Many folk I speak to about linocut are lucky enough to work in the creative industries (or unlucky enough, depending on your view). Often you can tell from their prints.
Jess White, who recently started trading as Ink & Brayer, is one of those, bringing a zing of graphic work to her prints, as well as a keen understanding of colour’s importance.
So what does that relationship entail? And how does it impact on your work? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Ask…
Hello Jess. So, how did you come to be a linocutter?
I work as a graphic designer full time and the faux hand printed effect became really popular a few years ago, but when it’s done on the computer it doesn’t ever look as good as the real thing and the process of making it didn’t seem as satisfying.
It got me thinking how much I missed making actual prints and working by hand, so I bought one of those beginning printmaking kits when a work colleague mentioned there was a sale at the art shop – all a bit spur of the moment.
The first print I made was a few small cacti. They came out alright and I enjoyed printing them all over my sketchbook so muc, that I became a bit obsessed with lino and carved a swallow a couple of days later.
I’m still obsessed. I ended up with a few test copies of everything hanging around in my flat and when friends came round one evening they liked them, and along with my boyfriend suggested I should try selling them. My local pub was having a little craft market a few weeks later and I emailed for some more info with a picture of the swallow and the cactus and they unexpectedly gave me a place, so I had a few late nights panicking and making more prints in time for the market. I didn’t have amazing sales that day but I got loads of positive feedback and it was wonderful to have people like them enough to buy them.
I’ve only been working as Ink & Brayer for just over a year so I’m quite new to it and looking forward to making a lot more prints in the future.
What are the main influences on your prints?
Probably animals, plants and space. I think the first two are fairly common because they’re such great subject matters, but space is a bit more unusual. I’ve been obsessed with space and sci-fi since I was a little kid and can remember my excitement of looking at the moon through a telescope for the first time and talking about the stars with my Grandad. There’s just something so fascinating about something we know very little about and imagining what might be out there. I also love the aesthetic of old sci-fi shows and how they depicted how space travel and the future might be. I’d like to do more sci-fi prints in the future.
I don’t have a particular process for planning prints, most of them just start as ideas that hit me at random moments, they’re just things I like and think would be interesting to carve out. I suppose you learn to see the world a bit differently, looking for things that have interesting textures or colour combinations that would work well as a print.
Nature seems to play a key role too?
Definitely – there are so many amazing plants and animals to capture and each represents its own challenge and learning, from the really furry ones that take ages to carve out to the texture and look of feathers. Although I live in London, there are quite a few green areas and I often cycle out of the city through the marshes and down the canals as well as visiting the large parks. It’s as good for clearing your head and relaxing as it is for inspiration.
Your colours are so fresh!
Thank you, I really love vivid colour and combining different colours, sometimes almost in a slightly clashing way, like bright pink and lime green. I have a bit of an obsession with bright colours and patterns and I have to be careful not to go overboard. That said, I also really like white space and the balance between something very vivid and bold and the space around it.
When I have an idea for a print I normally have a colour scheme pictured in my mind before I begin. Maybe because I work with colour combinations every day in graphics, I find it fairly easy to imagine what it would look like so I can normally picture what works and what doesn’t.
As for mixing the ink, I’m normally fairly cautious testing a little bit first if I’m unsure. Although I know which colours to mix together to get the colour I want, I learned the hard way that only a tiny amount of the darker colours is needed in comparison to the lighter ones – I remember wasting a fair bit of ink at the start trying to make a light green.
What I also like is how you can do something as vivid as the Maranta leaf, but also a monochrome piece like the moon – do you like to alternate?
I hadn’t thought about that before, but yes, as well as colour I also like how striking monochrome is and have enjoyed doing a lot of black and white photography in the past. I often like to soften black and white prints by using an off white paper, so it still has the high contrast but has an almost vintage quality and is easier to look at. I find this preferable to the bright white with black. I do alternate between colour and monochrome but rather than set out to do one or the other I usually let the subject matter dictate.
What’s been your experience of using fairs and stall to sell?
I’ve done quite a few markets in the London area over the last year and I’ve found the Christmas ones in particular go well. It’s nice to meet potential customers and explain what you do, although I’m a quite shy, so I struggle with selling in person a bit, but it’s so lovely when someone likes your work and comes up to tell you. I also find people want prints framed, especially around Christmas as gifts, but I don’t have a car and can’t carry that much on the tube!
I think with a lot of fairs people are looking to buy little inexpensive items rather than original art prints and it’s hard to explain why your item costs more than say, a giclee print, because it’s a handmade original – but some customers understand the difference and are happy to pay more.
I’ve taken some of the lino blocks to display on my stall before and it was a great talking point because people realise the work that goes into it (or come up to tell me how badly they injured themselves doing it at school!). I just wish I could carve without going into the hessian backing because they’d look a lot prettier to display, I’m a bit heavy handed!
I also sell my work on Etsy and it’s exciting to send your work as far away as Australia, Canada and the US. I’m just hoping someone from New Zealand buys a print soon because that’s the exact opposite side of the world from here.
What sort of printing set up to you use/have?
For carving I have one of the Japanese pencil style gouges and a few pfiel tools and I use grey lino. I nearly always print using a bamboo baren, especially when using the thin Japanese paper, but that can be really tough for thicker paper. Sometimes I use a wooden spoon for tougher parts of the print but I feel like there must be a better solution, I just haven’t found it!
I also have a cold laminator that I got secondhand. It’s sort of like an etching press but the rollers are a small diameter and made of rubber and you have to make your own print bed. You can print quite well with it and I use it for large areas of background colour in my big 16×12” prints which was hard to do by hand on thicker paper. I’m sure it’s capable of more and I need to experiment with it a bit. The only problem is there doesn’t seem to be a way of effectively anchoring it to the table.
What are you currently working on?
A Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera) leaf on a teal background. I’ve just done the thirdand final layer, so I’m just waiting for it to dry. I’m also working on a different edition of my moon in metallic copper ink and navy. I need to make some smaller prints soon because my last few prints have all been quite big at 16×12”.
Jess spent the last few weeks making a website – www.inkandbrayer.com
and she is also on Etsy here
You can also find her in the Instagram labyrinth as @inkandbrayerstudio and deep in Twitter as @inkandbrayer