Isn’t it great when life flows around, buzzes along, only to return to something, maybe an un-accomplished goal?
It happened that way for printer Dave Flitcroft, who I discovered through Twitter and who stood out because – as his handle and the name of his Etsy shop implied – he worked from a bike shed.
I like a bit of constriction, me. Working against the odds and all that. But Dave wasn’t only working from a shed, he was also selling a great quantity of his prints too. And as you might expect, cycling was a key influence.
“I first did linocutting at school and sixth form college in the late 70s – we used a couple of cast iron book presses. I really liked the medium and the effects I could create,” he remembers. “I left school in 1979 and joined the Police. Art took a back seat for the next 30 years, but it remained an interest. In fact, I found a cast iron book press in an antique shop in the early 80s and bought it intending to continue linocut print making. I used it with my kids when they had art projects during their school days, but otherwise it was a heavy lump that always lived in the bike shed.”
Next came retirement and a major life change, Dave explains. “I retired from the Police in 2009, moved to France and after the initial rush of house renovation I set the book press up in the current bikeshed (really an old hay barn) and started linocutting again – at last. After a while I opened a shop on Etsy called Art From The Bike Shed.”
Cycling, then, was now a facilitator as well as an influence. “Cycling through beautiful countryside on quiet lanes and tracks and wanting to capture the feeling is my key influence,” Dave says. “But also, the pen and ink drawings of Frank Patterson, the cycling artist of the 30s and 50s are inspirational in the way they capture the mood of cycle touring but the line drawing technique doesn’t work for linocut,” he adds.
“I was learning from the style and technique of Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravillious – the greats of wood and linocuts are a strong influence on me. I particularly like the paintings of Simon Palmer. They seem influenced by Nash and the subject matter of sinuous country lanes in a stylised countryside really resonates. I love and aspire to the colour work of Carry Ackroyd, perhaps my favourite artist.
So, it really all happens from a bike shed nowadays?
“Yes, in fairness my bike shed now is an old, wedge shaped hay barn. It’s not an ideal studio because it lacks a lot of natural light. It’s south facing and most of the year I work with the door open. Slowly but surely art making surfaces are taking over. I still use my cast iron book binding press, but most printing is now done using an A2 size etching press purchased from Gunning’s Art Gallery in Ironbridge.”
Dave says that, as well as cycling, there are other elements he sees – while out on his bike – that influence his prints. “Landscape and nature are really important to me, but I experience them mainly from a bike, or tandem. I love to read about, research and then ride old routes, roads and tracks. They naturally find their way into my sketches and prints.”
Dave says he is also constantly on the look out. “I keep a sketch pad of ideas and also use the Procreate app on iPad. My usual approach is to develop a sketch or sketches into a print size drawing, then trace the key elements and transfer it onto lino. I use the original drawing and photographs as references rather than drawing a lot of detail onto the lino.
“I also often use rough watercoloured sketches to inform my colour palette as the print progresses. I often photograph the in progress print and import it into the app to trial the next cuts, gouges and colours. Being able to flip the image in that app is really useful.
Next up came the potential to sell work, egged on by the online community. “In February 2014 I opened my Etsy shop following requests to purchase some work I’d shared on Twitter. I’ve sold some early work prints to an online bike shop called Cyclemiles, but otherwise all my sales are via Etsy.
“I’ve sold more than 400 prints and sold out a few limited editions. Recently I created a special souvenir print for a long distance bike ride, London-Edinburgh-London. The edition of 100 sold out within three weeks, which was great, but became quite hard work in terms of packaging and postage. I know many people dismiss Etsy as an option for selling art, but my personal experience has been really positive. It allows people to buy direct from the artist at a fair price avoiding the huge commission charges of galleries and art shops.
But it’s back to nature next for Dave, he says. “I’m currently doing a 40x45cm reduction print of a tree tunnel holloway. I think it will lead to a series of similar pieces, but there are also some other drawings waiting on the cutting pile. ‘Sunflowers’ was a reduction print I made a couple of years ago. It quickly sold out as there were only eight in the edition. I’m currently using the final remains of the lino to make smaller watercolour tinted prints. I’m experimenting with colour combinations to inform a new Sunflower reduction print I’m working on…”
You can visit Dave’s Etsy shop here and he’s also on Twitter as @Artfrombikeshed – and there’s a Facebook page at @DaveFlitcroftisartfromthebikeshed.