I usually just print on boring old paper, and often in a way I find unsatisfactory. I’m also not 100% brilliant at marketing myself (stop laughing at the back there!), so when I stumbled across the playful, life-affirming work of Melanie Wickham, and more importantly saw how she could flutter between working on textiles to homewares and also use things like pop-up shops to get her work out there, I was fascinated.
So you know what happened next. I dropped her a line to ask her all about her business and her art. I think you’ll see she’s proof the two can co-exist happily…
Watcha Melanie. Can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?
I remember using paper stencils to screenprint lobsters at school, and surely did some lino printing too, but the first lino prints I actually remember making weren’t until college when I made images for Mrs Beetleton’s Cookbook – all made-up by me insect recipes… grasshopper curry, mixed insect salad – it was great fun cutting out the images…
Are you trained at all in the arts or do work in them?
I did a degree in illustration and had just about discovered printmaking properly when it was time to leave. The most affordable method of printmaking for an impoverished ex-student with no studio was lino printing, so I started carving.
What’s currently influencing your work?
Everything. I draw in sketchbooks all the time. Sometimes it’s to work out specific images – for instance for a commission, but the rest of the time it is just a stream of doodling which incorporates words from the radio, passers by, the back of my mind – who knows where.
Plus bits of images from whatever is around me, or repetitive drawing of something, a cat or a crow… sometimes the drawing is stylised and sometimes realistic and sometimes I really don’t like it because it’s my doodle shorthand, which is like having really bad handwriting and I don’t want anyone else to see it.
There’s a real sense of animal fun to your work – where did this come from?
I love drawing animals and grew up on a smallholding so have always lived amongst them. I think all my images amuse me in some way as I make them, so I’m just entertaining myself through the medium of crows and otters.
Do you get those days when everything goes wrong with a print?
Of course, chopping through something important on a block at the last moment of carving, ink that has gone all funny and won’t make a proper print happen that day, it’s too hot, too cold, or wearing a really hairy jumper and finding little red bits of wool stuck to all the prints on closer inspection…
How did you come to print on textile as well as prints?
That’s the good thing about lino, you can print on loads of things. Want fancy bedroom curtains? Print some. It’s great and totally different from printing an edition of lino prints on lovely paper as perfectly as you can. The fabric does its own thing and what works isn’t the same as with paper, so it’s a good challenge to mix it up bit. I’ve been printing on glass too which is fun but it looks terrible at the moment – haven’t mastered it yet!
How have sales been going for you? It looks like you have a good grasp of it…
I’ve been really lucky with some lovely galleries and have had work in some of them since last century, as well as lots of more recent ones. The work I was sending out to begin with was terrible, but they have put up with it and worked really hard selling my prints over the years giving me great advice, so hopefully I’ve taken it onboard and upped my printing game. I think all you can do is keep making the work you want to make as well as you can and hope you find your spot. I’ve also had lots of returning customers which is amazing. And I haven’t done all of the animals yet.
Do you do fairs or have stalls?
Sometimes – I loved doing the print fair at the Hepworth, Wakefield and Print Stuff in York and a few other Bristol ones, but I find selling through art and craft galleries works best for me. I have had a couple of really good pop-up shops too though.
What sort of printing set up do you have?
Just a table, a roller, a big sheet of glass and a very muscly right arm. I burnish my prints by hand, with a boxwood burnishing tool which I got from a print suppliers years ago, but now terrifyingly no one stocks them anymore. When mine is worn out I shall have to give up printmaking – no, really…
Where do you get your cool wooden frames from?
A lot of my frames were made by a friend who has given up framing, also a great framers on Bristol Docks who put up with my disorganised, last minute framing requests.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a really big piece of lino and want to do a massive flock of birds. I imagine it will take me a month or so between other things to carve it out. Otherwise my sketchbooks are filled with ridiculous ideas, which need constant filtering because they rarely seem like good ideas the next day. Luckily a few make it through.