I really just do printing. After years trying other things – writing, drawing, weaving, running – anything to keep my mind active and all with a pretty low level of success, I’ve settled on the relief printing medium to keep me sane.
Not so for potter, painter, draughtsman and all-round amazing beard wearer Steve Shaw, whose recent ventures into linocut he says, are merely the next step in an ever-evolving artistic journey. Probably by the time you read this he’ll have become a glassblower and a fine jeweller – but I caught him in ‘linocut mode’ – and struck with my questions while the iron was hot…
Hi Steve, can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?
I’ve only been doing it for about 18 months, so yes! I loved the process straightaway. I’m a potter and the person who taught me pottery was a copper engraver for the ceramic industry. I used to watch him engrave and thought I’d like to do something like that, plus people told me I should have a go. Then I was at the art shop and it seemed everyone was buying lino, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I was looking for another medium to try and this was ideal – so different to just painting. I like that it’s such an old technique but I also think you can feel the history in the process.
As a potter I draw on clay vases then graffito it into the clay (scratch in the line drawing). Lino printing has been the nearest medium I’ve found that gives me the same excitement when I’m decorating pottery. I don’t think there’s any part of the process I don’t like, but my favourite is the engraving as it’s so therapeutic. I like the fact you’re not strictly in control of what the finished image will look like – again like pottery when something goes in the kiln. I don’t like to push the medium so I tend to use one colour printing. I want it to look like a print. I want my printing to have a different look than any other medium I use. The effect I’m getting from lino is completely different and unique. I couldn’t get that same feeling or effect using any other medium.
Are you trained at all in the arts?
No. I’ve always loved the arts, be it music or painting or drawing. I had a wonderful teacher at school who introduced me to all manner of arts. I can remember doing scraperboards. I use the same disciplines for my lino printing.
My philosophy for lino and all the mediums I use is to just have a go. I’ve found all I really need is a basic ability to draw, and that can see you through. I wish more people would have a go at creating art. I don’t like the elitist way the arts are sometimes treated. I think everyone should get involved in some way – they just need to find a medium that suits them and believe me, there should be a medium out there for them.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I know it’s a cliché, but everywhere. Music is my main inspiration. I used to paint portraits all the time, especially musicians. The only problem was I could never convey the excitement I felt for the music in the finished portrait.
The answer was to depict the lyrics or the excitement of the song in a single image. I started to paint whatever ideas I had. I found this very rewarding and liberating. I use the same to do my printing. I was really influenced by the punk movement and especially the DIY attitude. When Buzzcocks bought out their Spiral Scratch EP I couldn’t believe the fact they’d done everything themselves down to the sleeve.
DIY fanzines came out at the same time. Using basic printing they created some stunning graphics. They were a great influence for me. Again, it’s that ‘go out and get involved’ attitude – you will be rewarded in so many ways.
Do you get those days when everything goes wrong?
I think every artist has those days. I’ve found especially at work where I’m being paid to create artwork, I have to carry on even when things aren’t going well or not coming together as well as I may want.
Usually you’re told to walk away and come back to it later, but this doesn’t work for me. I find I can often get over it by persevering. You have to find your own methods to get over days like that.
What I would say though is art should be fun – it’s not the end of the world when things go wrong. In fact, I’ve had some happy accidents. Things haven’t gone the way I was thinking but have turned out better. I tend to go with the flow.
How have sales been going?
Really well. In fact, the lino printing has allowed me to get into more art shops, as well as showing and then selling my prints on social media. I also have exhibitions at the gallery where I show my artwork. I’ve got to admit, competitions and exhibitions are not my thing. I really like the process of creating artwork – that’s the thing that keeps me excited about art. I like turning my ideas into images. If someone else likes the result enough to buy it, well that’s just a bonus.
What sort of printing set up do you have?
I really like the results I’m getting with the simplest of tools. I use Essdee handles and blades, Sea white water based block printing ink and mostly easycut lino, although i’ve just acquired some of the canvas backed artist quality lino to try more detailed work. I’ve also just invested in an Xcut Xpress die cutter which I use as a press. This was after being asked to do some lino printed greetings cards – 30 in all. Using the spoon method was really, really tiring (and as i mentioned earlier art should be fun).
I’d thoroughly recommend the Xcut as an economical press. I still use the spoon for the bigger prints. I tend to use Bristol board or card, as I do like the way the ink sits up on top of the card – very tactile.
What are you working on at the moment?
It’s been very busy just lately. I’ve been working on some portraits recently of John Lennon and Ian Curtis. I’ve found lino printing has given the portraits a lot of atmospheric feeling I haven’t been able achieve with painting or drawing. Especially on the Ian Curtis print, I had to resist the urge to tidy the many lines on the face as I would in any other medium. These lines give the portrait an edgy, troubled feel, even though his eyes are closed, also giving a sense of relaxation of someone in the zone. These feelings then compete giving that edge to the whole print. This was one of those happy accidents – the lino printing took over and you can’t ask more from a process than that.
I’ve just started doing screenprinting too, which although a completely different medium demanding differing skills is so enjoyable.
I’ve also recently attended a local festival. I’d already engraved a piece of lino and I got the people who attended to have a go at printing from it. They first had to ink the plate then take a print using the spoon method. It proved very popular, the reaction to lino printing really surprised me. We had to get extra tables to let their prints dry out. I do hope that they go home and have a go at lino printing themselves.
Where can people see your work?
The majority of my artwork is on show at Theartbay Gallery in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent, and this includes drawings paintings and lino prints.
My lino prints are available from the Art Department in Hanley. This is an independent art materials shop and gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. I buy all my materials there – it’s such a friendly inspirational shop.
What he said! Steve’s also on twitter as @ShawSteve5 of course.