America’s John Sant, working under his excellent moniker Mute Neighbor, is, he admits – just starting out in linocut. But the work he’s produced so far has been quite frankly amazing, with a dark, partially death-obsessed worldview that flies in the face of the occasionally pressed flowers/waves and sea crafty image of the medium.
Which I naturally love.
So I asked him about his art, and also learnt about his use of a printing device which he says has been a godsend – the Xcut Xpress – the very same one I’ve just purchased. Great minds and all that….
Hi there John, can you remember your first impressions of linocut?
My immediate impression when I first began carving was a combination of excitement that I could literally print anything I wanted mixed with surprise at how difficult it was. I’d accidentally picked a tough type of lino to start with and only had an old Speedball gouge set, plus I hadn’t really figured out the proper angles to carve at so my hands were exhausted an hour in.
Are you trained at all in the arts/do work in them?
Not at all. I’ve been a product designer for the last ten years, but my degree is in English. Everything I’ve done creatively has gone down the self-taught route, which I’m pretty sure means my process is a collection of bad habits, short-cuts and improper practices!”
What’s currently influencing your work?
The complete shitshow in the US right now absolutely is, although I never do anything specifically political. I tend to let news and articles I run across influence what I’m going to work on. The Genie Wiley print came about after I saw a small documentary on her and read her story – a year later I still couldn’t shake it so I decided to make a print as a way of processing.
Do you get those days when everything goes wrong with a print?
Absolutely. I’ve got my studio all prepared to do a print run and under ink on the first pass. No matter what I do, the next one is oversaturated so detail is lost… wash off the block, start from scratch, go to print another one and promptly move the paper as I’m laying it on the block. I definitely have those days.
How have sales been going for you? I know some people struggle with it, myself included, but it looks like you have a good grasp of it…
Pretty sparse, but that’s to be expected – I’ve been at this for such a relatively short period of time. When I first started carving, I didn’t have any real expectations or goals beyond learning as much as possible and pushing myself to try images and compositions that challenge me technically and visually.
Etsy sales come in every so often, but right now I’m pretty thrilled when an artist whose work I’ve followed for years likes an image I post on Instagram. I very much feel obligated to pay my dues and put in my time before sales become important.
Do you do fairs/stalls, etc?
Nah, not yet. I don’t want to be the guy at a fair with 12 prints to my name and not much else.
Do you always work in single colour?
I’ve been restricting myself to one, simply because I’m a little over a year into block printing. I feel like mastering that alone is such a challenge and there’s so much that can be done with basic black and white in terms of mood and effect that I’m pretty content to stay there for the moment.
What sort of printing set up do you have?
I use Flexcut carving tools and basic battleship grey lino. I run the blocks through an Xcut Xpress which works like a dream. Nick Morley ran a post on Instagram about trying one out and documented his successes. Obviously getting a bigger press to be able to do large-scale prints would be nice, but there’s always hand burnishing for that.
What are you working on at the moment?
When I was researching the last print I did I ran across the story of the Münster Rebellion and got a few ideas that I’ve been putting together for a new print. I’m also putting together sketches for a piece based on Philip K Dick’s novel, Ubik.