Hannah Forward: “The possibilities for experimenting feel endless”

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Absolutely 100% my favourite local linocutter is a lady called Hannah Forward, whose work I first discovered and wrote a bit about two years ago, if memory serves.

Hove-based, and actually working at the shop where I get all my arty supplies, it transpires, I was drawn to her work after seeing a print she’d done of a busy crowd at the cinema.

Hannah nails the colours in her prints, which I guess is what drew me in. She’s also very, very, very good at drawing, working both from memory and her own photographs. Her prints are jam-packed, but never chaotic, and the shades she uses evoke a sort of 1950s/60s fantasy land that really strikes a chord with me. They look sort of old fashioned, but the little details keep them really modern.

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I’ve also been enjoying all the work Hannah puts up online and was really pleased to hear she’s been seeing good returns from selling her work too – the links are at the bottom of this interview…

 

When did you first start linocutting?

I did a short course at Bip printmaking studios in Brighton four years ago. I’d recently got a job working for Lawrence Art Supplies in Hove and was intrigued by linocut as a technique for creating images. I’d worked as an illustrator after graduating from uni and had quite a well honed sense of my own drawing style. Someone I worked with at Lawrence’s suggested I try out linocut as he thought it would really suit my style and be a great way of producing work to potentially sell.

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Did you like it from the start?

Absolutely! I loved every minute of the course and took to the process immediately. I loved how simple the technique was to learn, but how the possibilities for experimenting felt endless. I mainly just printed with black ink at first, then wanted to learn how to layer separate colours over the top of each other.

This layering was what really captivated me. The first layered colour linocut I produced was a small piece called Tokyo. It’s a four-layer print, and by the time I’d finished the final layer and saw the image I was utterly hooked. To see the idea I’d had come together so well, but also in a way I kind of didn’t predict, felt kind of magical.

What other linocut artists would you recommend people take a look at?

All the printmakers associated with the Grosvenor School – Claude Flight, Sybil Andrews, Cyril Power, Ethel Spowers and Lill Tschudi are a really inspiring place to start. I remember discovering these kind of prints for the first time, and the modernist subject matter, the intriguing technique of colour layering and incredible sense of movement and energy really struck a chord.

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What kind of formal art training do you have?

I have a degree in Graphic Design from Brighton Uni which really helped me develop my interest in unusual composition and colour. I like to paint and draw, usually acrylic or gouache paint on board. It feels so completely different to paint with a paintbrush after a big printmaking stint, and the slowness of an image gradually taking shape in a relatively unplanned way is really pleasing.

Is linocutting a full time job for you?

No, although it’s my job for most of the week. I still work two days at Lawrences, where I’m surrounded by amazing printmaking supplies like the extensive range of Awagami Japanese printmaking papers or the Lawrence relief printmaking inks. There’s so much there to feel inspired to try out, it really is a pretty incredible day job to have as a printmaker!

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I print at my home studio in Hove. When I moved in I chose the biggest, brightest room as a dedicated space to create work in. I have an A3 sized bookpress, ball drying racks hanging from the ceiling and a large work bench. I also have large shelves for paper and print storage.

What inks and paper do you prefer?

I like the Lawrence oil-based relief inks, and usually use Japanese printmaking paper for my work. I like how the ink soaks in to actually become part of the paper. I’m always up for trying out new inks and paper because it’s really fun to see what a difference this makes to the final results.

What sort of things inspire your prints?

I’m inspired to create work where the idea is executed in a very bold and simple way, but also in an original, new way that I haven’t seen done before. I think that’s my main source of inspiration – create work that’s different to what’s been made or is being made already.

It’s this newness that really excites me to create. A new colour combination or composition or subject matter I haven’t ever seen as a print before. No one else will think of these ideas and create this work – so it’s got to be me!

How relevant is being from Brighton to your work?

I’m originally from South East London but have lived in Brighton on and off for about 10 years and absolutely consider it my home now. There’s a real sense of freedom for the individual, and the city’s packed with artists, musicians, freelancers and small businesses. People who perhaps don’t feel they fit in other places have found their home here. The overall attitude seems to be ‘don’t judge – everything’s acceptable’. I think this very Brighton sense of celebration for the individual has definitely found its way into my work.

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How do the prints you make from memory differ to those you work up from photos?

Ideas that just come into my mind are usually inspired by quite a pure feeling I’ve had about something I want to try to capture. I want to get across the essence of that feeling in the simplest way I can, so every line, shape and colour matters. When I’m using photographs it’s more free and experimental. I don’t really know what I’m aiming for – I just do lots and lots of drawing and collage them together until the final design reveals itself. It’s more like painting, in a way.

What tips would you give to any printers looking to sell work?

Have a variety of different print ideas at different sizes and prices so you can see what’s popular. What sells might surprise you. Keep creating new work all the time to keep things fresh, keep the ideas rolling. Use social media (daily if possible) to attract attention to what you’re doing – people really are genuinely interested. Direct your followers to your online shops or exhibitions, let them know what you’re up to. Start a mailing list.

Selling on Etsy for me has generally been quite slow and sporadic, although it’s picked up a little more lately thanks to regular posts on Instagram (and having a direct link to my Etsy shop on my Instagram profile – top tip). Etsy is generally quite gift focused and trend-oriented, so whether it’s the best platform for artists to sell their work online is debatable. However, I know there are artists and printmakers that sell very well on Etsy so it is totally possible.

Artfinder has been incredible. I’ve now sold over 250 prints since joining a year ago and posted them to people all over the world. It’s been a really exciting first year, and I can’t really emphasise enough how rewarding it’s felt and how encouraging the people at Artfinder have been. They’ve helped feature me and my work at seemingly every opportunity, and basically become this perfect link between my work and people who want to buy it. I just can’t wait to see what happens in 2017.

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Do you find relief printing therapeutic?

I find all creativity very therapeutic. I think you reach a sort of meditative state while making. Whether I’m drawing or carving out lino or painting or working out a new idea, I enjoy that feeling of calm slowness as you think about nothing else except focusing on what you’re bringing into existence.

Have you any other exhibitions coming up?

Not yet, but I have ambitions to team up with a painter I know and have a group show together in Brighton this year. Watch this space! I’d also love to try opening the doors to my Hove house for the Artist Open Houses in May one year in the not too distant future. I live with two other artists so this is a really fun prospect for all of us.

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Link yourself up!
Hannah’s Etsy shop and Artfinder shop are right there. Or you can always see more at her website.

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