There’s a guy up in York called Dan Howden who’s been taking linocutting – and specifically reduction linocutting – to more detailed and involved places than I could’ve ever imagined possible. And the dude is still so young.
I basically hate him.
No, I’m a lover not a fighter, but I wanted to try to figure out what motivates him. How does he get so much detail into his shots, what inspires him, what are his methods?
So, after not one but two profiles on the ultra-popular It’s Nice That website, I thought I’d see if he was up for an interview.
And lo, it came to pass. So thanks to Dan for his time and for battling the adversities of the dentist, a broken computer and a broken bike to get these responses back to me.
PP: Why did you get into linocutting, and what appeals to you about it?
DH: It was suggested to me on my foundation course in 2011, but initially I was stubborn and had no interest in perusing it. Back then I was really into painting inaccurate acrylic portraits of various footballers and Chris Martin. Eventually I saw the light, but by this time everybody had moved on, so I taught myself how to etch, and because of this, my approach to printmaking is fairly unorthodox.
I really appreciate the tangible quality of lino, and its tradition, too. It’s an old fashioned way of working and like many people I guess I find it therapeutic. There’s something satisfying about nailing a registration also.
Were there any other artists’ work you saw who inspired you then/now?
I’m ashamed to say it, but back in 2011 I was one of those Kanye-people who’d say ‘I inspire myself’. I’m not proud of that. I really appreciate(d) the work of Johnny Hannah, but when it came to my own, nothing external really seeped in.
These days I’m a lot more open and with platforms such as Instagram, it’s difficult not be inspired by others. I find I’m more motivated by colour palletes than work itself, specifically. Artists and animators such as Jake Longstreth and Assaf Benharroch are a constant source of inspiration, and in the world of lino, I look up to Christopher Brown.
Is there a printing ‘scene’ in York at all?
There is – much to my surprise! I’ve spent the past year back home in York taking a glorified ‘gap year’ and whilst doing so, took part in York Open Studios. It takes place annually in April and spans over a fortnight where exhibitors open up their houses/studios and the public can come and go. Art in York is really on the rise, and with the likes of Mark Hearld, Emma Sutton and Gerard Hobson all residing here, York’s doing alright.
What facilities do you use now your degree is over – are you printing at home or hiring space?
I print from home. My bedroom, to be exact. I was fairly fortunate in that I won a bursary at my end of year degree show that enabled me to buy a small print press. It’s heavy as hell; the heaviest thing I’ve ever tried to lift, so it’s kept in a room down the hall. I use that for anything with a limited colour palette. But most of my work contains over 50 layers and therefore I use a fairly unorthodox technique I mentioned before, which is really basic and only requires a desk and a washbasin nearby, which my room has. My biggest problem is the lack of space for prints to dry, and because of this, I rarely make over six of anything.
What sort of inks and paper do you use?
I use the most basic inks available. I’m a big believer that the idea/composition is far more important than the equipment at your disposal. I refer to them as secondary school standard inks as they’re really cheap, water soluble and they use them in secondary schools. But I love how vivid they are, with none of the mess, or the subsequent turps fumes required in order to wash them away.
Paper’s the only exception. I never used to care, but then I never used to sell. Now that I do from time to time, good paper’s high on my agenda. I use Somerset satin. It absorbs the ink really well, is reasonably priced and is the right level of thickness for my operation.
Are you printing most of the time, or do you have to fit it in around other less exciting things?
The goal is to one day do this 100% of the time, but I work part time throughout the week. The hours are as such that I get up at 6am, work till 1pm, go to ‘work’ at 2pm and then print a little more when I get back. Thank god for daylight bulbs! But before this year, I had no experience of balancing the two, so It’s been eye-opening.
I think the Halloween-headed people are my favourite characters in your works. What inspired them?
It’s my favourite holiday. I romanticise Halloween to a scary degree. There’s just something beautiful about one night a year, people dressing up and going door-to-do in the hope of leaving with sweets. I’m no longer of the age to participate, nor does it happen in my neighbourhood, so I guess I’m trying to hold onto my childhood. I really enjoy tackling darker subject matter through an innocent viewpoint, and I guess the Halloween characters are an example of that.
Your landscapes look as if they’re reduction prints, but how many layers do they typically have – it looks like loads…
They are, and they’re heavily reducted, so much so that often I’m left with something that no longer resembles a slab of lino. I didn’t used to keep count, as I could always tell by going through and counting the colours. The most I’ve ever done was 131 layers and that was on ‘Jacksons’. I made gifs of them for a period of time, but once they got past 70 images, Instagram wouldn’t let me upload them due to size. So I stopped. I’d say my York series was by far the most challenging.
Do you work from your own photos for your prints of buildings?
Yes. I always source my own images and take this really seriously. If I were to copy from an image off the internet, I wouldn’t have the same personal or emotional attachment to it that I would if I’d taken it myself and therefore the work would suffer.
But also, on the most basic level, I’d feel as though anyone else could’ve done it. What makes it personal is that the story behind them, and the knowledge that I’ve composed the shot, at that specific time of day and in that light. Sometimes it gets to me and I think, ‘I’m just copying from a photograph’, which is why I’m trying to get away from architecture for a while and use my imagination. But, that said, I like to have some fun with colour palettes I use creative licence.
What are your ambitions for linocutting – is there anywhere to take the work now you haven’t already?
That’s the $1,000,000 question. Like I said, I’m taking a break from architecture as I feel I’ve taken it as far as it can go for the time being. I’m about to study an MA in Illustration for a year, so maybe that’ll rejuvenate the process, but I intend to give it lots of thought. I enjoy capturing scenes from places I’ve been, but my imagination has some untapped potential and I’m eager to pursue that. I’ve been contemplating it for quite a while, but I’m really keen to transfer my heavily-layered approach to something fictional with no palette that I can draw reference from.
Finally, I notice you do private commissions – what’s your experience been like of working for a specific person’s goal?
I came away from uni a little under-prepared for what lay ahead. I received my first commission back in November 2015 and remember putting a lot of emphasis on how much time I should invest in it as I didn’t (and still don’t fully) understand how much my work is worth.
I spent weeks working on a concept, making a conscious effort to go above and beyond. I didn’t think about the pay, I just wanted my first commission to be a success. So, I communicated with, and involved, the editor as much as I possibly could, spamming them at all hours of the day.
Now, looking back, this was a terrible idea and our wires got crossed somewhere along the line. Long story short, the work I submitted was what I thought they wanted to see, but it wound up being politely rejected. I was furious at the time as I believed I’d done all they’d asked of me, but then, upon reflection I realised it was garbage and I set about doing it my own way, which eventually turned out fine. I learnt an awful lot from that. Working from someone else’s vision is hard.
Find out more at Dan’s website.