Based in Melbourne with a young family, something about Gillian Nix’s printing life really struck a chord with me. Having just had a wee bairn, the relocated Scot was, I noted from nifty videos she’s posted online recently – using every spare spot of space in her home to get her prints out – and every available period of time too.
Although I can only imagine how manic life with two small kids and a printing press is, what really amazed me was how Gillian has somehow managed to retain an artistic identity throughout the mania. You pretty much know a Nix print when you see one, a mixture of swirling patterns, kooky femininity but also an old world charm that many printers aim for but few achieve so neatly.
Have a look – see what you reckon – and of course, have a read of Gillian’s responses to my questions below…
Hello there. When did you become a linocutter?
The first time I tried was during a teacher training placement about 10 years ago at a secondary school in Glasgow. I met a very inspirational teacher who was using the soft rubbery lino with her secondary students aged about 14. They were making beautiful prints of lilies and I was so impressed that I decided to have go myself.
My first print was awful – I think it was of a tree – but I fell in love with the carving and the unique marks you get from linocutting. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with different imagery and mark making, and also working with a variety of lino, inks, paper and equipment. Lino printmaking appeals to me because I can combine drawing and mark making.
When I relocated to Australia I discovered the fantastic Silk Cut lino which enabled me to carve small details much easier. I was able to carve small details into a harder surface – which I had been struggling with using the rubbery lino. I also attended a beginners’ linocutting evening class at the Silk Cut workshop and I learned so much and my interest in the medium ramped up. Attending the first Silk Cut Award exhibition really made an impression on me and I was able to see a broad use of lino and the seemingly infinite possibilities.
I’m an art teacher by profession and I also have a young family (a 3 year old and a 4 week old baby!). I realised when my daughter was very young that I needed to be making art and stay creative for my mental health and sanity. I find the process of linocutting really works well with having small pockets of time. It doesn’t take much time or space to set up, and I can do short spells of drawing, carving or printing when I can. I find the process really therapeutic and relaxing – much like meditating. I love listening to podcasts and music when I’m making my work – it’s my happy place!
I definitely didn’t set out to be a printmaker as such, I have sort of fallen into this area of work over the last 10 years.
What are the key influences on your prints?
I’m really interested and inspired by patterns – folk patterns, traditional patterns, embroidery, wallpaper, clothing… My experience of becoming a mother has influenced me a great deal over the last few years and I made a series of female figures which I call my ‘wobbly ladies’. They’re rounded at the bottom like the children’s balance toys and are metaphors for women trying to balance everything. I also enjoy storytelling – books, films, music, family stories and everyday experiences. I love rummaging through second-hand shops and markets for interesting objects which sometimes find their way into my artwork. I use a lot of floral and plant based imagery in my work and will often draw from cuttings of plants that I find.
My work as an art teacher often plays a role in the imagery that I use too. The Vegemite prints that I made came about after I was doing lino printmaking project with my Grade 6 class. We were looking at Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes and soup cans and took iconic Australian food as inspiration for a class project. I made a vegemite lino print as an example and liked it. Being an art teacher is a constant source of inspiration – I love working with students, researching artists, visiting galleries and working with other art teachers – there is constant inspiration!
I can also sense the look of toys, playing cards, tattoos, that kind of thing – would that be fair?
Yes all of those things I find interesting! Lately I’ve realised my need for pattern in my work, and I think that might be the connecting link between all of my prints. I love stories – both fictional and non fictional, and I love when objects have stories or a history to them.
For example, I have this beautiful Aran knitted cardigan that I bought from a vintage shop in Edinburgh. I decided to make a self portrait of myself wearing this cardigan, and once I started researching the history of Aran knitting I realised there’s a whole language of knitting patterns. I find patterns and stories fascinating, and if the two can be connected in some way then that’s golden to me!
You also seem to have a distinct style which to be honest I’ve never been able to achieve – how did you manage it?
Thank you! I haven’t been trying to create a style in my work, rather just create imagery that I like. I think everyone has a style but it’s often only others that can see it!
What’s your printing set up like?
I work from home in Melbourne. Until very recently I had a dedicated room set up as a studio, but the arrival of our second baby has meant my beloved studio has been converted into a baby’s room. My studio is now chopped up and displaced. My printing press is set up in the living room behind our sofa, and my work desk is located in a little pocket of space in between a bathroom, laundry and outside area… it’s a challenge but I’m making it work!
I have a lovely printing press, which I call Maude, and she prints A2 size paper comfortably. Since buying my press I’ve been able to dedicate lots more time and energy into my prints, and I’m so glad that I made the purchase. It was scary spending that much money, but so worth it! I have a makeshift drying rack in a cupboard and use coat hangers to peg up wet prints.
Were you trained in the arts?
Yes, I studied a tapestry/fine art at Edinburgh College of Art. I tried printmaking when I was at art school but it just didn’t appeal to me at the time and I wasn’t interested. I remember doing a week long woodcut project in my first year and completely hated it – I just couldn’t get my head around working in reverse and reduction printing. It was only when I was training to become a teacher that my interest was sparked.
How has selling your work been going?
For a long time I was just making prints for the love of it and giving them away to friends and family as gifts. After my daughter was born I decided to start selling my lino prints online, as I wanted to have more sense of purpose for the artworks I was making, and also to create a potential source of income after I decided to teach part time.
I mostly sell my work through my Etsy store and I have had a few exhibitions over the last year where I’ve sold work. I find Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to be invaluable platforms to connect with potential customers and other creative people. I didn’t know how to use Instagram until I started my Etsy store and I had to ask friends to help me!
I’ve made sales all over the world, and it’s really exciting when I package up an artwork that’s going to travel a long distance!
What are you working on next?
I have an exhibition at a café in Melbourne (Pg.2 in Richmond) coming up next month which I would like to make one or two new prints for, but this might be wishful thinking as I had a baby last month!
My husband and I have been working with Byron Bay Peanut Butter over the last year on a series of packaging labels. I’ve been making lino prints for their labels and my husband, who’s a designer, has been creating the layout. We’re currently finishing off a new batch of packaging designs for some of their new products. It is really exciting to see my lino prints used on food packaging!
I’m really keen to explore more work with patterns and female portraiture. I’m not sure how these will look, but it’s an idea that keeps coming back to me so I feel I have to explore it somehow. I’ve also been thinking about making a native Australian floral wreath for a while, so that might have to be my next project…
Gillian is all over the internet – and can send prints worldwide. So get your cursor to the following spots asap…