybe that should be obsessions. He’s into a lot of stuff – from the historical to the mythical, but it was his ability with capturing individual spirits, free thinkers and even animals that caught my eye.

Oh, and he seems a master of the reductive process to boot, which always gets me going. So, as has become the norm, I approached him for an interview and voila! Here he talks about his process, his successe rate and all those interests that inform his stunning work…

 

When did you start linocutting?

I started in mid-2011 when I first moved to Edinburgh to join my partner Eleni. I was trying to be an illustrator at the time and was in the process of defining my style by experimenting with new techniques. After seeing the awesome linocuts my sister Chloe was doing, I had a go at it and became hooked.

Did you have any formal training?

Not really. My first linocut was in 2001 during a foundation course and even then I only did a second one in 2006 when I was studying illustration. Both were really bad! I really started from scratch when I got going again five years later and have taught myself through research and lots of trial and error.

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Who are your printing influences?

When I first started I was doing a lot of animals with anthropomorphic behaviours and my influences were a mix of traditional illustrators and whatever naturalistic linocutters showed up in the various Google searches.

Over the years, as my themes evolved, I’ve followed the work of H.J.JacksonColin Moore, Oscar Droege and John Platt as well as the many Japanese masters of the 19th century.

Unrelated to printmaking, my biggest influence aesthetically and thematically, is without doubt the great French comic artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius.

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Can we talk about the almost mythical, heroic figures in your works – why are they such a source of fascination?

I was reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy at the time and the idea of non-malicious giant beings who are somehow observed by explorer-humans, became a visual and thematic obsession which still persists. The figures appear to be either part of the surrounding environment or part of a historical and in some cases archaeological context, which is another fixation of mine.

On another note, getting scale and perspective right has always been a problem in my work and therefore the choice of large open environment and contrasting figures provides me with an artistic challenge.

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Your works almost have an ‘aged’ quality to them – historical almost. What lead to this?

I’m obsessed with stories of exploration whether these are real or imaginary and I think there’s a great deal of overlap between historical accounts and exaggerated tales and also a lot of room for narrative building. I believe my work sits somewhere between the real and the fantastical and I like providing some information of the underlying narrative, but at the same time leaving the viewer to piece in the rest.

Reduction printing can be very frustrating – do you have a very high success rate?

I couldn’t agree more! It can be soul crushing. When I finally sorted the various registration issues through the use of the Ternes Burton tabs, I’ve still had to deal with inconsistent ink transfer, bad planning, carelessness and just simple bad days.

My success rate has varied dramatically, but has generally stayed at above 50/50. For example my Winter print, which utilised two plates – one for the warm colours and one for the cool – had an amazing success rate (only two duds out of 25) and I was only using a simple L-shaped registration system.

On the other hand, my latest print, The Aviatrix Dreams, was going well until the last layer (No 10?) and then I must have lost something like eight prints out of an edition of 25.

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Your colours are very measured and studied – are there a lot of trials to get them just so?

Not really. I spend a huge amount of time planning my print on my computer and once I’ve achieved a satisfactory colour balance on screen I am able to then print out a colour swatch which I use to create my ink mixes. The colours of my final print will obviously not resemble those on screen, but at least I’m able to keep the balance just right.

For more information and to buy prints, head to Matthew’s site, and you can follow him on Twitter right here.

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Love that Matthew is in a dressing gown here…

Pressing Matters magazine – exclusive interview with founder John Coe

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As you might have seen, if you’re a printer of any stripe, there’s an actual physical magazine out now, all about the art form. It’s a beautiful beast indeed, with more pictures than words and a very heavyweight paper stock…

But what makes someone start a magazine in an era when sales are supposed to be on the decline? And how can you fill a magazine solely about printing? To get the answers, I spoke with founder John Coe.

(full disclosure – through this here blog I was lucky enough to be involved with the launch issue!) 

 

Are you mental? Magazines died out in like, the 1990s didn’t they?

I like to think of myself as special…. but joking aside, I do have an unhealthy addiction to magazines, primarily grown out of my interest as a graphic designer. Over the years I’ve done a great deal of editorial design work, so it made sense to try my hand at creating my own magazine.

The independent magazine scene is stronger than ever, with more and more niche subjects covered and indie mag shops popping up all the time, and gallery bookshops – and even some newsagents – getting wise to it too. It’s sort of like vinyl in a way, people still want that in an age of digital overload – something they can keep, cherish and pour over for a little longer than a swipe of a finger.

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What was your previous experience in magazines?

My first foray into printed publications was with a zine called Gunfight 29, which was set up by James Lucas (who went on to found Boneshaker Magazine with me). It was about everything – from a gallery review, to interviewing bands when they came into town and so on. Just our interests, but very cut and paste.

We did a few issues together but found that for a black and white zine, we were attracting colour artwork and it was starting to be a portfolio thing for everyone else. We knocked it on the head with the agreement that if we were both excited about something else, we’d do another printed mag project together.

In late 2009, we came up with the idea of Boneshaker – a sideways look at cycling. We were interested in the human stories that came from riding/owning/fixing a bike, the sort of universal truths that we all share, but with bikes as a common theme. I was the designer for the first 12 issues and ran the project with James and Mike, the editor in chief, however when I started my own design business, it was hard to stay as involved, so I continued to do the odd layout and be involved on the periphery. They have a great team of designers and they’re on issue 19 – can you believe it?

Is there a strong magazine printing scene in Bristol?

For sure – the current crop of mags are pretty far reaching, topic wise, from magazines about graft (Elbow Grease) to craft beer brewing (Hop&Barley). Cereal Magazine is a real success story – it’s everywhere now!

There is a loose collective of magazine people called BIP (Bristol Independent Publishers) which is mainly a badge of honour/companionship for us publishers in the area – we group together for events, discuss distribution and magazine ideas. Of course there are others outside of BIP too. 

Why did you choose printmaking as the topic for this mag?  What triggered the idea?

As a graphic designer, running my own studio, I’ve been a fan of printed work of a long time and my bookcases creek with books on the various areas of printmaking. I started a year long course last year at Spike Print Studio in Bristol which covered all of the techniques and I was bitten by the bug.

I like the hands on nature of printmaking, getting inky, etc. It’s a real change from working on a Mac most of the time, so I really cherish the time to be creative away from a screen.

I’ve just signed up to a year long screenprint course too. I decided to do a mag about printmaking as, similarly to Boneshaker, I’d come across a number of interesting people doing great things in print, mainly from my own interest and curiosity and I felt that a magazine about the people, passion and process behind the scenes was a decent enough idea to have a go at.

There’s a strong community of printmakers out there and only one or two publications, each with different approaches to Pressing Matters, so I felt there was room for something new.

How long did it take from genesis to hard copy?

Well, the seed of the idea was sewn a couple of years ago, and I did the usual thing of talking about it for a long time, then I got annoyed with myself at ‘talking, but not doing’, so about six months ago I started work in earnest in collating content, contacting artists, starting on initial layout ideas, etc.

This first issue has taken about six months to get from first work to hard copy, however part of that is working out the look of the magazine, coming up with feature ideas. Issue two should take a little less time as the foundations are there.

 

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What sort of scope does the magazine have – is it for hardcore printers or beginners?

The magazine is curated by me, an over-enthusiastic printmaking student and fan… in that sense, I’m shining a light on the medium as a whole and in doing so, I’m trying to talk to artists that are into fine art printing, as much as those whose day job it is to make prints and sell them.

I hope it can be enjoyed by anyone interested in printmaking – I’ve already had great feedback from home studio printers and students who are using print in their work at university, as well as established letterpress studios. It’s for both the curious and the creative I’d say.

It looks very much like you want it to be appreciated as a sort of standalone artwork?

I was keen from the start to afford people’s artwork the space that it would have if it was in the real world (i.e. in a frame or on a gallery wall).

With Boneshaker, we had a much smaller size and always worked to the limits of the page, so with this magazine being about art, I wanted it to feel almost gallery-like in some way. These kind of niche mags work best when you can dip into them, spend a bit of time enjoying the imagery and revisit them for inspiration over time. I also spent quite a bit of time considering paper stock (geeky, I know) as it was important for me to show people’s work (and the photography) in a true and clear way. 

Can people submit their work with a view to inclusion?

Yes they can. The magazine will continue to be curated by me and a small team of key contributors, however it’s intended to be ‘about printmaker and for printmakers’, so I’m keen to hear people’s ideas and stories.

That said, even with a page count of 92 pages, space will be tight each issue, so ideas may not appear straight away in the magazine. However in my experience, the topics and ideas are often timeless, so I’m happy to hear about projects at any time.

What can we expect in issue two?

That will be coming out around October, I’ll be publishing two issues this year and will gauge the response – going quarterly is a big jump in time committed to the project, so I think bi-annually at the moment makes sense. That said, there’s already some talk of special edition publications looking more deeply (and geekily) into specific techniques.

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Where can we snap it up?

The magazine is available from our website and it’s starting to be picked up by a few stockists. We’re offering single copies for £10 plus P&P and wholesale/bulk orders of 5, 10 and 20 copies for £7 a copy (free postage, UK only) – which we hope is ideal for print studios and retailers alike.

We’re also having a launch party for issue one, at The Forge, here in Bristol on Thursday 25th May – everyone’s welcome! (see below)

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John himself….

Mark James Murphy: “Printing helped put me back on the straight and narrow…”

 

back streets of rome

Back Streets of Rome

I’ve often said printing offers me a headspace to walk into that makes me feel at peace. After getting my arse in gear enough to bring out the tools, inks and paper, once I’m in the chair, it’s like all the annoying things in the world slip away.

Not to sound too much like a hippy, but a lot of printers and artists say the same thing. If you can gee yourself up enough to do it, you come out the other end feeling enlivened.

Mark James Murphy is a printer, across many forms, who would definitely seem to agree. Based in the North East, he fuses modern cultural references with more classical forms – whether consciously or not – in his work. I caught up with him to ask about his process, personal experiences with printing, and the perils of selling….

 

What are you earliest memories of printing? 

I’d gone off the rails in my early twenties and was drinking heavily. Then I got told about a local place in town called The Art Studio, where art was used as therapy. I’d always enjoyed painting and drawing since I could first hold a pencil, so this place seemed right up my street.

It was here I met Scottish artist-in-residence, Derek Hill, a painter and master printmaker – and he first introduced me to different intaglio printing methods. I loved the whole discipline it took to reach a good print and getting to use the nice Somerset and Fabriano papers. My newfound passion for printing helped put me back on the straight and narrow.

Are you trained, or self-taught?

I didn’t attempt lino until a few years later when I began studying for my degree in Fine Art. I was self-taught basically. One day, upon asking, I was given a small scrap piece of lino and a few tools and was left to it. I recall carving a simple image of Sunderland’s Empire Theatre. The work wasn’t fantastic from a technical point of view, but I remember this strong desire to be able to produce work like I’d seen in books and that was what drove me on.

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Hoo-Hah

Which other printers inspire you?

There are lots of great printmakers out there. Printers who have a great work ethic and are continuously creating inspire me. While I appreciate it, I’m not bowled over by great technique, but more the substance or insight a piece offers, I think this is what sets a true artist apart from the crowd.

What’s your printing set-up?

I produce my work from home. I’ve turned a small storage room into an inking station and use the floor of my bedroom for the printing. Here I have an old cast iron press that was gifted to me by a friend and I use this for smaller work. It’s seen better days, but still functions, just about!

For larger work I set up a large, wooden registration board with small strips of lino, stuck down with duct tape as markers. The inked linoleum lies within this and after placing paper over and a dust sheet I then use a garden roller to burnish. Finishing off areas with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. So yeah, very punk rock!

You bring quite a modern feel to linocutting which I love – things like street art, TV shows – what was the thinking behind this?

I believe linocutting is often thought of as a traditional medium and perhaps a little old-hat, nice for creating pretty little pictures and as hobbyist or crafter territory. I want to show that it can be very much used as a contemporary means of expression.

i've got no strings

I’ve Got No Strings

The North East also seems a key influence…

It’s true a lot of my work is inspired by where I’m from, especially earlier on. I did a series of works exploring cultural and social identity in my home region a few years back and I often return to the North East in my art, to simply celebrate where I’m from.

You seem to favour black and white work, why is this?

I love the graphic and bold quality of a black and white print and believe nothing beats it personally.

Your monoprints are wonderfully abstract, what inspires those?

Thank you, I made these while at university – it was an experiment with colour and that technique of printing. Having made a prolific number of oil and watercolours too, I love colour and monoprinting is so close to painting.

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Champagne On A Saturday 1

What’s your experience of selling work online been like?

I find it quite steady moving, but it’s something that you must keep at. It’s important to maintain an online presence, through social media, and though it’s not always regular, it can pay off.

What advice would you give anyone just starting out in printing?

I’d say if it’s something you find you truly love then stick at it and while the art world is a tough nut to crack, don’t be discouraged. Find your own vision and produce work out of the passion that carries it, not because you want to sell lots and be rich and famous! Of course, that would be nice…

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To purchase any of Mark’s work visit his store here (there’s a 20% off sale on selected prints and paintings from 7th May, lasting throughout the month). There’s also a short film about Mark’s work on youtube here.

And he’s on twitter of course, as @mark_mjm.

Edward Bawden. The absolute man.

Time and time again when I interview printers about their influences, they tell me Edward Bawden (1903-89) is a key name.

I’ve been busy putting a printing magazine together lately, so sorry for the absence of Q&As, but let’s just stop and marvel at some of his linocuts for a bit eh? Take a moment. Here’s one of some lovely magpies and a peacock…

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Wow right? And here’s one of Brighton pier…

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And bloomin’ Smithfield Market…

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Gotta love those meathooks.

He’s an absolute master of the linocut art, with a unique cut-out form to many of his colours, a smashing washed out look, and a geometric mastery. Of course, he also excelled at numerous other mediums.

He looked pretty badass too…

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and he even has a mosaic type thing at Victoria Tube station (among others)…

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You can read more about him at the Tate’s page here. Frankly, I’m not surprised so many artists cite him as an influence.

Now, back to magazine stuff. Toodle pip.

Paul Catherall: “The National Theatre is magenta, the Tate Modern is pink…”

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Chances are, if you live in London you’ll have seen one of Paul Catherall’s prints. Certainly indebted to classic transport posters from artists like Tom Purvis and Tom Eckersley, they pull the city – or renderings of it at least – into the modern age, kicking and screaming with their bold but retro colour schemes and stark, occasionally brutalist forms.

They’re bloody magic.

But what gets me about them is they’re never in awe of their subjects. The buildings Paul depicts in his prints are clearly iconic, but they exist in frames and settings that make them interesting – fascinating even – once more. They feel refreshed and fizzy again, not picture postcard cliché perfect.

And that’s before you get to the perfection of the techniques behind them. There’s a precision and glorious flatness to the end results that puts them almost in another dimension, hyper real yet reassuringly old school. This comes from Paul’s choice of colour, his compositional skill – all those tools which only touches of real genius can make appear easy.

He’s right about ready to show a collection at the For Art’s Sake gallery in Ealing (details towards the end), so it seemed a good time to approach him for a quick chat.

Paul’s also got loads of other things going on – enough to make an amateur printer explode with envy. So here you go, please try not to burst while reading…

 

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When did you first attempt printing?

My first go at a linocut was during my illustration degree at Leicester Poly in the late 80s. I was quite pleased with the result, but technically it was a bit of a mess… it was a pub scene with lots of people and I didn’t have a lot of patience in those days – that’s something I’ve since learned!

You mention that mid 20th Century posters influence you – what kind of thing?

I love the posters that Tom Purvis designed for various rail companies and for Austin Reed, and Tom Eckersley produced brilliant designs for Transport for London and the Post Office. I’m the very proud owner of one, which my wife bought me for my birthday a few years ago and which now hangs in my children’s room.

Frank Newbould and Edward McKnight Kauffer are other big favourites. I particularly love Newbould’s poster of Scarborough Castle, commissioned by LNER. It’s the graphic nature of the composition and the bold yet muted palette – it’s got the perfect balance between light and dark.

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What other art influences your prints?

The American illustrator Michael Schwab, who created a wonderful set of posters for the Golden Gate National Parks. I first came across his work when I was visiting San Francisco in 1998, and it basically motivated me to go off and try my own set of linocuts of London. Until then I’d been working in acrylic paint for my illustration work.

I’m also influenced by Edward Wadsworth’s woodblock prints, particularly his semi-abstract views of Yorkshire towns. My early influences at college included Paul Cezanne – his paintings seem constructed rather than painterly and that methodical approach appealed to me. Also William Nicholson, and I love Paul Nash’s landscapes and paintings from the World Wars.

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Your prints appear simple at first, but there’s a lot going on – is there a struggle to keep them from getting busy?

Yes! Getting the balance right is always the hardest part of creating the prints. I definitely believe in ‘less is more’ – but sometimes the prints need a few extras to either ping the colours or to add a tonal layer.

The prints that are four colours or less with simple compositions are always the most time-consuming initially – one thing wrong and the whole balance is gone. I had a period for a few years where the prints were becoming more complex, but part of that was to keep evolving and to not rely on a formula.

Your colour palette is very ‘retro’, for want of a better word – presumably this takes a lot of trial and error?

I used to refer to it as a 50s/60s palette so that term’s fine! I love the colour saturation you get in films from that era, and the colours in 1960s mod suits and shirts. The colours nearly always just come to me when sketching the composition – some will always be associated with certain buildings in my head. So the National Theatre with magenta, Tate Modern with pink and so on. I don’t really know why.

So while there’s a certain degree of trial and error at the initial stage, they are mentally mapped out already. Nowadays I usually produce little gouache visuals before I get printed, just to test the colours. In the early days I’d have them in my head and set about printing a whole edition of 40 over several weeks without knowing the finished result until the final colour was added. It made the last few days a bit stressful!

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What’s your printing set up like?

I print at Artichoke Print Workshop in Brixton and have since 2001, so I share the space with whoever’s there on the day. It makes for a nice social college-like set-up, but you can get your head down and work when you need to. The press is a KB lightweight etching press that works well for lino but is unfortunately not made anymore. I do all the pondering, sketching and carving at home – that’s really where the hard work’s done.

What kind of edition sizes do you run to?

Quite a variation, from five up to 125. It depends on deadlines, how much time I’ve got and if I think I can sell ‘em!

You’ve worked for some big name clients – how did this come about?

The longest lasting relationship has been with TFL. The wonderful Michael Walton, TFL’s art guru (head of trading and art co-ordinator) came to an early exhibition I held in Clapham around 2001, was really enthusiastic about the prints and commissioned the first one, which was of the then relatively new Tate Modern.

I currently have a set of four posters that combine to make one view up at various Tube stations, which was my latest commission for the TFL #londonisopen campaign.

Other commissions came about from my illustration background, so I have an agent who promotes to advertising agencies and design companies. A few have come about from exhibiting solo at the Oxo Gallery in London – the Southbank Centre noticed my work there and over the years commissioned editions of the Royal Festival Hall and Hayward Gallery. Basically just getting my stuff out there.

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Do you think you’d reflect any city you lived in, or can you never see yourself outside of London?

I’m sure wherever you live influences your work, but I certainly headed straight for London as soon as I graduated. Places where I felt at home were the South Bank and the Brunswick Centre – quite deserted in the late 80s/early 90s. I always thought Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre looked quite homely rather than hideous – which most people thought! I came to realise over the years that theses places reminded me of my childhood growing up in Coventry.

I honestly can’t imagine living anywhere else. My wife’s from London so it’s home to her, and my two kids like being here. I think it’s knowing there’s the opportunity to do so much on your doorstep even if you don’t use it. I occasionally daydream about having a studio in the countryside and going for long walks, but really it’s just a daydream – London is home. I’ve branched outside London occasionally in terms of prints – with New York, Paris and Brighton – and I’d like to find the time to do some English landscapes. One day!

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How do you approach organising your exhibitions – any tips?

It’s stressful but it’s basically about lots of forward planning. It’s quite boring, but a monthly planner helps – a tick list that you can work through. I think the first solo show makes you feel quite ‘naked’ – you’re basically saying, “look what I can do!” and hoping people will like it…

  • Obviously, work with whatever you have and don’t think ‘what if I’d done this or that?’
  • Don’t fret about stuff you haven’t got time to do.
  • Remember that if you think it looks right then hopefully most other people will too.
  • Basically, whatever time you have to prepare you will fill – with so many different promotion avenues nowadays you can almost never stop.

I wish I could take my own advice though!

 

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished a couple of prints of the Art Deco Hoover Building done specifically for an exhibition in Ealing, and I’m working on a set of Brutalist prints – my favourite subject matter –  to showcase at an exhibition at Eames Fine Art in Bermondsey in November.
What’s coming up next?

My solo show at For Arts Sake from April 28th – 21st May. I’m also showing at the London Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy 4th – 7th May with Eames Fine Art and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. There’s Eames Fine Art in November and I’m planning a big solo show again at the Oxo in April or May next year.

paul yes

To learn a little more and see more prints visit Paul’s site here, and like everyone he’s on Twitter here. Go go go….

Jackie Curtis: “I’m drawn to warm, earthy colours”

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When it comes to creating, nature is hard to get right. There are so many curves and fluid lines, one false move and you can get the whole thing wrong.

Add linocutting into that mix – a medium that stems from the blade – and you can see why many people (myself included) rarely venture further than the architectural or graphic within their prints.

But Jackie Curtis’ work is almost entirely based on the natural world, and her depictions of animals and wildlife are some of the most impressive I’ve seen. From her Somerset studio she was kind enough to answer the usual barrage of questions…

 

When did you start linocutting?

Nearly 20 years ago when my Dad sent me his linocutting tools – and a plaster!

Who influences you?

No one specifically, but I admire printmakers who can take very ordinary scenes – such as Gail Brodholt’s M25 linocut – and create fascinating images. It makes me want to push the boundaries of my work.

Snake

What sort of images do you try to capture?

The landscape and wildlife around me is what inspires me, and in particular birds. I’m attracted to patterns such as the shapes in a bird’s plumage, the coils of ammonite fossils, things like that.

You colour palette is very stylish…

It’s really governed by the image – many of my linocuts are monochrome blue and black but I’m drawn to warm, earthy colours.

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What sort of printing set up do you have?

I have a smaller (30cm wide) Gerstaecker KD31 press and a larger ABIG press, which will take up to 50cm wide prints. It’s been modified to take thicker woodblocks. I use longer pieces of wood as base plates for longer prints.

Do you like to mix up the medium of printing with others, such as painting, hand finishing, etc?

No, I tend not to. I use several different printmaking methods – monoprints, collagraphs, linocuts and woodblocks – and tend to select the technique for the image I’m trying to create rather than mix mediums.

Have you had good results from selling your work? 

Yes, luckily I have – it gives you a fantastic buzz to sell a piece.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished a large intricate woodblock so I’m letting my back and hand rest. There’s an image in my head which may be a reduction print of a fox on a woodpile, with rich earth colours, that may be my next linocut

gulls

Any tips for budding linocutters?

I always try to carry a sketchbook and camera, as you never know – sometimes a scene just says ‘linocut’ and you need to be able to record the details then and there…

For more information on Jackie’s prints, or to buy and browse, visit her site here.

And she’s also on twitter – here

 

Dave Lefner: “I couldn’t just stand in front of an easel all day, doing the same thing.”

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Heaven On Earth

Dave Lefner’s one of those wizards that’s so well known – but more importantly so good at their art – that his pieces come up on the first page of results in a Google image search for ‘linocut’.

That really means nothing of course, but what does carry weight is how amazingly well he’s mastered the art of reduction linocuts on a grand scale. His pieces have become so in demand over his 25+ year career that they can command anything up to $4,000 for one edition, and he’s also lucky enough to be able to call linocutting a full-time job.

As if all this wasn’t annoying enough, his work focuses on an element of the world I happen to love – the neon sign. Based in LA, Lefner is at the very heart of the vintage neon scene, it would seem, and he’s also become something of an archivist of these old signs too, rendering them from photos he takes while out scouting for the right shapes, the right shadows.

I’ve written about him before, and always dreamt of owning a Lefner. I’ve also always been in awe of his attention to detail on the many precisely cut enormous retro multi-layered near-photo-real perfectly colour-matched iconic reduction linocuts he makes.
And sells. Actually I’ve rarely felt so inadequate.

So, imagine my delight when he agreed to take time out to be interviewed and was a 120% nice guy to boot. Enough of my warbling – make way for the master…

Look Magazein 62

Come On Vogue

Hey Dave – when did you start linocutting?
I did my first woodcut in a beginners’ printmaking class in my second or third year of college, so 1991. We then moved on to linoleum. Coming from a graphic design background, I fell in love with the clean lines, flat shapes and high contrast of block printing. Soon after I discovered a book about Picasso’s series of reduction linocuts from the 1950s and my fate was sealed. I pored over every page and dedicated myself to learning the technique.

Whose style influences you?
Despite Picasso’s influence, my main influence for subject matter was Stuart Davis, a New York painter from the 1920s. He started abstracting on the urban landscape of NY, including bits of signage and lettering.

My early work shows this direct influence…

newsstand

Newsstand

When I started taking pictures of the Los Angeles urban landscape for photo reference, I began to notice all the cool neon signs and how I liked them ‘as is’ – ie not abstracted. From then on, I challenged myself to go for realism, though not photo-realism… I wanted to fool people from a distance, but I always wanted them to get up close and see that it was a result of flat colours on top of flat colours, to create the illusion. I always want the process to be as much a part of my art as the subject matter.

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La-La Land

Your prints hark back to a golden era or a faded era – is there something quite sad in the art of the neon sign…
Well, for me it’s nostalgic, which is a bit different to sad. I’ve never been to Europe, so I don’t really know what neon looks like there, but in the US – especially LA and New York – and other major cities (even tiny towns in middle America) a lot of historic neon is protected and is absolutely spectacular! Night or day.

Ironically, even though I’ve done linocuts of many of these signs – especially in the Los Angeles Broadway Theatre district – most of the time I like signs that show their age, and usually they’re small businesses like liquor stores.

But you’re right, my work is heavily influenced by a Golden Age. In America, the 1950s represented a very hopeful, prosperous time. Mid-century architecture, amazing graphic design, furniture, cars designed like rocket ships – I would’ve loved to be 18 in 1955!

Of course, not everything was perfect, but visually they knew what they were doing. And it’s waaaay better than the homogenised crap that’s turned out today. I’m glad those vintage things are being appreciated again. And if my work can help bring that back, so much the better.

Shadows are key too, aren’t they?
Absolutely shadows are key! In fact, I could drive by a sign at a certain time of day, and it doesn’t do anything for me, but then I could drive by again, usually around dusk, and the shadows cast off the neon tubing create what looks like a different language, and I have to turn my car around and snap a picture. When I start thinking about a new piece, the white of the paper (the first stage of carving the block) is the first thing I consider in the composition, followed by what the shadows are doing. Usually the shadows are the very last thing printed, five or six colours into the piece.

night and day i tihnk of you

Night & Day (I Think Of you)

Would it be fair to call you a kind of historian?
Definitely… I realised a long time ago that I’m documenting this city, state and country. So many images that I’ve captured no longer exist. I don’t want to see it all forgotten…

I love what you said once about linocutting being a craft. But do you think printing really actually exists alongside the fine arts?
Haha! Traditional printmaking (not reproductions or digital prints) should have just as much weight as paintings or sculptures in the world of fine art. Now, what fine art is is a whole other discussion. For me personally, the reason I got into reduction linocut was because I was very frustrated by the world of art in the 1990s, and I suppose, up to the present.

In my youth I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I went to any and every art opening, from galleries to museums, taking in what I saw, trying to figure out what my unique contribution would be. Aside from the pioneers of every major movement, I saw a lot of garbage out there. I didn’t understand why skill, talent, and originality no longer mattered any more.

Again, when I discovered Picasso’s reduction linocuts, I knew that this was what I was searching for – a labour-intensive, difficult, lost artform that was going to require my dedication, work ethic, natural artistic ability, and creativity. A process that rivals most paintings or sculptures!

But reduction prints are so tricky, with the registration, number of colours, all that – how long did it take you to master it?
I’ve been doing reduction linocuts for 25 years now and I still wouldn’t say I’ve completely mastered the process, but it took about 15 years to feel like I have the key basics down to do almost any project. Having your own press makes a tremendous difference.

What a Splash

What A Splash!

Did you/do you ever do non-reduction linocuts, or are they your sole obsession?
In college I studied all kinds of things – drawing, painting, sculpture, other forms of printmaking. But reduction linocut has pretty much been my sole obsession my whole career. Well, except for cutting up my own prints and doing collages. I’d like to do more of that in the future…

Are there still things you want to try out with the artform?
Larger scale – it’s all about scale! I’m limited by the size of my press – it’s 30”x50”. I’m trying to remedy this by doing diptychs and triptychs, which I like, but to have unlimited access to a massive press would be my dream…

The Continental

The Continental

What are you working on at the moment?
A diptych of an old thrashed liquor store sign that says, ‘COLDEST BEER IN TOWN’ (I love the low-brow element), a more hip theatre/music venue, the El Rey Theatre, and a star-shaped sign that says Star-lite.

I’m also starting the drawing of massive triptych of the front end of a 1959 red Cadillac. I usually work on three to five pieces at the same time, and this way I can carve all the stages on one day, print everything in the next couple days, then while the oil-based ink is drying for a couple days, I carve the next stages.

Then, as each piece progresses, I can do drawings and tracings for new pieces. I love that the process has so many different aspects, nothing gets old or routine. I couldn’t just stand in front of an easel all day, doing the same thing.

Liquid Joy

Liquid Joy

So what else is new?
I’ve been on Instagram for about a year now, and I’m really enjoying seeing/connecting with all the talented printmakers out there in the world, especially in the UK!

Seriously, most of my faves are Brits. There seems to be a lot of printmaking collectives out there, too, which make it cool to connect with like-minded artists. I’m there as ‘lefner_editions’ and I also have the www.davelefner.com site where I’ll be listing some big events for the Fall.

Finally, are you a genius, or a complete obsessive?
Can’t I be both? I don’t think that’s for me say… though obviously I have to be a bit obsessive. Really, I’m just an artist who found out what he loves to do, trying to enjoy and master the process as best he’s able, and I feel beyond fortunate to make a living at it… that’s all anyone can ask for, right?

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Time to go

dep

 

I can’t track everyone down. I’ve been interviewing linocutters for a few years now and they’ve all been absolutely lovely and kind to deal with my enquiries amid a hectic life of printing.

But sadly not everyone has the time, preferring instead to work on printing projects than pesky email questionnaires. But I thought, well, just because you don’t get into these printers’ heads, you can still celebrate their work.

The mysterious US printer Rich, who I met on twitter (he’s @BoardingAllRows if you want to connect) was someone I wanted to ask about a specific print – the one above – which seems to me to offer the kind of modernist, font heavy, “is it a print or isn’t it?” type of work I just love and would also love to be able to emulate.

It’s a departures board, which Rich says online was inspired by his ‘favourite’ airport, San Francisco (he likes his travel, does Rich). Look at those lines! Absolute perfection. If I could get even one word to look that tidy, let alone a whole departures board, I could give up printing happy.

Anyway, Rich was sadly unavailable to talk about this particular piece but I wanted to share it with you anyway. It’s a big bugger, measuring 16×20”, and is from an open run.

You can buy it HERE.

Almost makes you want to board a plane, doesn’t it?

Jonathan Blackmore: “I hope to capture the spirit of a place.”

 

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Wells Cathedral Arch reduction

Sometimes you do a little double take when you see someone’s art. That was definitely the case for me when I first saw Jonathan Blackmore’s reduction linocuts. Look at them, they’re like bloomin’ photographs.

But yep, I’ve checked and they’re actually intricate, multiple colour prints. I know, right?

I had to get a better understanding of all this sorcery. Not since the prints of Dave Lefner had I seen anything so convincing, so balanced.

But more than that, the prints had soul too. Maybe it came from the buildings Jonathan’s chosen to depict – great stone churches and cathedral interiors, looming high above the viewer. I don’t know. The guy even leads workshops for print beginners, and is a member of the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen to boot. I needed to get to the bottom of things…

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Wells Cathedral Chapterhouse reduction 2

Hello Jonathan. When did you first start linocutting?

I managed to miss doing linocut at school. Everyone I meet seems to remember having made a print, but I took it up much later and I’ve been a printmaker full-time for two and a half years.
I studied for a degree in Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1979 to 1982. I did some printmaking there, but spent most of my time painting landscapes in acrylic and making sculptures and pictures from photographs cut into shapes and sewn together.
After graduating I had a long – much too long – career in computers that stopped me from doing enough art, until I was made redundant at the age of 55. I then decided to take up art and printmaking again full time.

Who are your printing influences?

There are some very talented artists around and I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook to see their work progressing. But I grew up in Hong Kong and I’m very attracted to traditional oriental art, particularly Japanese prints and Chinese landscapes, but I don’t know if that shows in my work.

Can we talk about the architecture in your works – why is it such a source of fascination?

We’ve lived in Wells, Somerset, in the West of England, since 2000 and there’s some wonderful medieval architecture just a few minutes from home. It’s hard not to be influenced by that. It was designed to inspire and to impress. I find the geometric patterns and repetition built in to the architecture really fascinating and trying to represent three dimensional buildings in a medium that reduces everything to flat colour is a challenge. I’m really not into modern architecture, but I do have a fondness for medieval arches, doors and windows and the complex spaces within the buildings.

There’s a slightly religious feel to the work – is this of any importance to you, or is it just a result of the buildings themselves?

I have an appreciation for spirituality and the beauty of buildings that were inspired by people’s spirituality. One of my favourite places in the Cathedral is the retrochoir, a forest of columns supporting fan-vaulted ceilings. This year I plan to do more work outside, so perhaps the feel of my website will change, but I’d still hope to capture the spirit of a place.

Reduction printing can be very frustrating…

Reduction prints are frustrating, tricky and difficult, there’s so much that can go wrong that you just have to do them anyway. I think my success rate is improving from a technical point of view. However, I’m also becoming more critical of my work, so I’m less likely to think of things as a success.

I aim for an edition of 18 to 20 and generally end up with around 12 to 15 prints that I am happy with, unless the whole thing is a write off.  I print by hand, burnishing with a spoon. I use water-based inks and I’m not aiming for solid colours, so every print in an edition is unique.
I’ve done some reduction prints where a middle colour turned out to be unsatisfactory when I have already moved on and cut and printed the next. There’s not a lot you can do about that.

Do you do linocuts that aren’t reductions at all?

I recently started doing prints with multiple blocks. Of course, the great advantage is that you can try different colour combinations or just redo a block if it doesn’t work out. I also do monochrome prints.

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Chatperhouse

Your colours are very measured…

I spend a lot of time mixing colours and trying to get them just right. I think when you’re limited to five or six colours in a print, it requires more consideration.

How did you get involved with hosting courses?

I started hosting beginners’ workshops last year after I joined the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen. We are running a programme of different craft workshops this year so people can try out linocut, papermaking, stone carving and other crafts.

What kind of people come to your courses – is there an increasing interest, do you think?

The workshops I’ve done so far are specifically for beginners. I think it’s important everyone should be at the same level – it doesn’t really work to have experienced people mixed with beginners.

I aim to give people the confidence to get started and enough information to carry on making their own prints at home. I’ve had some lovely feedback from people who came on my workshops and it’s really nice when they carry on exploring printmaking afterwards.
There seems to be a lot of interest in linocut at the moment, which is nice. I plan to do a few more workshops this year and I’m running a two-colour print workshop in April that will explore different ways to tackle the problem of registration.

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Bishop’s Palace multiblock

What does being a member of the guild of craftsmen actually entail?

There’s no secret handshake – I was disappointed.

The Somerset Guild of Craftsmen has been running since 1933 and has around 60 active members working in different art or craft disciplines. Despite the old-fashioned name, there are many female members.

To join you should be an actively practising craftsman or craftswoman, with a focus on one particular craft. You submit your best work to the selection panel (who are Guild members) and if it’s of a consistently high standard then you’re invited to join.

In addition to displaying members’ work for sale, the Guild organises a programme of exhibitions and workshops run by Guild members. The Guild has a permanent gallery in Wells (at 23a Broad Street, behind Pickwick’s Cafe.) We also have a website.

 

You can find Jonathan on the web in the following places.

His work is for sale on his website, he’s on Twitter @inkwellsprints and Facebook – /JonathanBlackmorePrints and he runs a very tidy blog right here