Jonathan Costall: “For my sins, I did spend a long time at art school…”

Claudio Ranieri by Jonathan Costall

I can’t do faces. I’ve never been able to get a likeness of anyone that looks anything like them, or anybody. They go all Picasso.

Plus, being only mildly accomplished at printing – any attempt at trying to render someone’s likeness in this most tricky of artforms leaves me punching tables and throwing cats out the window.

So, when I stumble across someone who can actually do portraits in print, I flip out. As happened with the work of Leicester’s Jonathan Costall, who most definitely can. I asked him the usual questions with a vague hope that some of his skills might rub off on me.

As yet, they have not…

 

Hi Jonathan – can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?

I can’t exactly remember the first linocut I printed. I’m pretty sure it was on a Foundation Art and Design course at De Montfort University – Kevin Holdaway must’ve been involved!

Are you trained at all in the arts?

For my sins, I did spend a long time at art school. I completed my Foundation and degree in Fine Art and then went onto do an MA in Printmaking at Wimbledon School of Art part time over two years, graduating in 2005.

Whilst studying my Ba I was more interested in screenprinting and for my MA I did more computer-based work. At the time it felt like a natural progression, I was interested in how new technology could be used in printmaking. So my traditional skills were left by the wayside for a while.

The most time spent focused on linocut in my degree was during an exchange to Holland in my second year. I was lucky enough to work with an excellent printer called Gustaf who taught me so much about printmaking. The way they teach art in Holland is different to England. They’re a lot more student-focused so it’s up to you to arrange your own tutorials in the skills you want to learn. This allowed me to receive lots of one-to-one tuition on printmaking whilst I was there. I think it was really the making of me as a printmaker.

I currently work as an Art Technician in a secondary school. I’m lucky to work in with some great people that have made good use of my skill set. In Year 7 all students do some printmaking (monoprint and screen printing), and they seem to enjoy it. Generally I find passing on some of the things I have learnt over the years about printing to be quite rewarding.

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What currently influences your work?

Portraiture is the current focus of my work, which is something I’ve not really delved into before. For this body of work, I draw my influences from a wide variety of artists and mediums. I especially love the exuberant nature of German Expressionism printmaking, there are excellent examples in the permanent collect of their work at the Leicester New Walk Museum which has been a great resource for me.

I’m also a big fan of David Bull’s Youtube channel – he really knows his stuff when it comes to Japanese woodblock printmaking. He moved to Japan 30 years ago and has dedicated his life to the craft. I recommend watching his channel to any printmaker.

I also like the black and white photography of Daido Moriyama and Ed van der Elsken, there’s something so raw about the photographs they take, they have so much moody energy. That’s something which I try to capture in my work. 

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Your portraits are so striking – how do you get them so accurate?

I’ve got some fine carving tools which help me to get the detailed line work looking sharp. For me the line work is what holds the image together, because my mark making is quite expressive. It’s important to make sure it’s accurate.

I transfer the image to the block using tracing paper because I think it’s the best way to capture all the fine details. I then go over the tracing on the block in ball point pen and make any corrections. So, by the time I start cutting I’ve drawn and redrawn the image a couple of times already, so I think that is what makes the drawing accurate. Basically, practice and repetition.­

  Do you get those days when everything goes wrong?

Yes – the inking up goes wrong, or there’s uneven pressure because I’m burnishing using a spoon. But I try to embrace the finished print. It doesn’t always have to perfect. Like every other printmaker, I’m still trying to find the best ink, best paper, best roller – it’s an ongoing process.

How have sales been going?

Very, very slow so far. I feel a bit like a band which has critical acclaim but doesn’t sell many albums. I think I need to be a bit more proactive in approaching galleries/craft shops about stocking my work. I’ve only really started making work again just over a year ago now after a long break (I have two sons under the age of five who keep me busy!), so maybe it takes a while to get your name out there?

What’s your experience been of entering competitions?

So far I’ve been pretty lucky with open exhibitions that I’ve entered. My work was selected for the Midlands Printmaking Open in Nottingham last year and won two prizes. One of the prizes was to design a front cover for the LeftLion Magazine which is distributed all over Nottingham.  I recently entered the Leicester Open and won a prize there as well from the Leicester Print Workshop for best print.

I do also enter competitions – mostly newsletters from arts organisations, I subscribe to as many as possible. Creative Leicestershire is a good one for me which is run by the local arts council. Curator Space is a good nation newsletter and website. Apart from that Twitter is also another resource for finding exhibition opportunities.

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Do you always work in single colour?

When I did the front cover of the LeftLion Magazine I added colour to my black and white print in Photoshop. I felt it just needed some colour to give it a bit more depth.

I think there’s something classic about black and white. I don’t feel like I need to add any extra colour at the moment. I like to think my work is always evolving so I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.

What sort of printing set up do you have?

It’s pretty low tech, mostly I work at home on the kitchen table and burnish the prints by hand (which is a big reason I mostly work in a single colour). I’ve recently got a large gel roller, that’s really made life a lot easier when inking up.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve started work on a print of Esteban Cambiasso. But I think long term I would like to start taking my own photos of people to make prints of.

Hey guys – Jonathan is here on Etsy, is on instagram as @ateliercostall and his website is here.

Mute Neighbor: “My process is a collection of bad habits, short-cuts and improper practices”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Xcut Xpress

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.

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You know the drill – Instagram and Etsy – go go go…

Melanie Wickham: “Everything influences my work…”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Huzzah! Melanie has a Folksy page, and you can also follow her blog HERE

 

Mexile: “Patience is the hardest thing to learn in printmaking…”

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I’ve always admired people who can chuck it all in and move from place to place, to travel, see what happens – and I’ve also always been a fan of A Tribe Called Quest.

Bear with me.

So imagine my joy when I discovered the prints of ex-pat Warren Crawford, trading as Mexile and now based in Mexico City, who has made some of the most arresting portrait linocuts of hip-hop stars (and more) that I’ve seen.

An accomplished designer and writer, he explains in this interview how he has an open minded view of travel – but a steadfast determination when it comes to the arts. Lino is his obsession at the moment, and thankfully it shows no signs of abating, so his answers are some of the most involved I’ve ever received. See what you think…

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Hi Warren – can you remember your first impressions of linocut?

At secondary school in Hutton, Lancashire, I was in the art block in every free moment. I’ve always been attracted to the arts and was never without a paperback and a pencil in my pocket… a habit I carry with me in my 40s.

I was lucky enough to have great teachers who influenced me greatly in those formative years. I still owe one of them a novel. I was an atheist even as a child, so was given special dispensation to escape RE classes and spend that time drawing. My best friend was my biggest competitor, and we’ve recently got back in touch – he’s still drawing and writing, too.

I can recall doing linocut in the first or second year but, unfortunately, we didn’t go into any depth with it. We touched on it all very briefly. All I remember are the bleeding fingers of a few friends who didn’t listen to the teacher.

Are you trained at all in the arts?

I’m a web designer and have worked freelance for a large number of agencies. I studied Interior and Graphic Design at University in the late 80s and early 90s, but was kicked out as I happily went off the rails during the Acid House years in the North West.

I did a part time Graphic Design degree in Manchester after moving to Leeds with my girlfriend. She was a fashion designer and, seeing her working at home when I came home after a dusty day as a van driver made me think about the opportunity I’d squandered. When I popped in to see the head of Interior Design, Joan Campion, on my way to the interview she said “Oh, you’re back, then?” I’ll be forever grateful to my boss at Parceline in Leeds too, who gave me a day off a week to go back to Uni. I count myself lucky.

My first two friends in Mexico work in animation. One of their colleagues went and did a linocut course. I saw his work online and asked where he’d done it? I went and did the same weekend course at Zoveck studios, was hooked, and started looking for somewhere to continue my education. After a lapse of a few months, I went to meet Humberto Valdez at his studio in Tlalpan, an hour and 22 Metrobús stations away from where I live.  It’s a trek. But he said I was welcome to come and print, and I’ve been there ever since.

What’s influencing your work these days?

I’m influenced by anything and everything. As a designer, you never switch off, you notice the details in all you see. You listen to everything, too – sound and music influence me. I DJ and make electronic music (though I gave that up years ago) and am walking around with tracks playing in my head constantly. Music is a constant companion when I’m drawing or carving lino.

Lino and woodcut artists who inspire me are the great Leopoldo Mendez, and contemporary artists Humberto Valdez and Irving Herrera. I work with Valdez, and have several of Herrera’s pieces on my walls. It’s their portraits that got me hooked on this. Neil Shigley’s portraits of the homeless are stunning. I love his process.

As far as other artist influences – Klimt for his portraits and themes, Egon Schiele for his drawings, Jenny Saville for her interpretation of the human form, Degas for the light. I love Terrick Williams, too.

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How did you end up in Mexico?

I visited Barcelona a lot in the early part of the last decade, and felt at home. In 2008 I set off on a world trip, disillusioned with life in London. I intended to learn Spanish and move to Spain. But, after a few further trips in South and Central America, where I also became a diving instructor, I met two Mexicans in El Salvador who showed me their capital on my second stay in Mexico. Mexico City grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. Six years later, I’m still here. I owe the country, and those two friends, a lot. But Spain is on the cards in the next few years. Maybe Valencia. But you never know… a lot can happen in a year, and I hear that Salma Hayek is single again…

There’s a good print heritage there…

There’s a huge tradition of print in Mexico. Posada, Leopoldo Méndez, Pablo O’Higgins etc. The centres seem to be Oaxaca, Zacatecas and México DF. There is a huge rivalry between the two former states; sometimes bitter, depending on which artist you talk to and how many drinks they’ve had.

Do you get days when everything goes wrong with a print?

Not so much in the printing part, but sometimes in the carving phase. I’m learning to make subtler marks and improve my midtones. My earlier prints could look a bit flat when I’d put too much light across the design. I’ve learned to change things and make decisions based on the best contrast for the design: not necessarily being faithful to a photograph.

The worst thing that has happened so far was during a month I stayed at La Ceiba, a print studio in a beautiful old Hacienda near Coatepec, Veracruz. I was working on an A3 two-colour reduction print of a local woman. Using two needles on bolsa wood sticks and registration holes, I was working on the second colour when I realised that I’d cut away the top registration point after printing the first colour. It was 4am and I’d foolishly continued working despite being exhausted after starting at 8am. I guessed to within millimetres of where it had been, but only one print of twelve came out perfect. I almost wept with frustration. I’d also made an error in using damp paper for the first colour, so it was harder to align it again for the second. It was a painful lesson, but that print taught me a lot about preparation and patience. I think patience is the hardest thing to learn in printmaking.

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I think your prints of faces are some of your most arresting – how do you get them so lifelike, yet fun?

I usually take a photograph and adjust it in Photoshop – high contrast, posterise etc. Then I’ll print that and transfer it to the lino using thinner and the printing press. You get a rough image on there as a guide. It’s not perfect, but helps me with proportion. I’m trying to I prove my portrait skills with life drawing classes and exercises such as 50 drawings in four hours. And the Andrew Loomis books are fantastic. It feels like cheating to use a transfer but, while I’m improving my skills as a draughtsman, I want to focus on the marks I make as far as linocut goes. Even Humberto Valdez uses a projector when marking out his designs, so I don’t feel too bad.

How have sales been going for you? I know some people struggle with it, myself included, but do you have a good grasp of it?

I wish! It’s been very slow. I found Etsy to be a waste of time. Artfinder and Saatchiare are supposed to be better. I was told I was selling my work too cheaply in the beginning. It’s that bizarre conundrum of if something is too cheap then people won’t think it’s art. Maybe I should stick a couple of zeros on the end of each price. A lot of it is just as much luck and exposure as it is talent – I’ve seen plenty of exhibitions of selling artists here and thought, really?

I’ve sold to friends and their acquaintances in the main. And one restaurant I go to a lot gave me credit at their place for a print, so I was paid in fish tacos and ceviche. But you can live on that, no?

Money doesn’t motivate me at all. If I could have a tiny house near the sea, and a garden studio, surviving on print sales, that would do for me. What does motivate me is people hanging something I’ve done on their wall, and appreciating it. And wondering where one of my prints might hang in a hundred years, when someone buys it in a flea market in Amsterdam, or takes it home after clearing the house of an old Mexican who has no living relatives. That fascinates me.

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I draw and carve at home, where the light is good on my small terrace. It’s sunny until 4pm at this time of year, and then the heavens open. So mid afternoon I head off to the workshop in Tlalpan, south of the city. There are two presses there, one of them huge.

Do you always work in single colours?

At the moment, yes. I like the stark look of a single colour. But with multicolour prints, you can get away with less detail. It’s something I’ll move on to. There are lots of things that can go wrong, as happened in Veracruz. And it scares me, especially on a reduction print.

But the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given in my design career is that “It’s good to be scared.” So I’ll jump in at some point. Just dipping my toe in the water right now. The second best bit of advice was “You’re only as good as your last piece of work.” I’m improving with each print and, as long as you learn from each piece of work, it’s a success.

I’m very self-critical, and immediately see things I would do differently if I could Ctrl Z on a linocut. But you can’t, so I learn and move on. And we mainly see these faults as we created the work. Others just appreciate the whole. Learn, improve and move on.

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What are you working on at the moment?

The human face fascinates me, so I think I’ll always do portraiture. Sometimes I can drift out of a conversation with friends in a dimly lit bar because I’m looking at how light creates the form of the face, how shadows change with movement, and I’m studying details of their faces without listening to what they’re saying. But they’re used to being examined by now.

I’ve been doing a few portraits of hip hop artists. I grew up with that music, Electro and Kraftwerk. But they don’t seem to be selling. I want to find a commercial niche to supplement the stuff I want to do for myself.

I have a few female friends who want me to work on nudes with them, and one of them has a yoga studio where we can set up lights to get some strong contrast. I think images of these may sell better than Flavor Flav and Big Daddy Kane….

I enjoy making portraits of older people too. The lines and stories in their faces transfix me. I’m working on a whole series of them, looking around for subjects at the moment. It’s part of a bigger project I have in mind as a parting gift to Mexico, should I decide to move on next year. I feel that I owe this country a lot. She’s changed my life – taken me away from digital and back into art, made me some solid friends and helped me become bilingual. It would be nice to leave a legacy, however small. The project is under wraps right now, I don’t want to give too much away. But it will take the best part of a year, so I’d better get cracking…

 

Warren sells his wares at Artfinder and he’s of course on twitter here – Go buy!

Paul Cleden: “I’m constantly looking at other work to get inspiration.”

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Olympic Swimmers

Paul Cleden’s linocuts fizz with life. They virtually whizz past you off the page.

The colours are bold, and the shapes bolder still, while their subjects of travel, sport and general good fun suit his approach to the artform perfectly I reckon.

Clearly influenced by the vorticist movement, but also some subtler, perhaps more traditional print artists, I approached him for an insight into how he makes his work so dazzlingly eye-grabbing.

Migraine tablets not required….

 

Watcha Paul. Can you remember your first impressions of doing linocut?

Very much. In fact, I still have my very first linocut, produced when was 17. I was lucky enough to have a teacher for a couple of terms who was a printmaker, and got to explore a whole range of techniques.

I think his excitement stayed with me and when I got to printmaking again at college I was excited to explore it. I found the spontaneity of printing really thrilling, the fact some of the results are a surprise is always good. I think it keeps things fresh, slightly out of control.

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Guitar

Are you trained at all in the arts – I know you’re an illustrator?

Doing a degree in illustration meant I tried many ways of working. I did do an awful lot of collage after college while I was a freelance illustrator but I’ve always returned to printing. I suppose I enjoy any form of art really – there are just not enough hours in the day to do all I’d like to.

You mention Edward Bawden as an influence, and I can see that in your prints, but what else influences your work?

Bawden’s work is always inspiring. If I feel a bit lost with a print, a cup of tea with a book of Bawden’s prints will always help. I’m constantly looking at other work to get inspiration. I think it’s good practice to learn and develop, the awe of seeing a beautiful print, trying to see how they made a particular tone or shape keeps me on my toes.

I recently saw the work of Pine Feroda, which blew me away with the scale and compositions. I must also mention the work of the Grosvenor School – Lill Tschudi, Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews. I still remember the first time that saw their work, it was as if someone else was working in the same way as me.

I think as an artist you’re by nature a visual person, so I take inspiration for so many things, living in Dorset I get to enjoy the spectacular landscape and all that offers, even though my work tends to be focused on crowds, and often in city locations.

the wiz

The Wiz

What first drew me to your prints was the movement in them. Do you have a lot of trial and error/sketchbook work?

Lots. The process takes me through many different stages. I’ll start with ether drawing, or a glimmer of an idea in my sketchbook. I like to get good references for the ideas and if at all possible draw from life, and then I’ll draw and redraw things.

The tension is between refining things so they work as a composition and overworking so the image becomes stale. I have a pile of ideas I work on for a while then leave for years sometimes, so I probably have 40 or 50 ideas for prints that might get realised at some point.

Although then an idea will arrive almost fully formed, such as the image for Peloton. My first drawing is almost the same as the final image. Once I decide to finish a print I then draw it to scale and decide on the colours. Again, I’ll often have a dozen or so colour variations I could use.

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Escalator Talk

Do you get those days when everything goes wrong with a print?

Totally. I have a graveyard of designs that never got much further than sketchbooks, although there is still perhaps potential. Being a printmaker is very varied, with all these new thoughts and ideas rushing round. So if I have a day like that I tend to pick up a different idea and have a play with that instead, and if all else fails, go for a walk.

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Olympic Velodrome Cycling

What sort of printing set up do you have?

I have a studio with two presses, a small nipping press and a giant nipping press. We moved house recently and these were perfect for my previous smaller room, but actually they’re very good for what I need. I’m planning to introduce a bit of photo silkscreen into my work soon so that’s an area which will emerge at some point in my set up.

skiiers II

Skiiers II

What inspires your colour choice, it’s very distinctive…

That’s an interesting question. During the planning I explore many different options, but I have to consider the overlapping and the extra colour they can produce. You might notice I love blue, so normally I start there and move away into other options. At the moment I’m exploring some interesting use of extender to create far more subtle washes of colour, so keep an eye out for this in my next few prints.

Lots of your prints are sold out – did this success rate come easy?

Success is very subjective – if I knew why one print sold well and another didn’t they would all be sold out! I exhibit in galleries across the UK and online, and take part in as many exhibitions as I can. Having a number of other uses for my work also broadens the places it turns up. I’ve done book covers, silk scarves, cards an dmore, this means that I exhibit quite widely.

bumper cars

Bumper Cars

What are you working on at the moment?

Many things! I always have about ten things on the boil at any one time. I’m exploring ways to use ink and how to add more texture to designs. I have an exciting idea with some 3D prints, work commissioned for galleries, along with my own ideas. I actually find the hardest thing in choosing which image to start next.

 

For more on Paul and to buy prints, visit his site here. He’s also on twitter of course, right here.

paul

hard at it…

Kevin Holdaway: “My work resonates beyond the barrier of the frame”

flat iron in shadow

Flat Iron in Shade

Make no mistake, Kevin Holdaway, a linocutter/printmaker who’s been senior technical instructor at DeMontfort University in Leicester since 1990, knows his way around a reduction print.

He’s also had some unusual brushes with other aspects of the print world, and the wider art world, including dalliances with the Fluxus movement and Concrete Poetry. But it’s his reduction linocuts that I adore.

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And how could you not? These almost photo-real depictions of beautiful buildings and features are the kind of prints that – after you’ve got back up off the floor from fainting over the accuracy of Kevin’s technique – make you double and treble take. How has he done that??

Some of these prints have 26 layers for goodness sake. The man is TALENT.

albert bridge

Albert Bridge

So yes, I pestered him for some responses…

 

Hi Kevin. When did you start linocutting?

I suppose the first time I thought about it was when I was a student at Leicester Polytechnic in the late 1980s. I participated on a short week-long course with an artist called Elaine Kowolski. I was late for her first lesson having been delayed in the café from an overrun art history lecture, and she lambasted me and said I’d have to catch up in my own time. Which I did, just to prove her wrong…

Did you have any formal training?

That was a Fine Art degree, and it was actually taught by two great printmakers, Roy Bizley and Mike Hale.

Who are your printing influences?

My influences are from my environment. I think Picasso’s linocuts from the 1950s are great – but the lazy git didn’t bother to reverse his dates so they’re all back to front! I always tell my students what an amateur he was. Personally though, my influences are my experiences of the world and reactions to it.

zeua

Zeus

What does your role at De Montfort entail exactly?

I’m the chief technician and traditional printmaking instructor. I cover all the aspects of traditional fine art print apart from lithography. I can do stone lithography and have taught it but the powers that be have devised a facility that tends not to lend itself to long-term techniques.

I dismantled the litho press many years ago and instead of throwing it away it sits in my studio at home, along with the 200 litho stones I saved. You don’t know anyone who might want the odd stone do you?

What kind of people do you teach – is it varied?

At work it ranges from foundation students, fine art, design crafts, graphics and illustration and all the other courses we deal with. Fashion textiles, contour, knitwear architecture and so on. Basically, any student that wants to know anything about print can arrange for it to happen.

When I teach privately around the country it can be anyone from beginners to masters. I’ve had all types of people – some want to learn from me and my work process.

How did you come to work with Alison Knowles?

We had a lecturer called Nicholas Zurbrugg who worked in humanities and he had contacts all over the world. He’d bring in artists for symposiums and brief week-long schedules, and he organised a series of works to be made with me, the master printer, over a couple of the days while they were here.

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Kevin with Alison

I met Alison and we made the October Suite in 1998 as part of her celebration of being at the university.

I also worked with concrete poet Edwin Morgan and sound artist Henri Chopin.

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Edwin Morgan poem screenprint

What’s been your experience of working to commission?

It is a challenge, to be honest, as the work I make is really my experience of the environment and I prefer to have the decision made by me as to what I print. If I get a chance I’d actually go to a place and correlate and compose photos and drawings to get my own feeling for it before I start.

How do you go about preparing for an exhibition?

My last show was the Lino King in 2015 at Stockport Art gallery. It was a retrospective journey of my work from 1987 to the present day, up to that point. You could say it took me 28 years to get that show ready.

But on a more serious note it’s important that the work deals with the space sympathetically, and you need to balance all the hanging opportunities with care or you’ll end up losing exposure to some work. The space around a piece of work is important and I know that my work resonates beyond the barrier of the frame so it needs more space.

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The process page on your site is brilliant, and so informative – why did you go to such lengths to set this up?

People look at my work – and any work to be honest – and have an idea of what they’re looking at, process wise. Often people think my work is produced either by another process or even photographically.

So I’ve spelt it out to make sure they understand the process perfectly and to educate them not to have a stereotypical view of what they look at. If I can make someone stop and relook at something and say, oh my god, I didn’t realise that you could do that, then I’ve done my job. I want people to engage with their environment and take more note of what they see and realise what the potential is.

What are you working on right now?

I’m continuing to enjoy making work based on my environment. I look back at my early work from the 90s and wonder how I’ve progressed, but at the time I thought it was brilliant. It was, I suppose, but I look forward to the next 30 years and wait with anticipation on how my work will evolve and develop further.

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Newcastle

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Enthusiasm and love for your medium is important. If you hate doing something then change it. Enthusiasm is infectious….

Kevin’s website is here, and he is on twitter here. All hail!

Matthew Carey Simos: “My work sits somewhere between the real and the fantastical…”

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Matthew Carey Simos is one of those artists driven by obsession. Or maybe that should be obsessions. He’s into a lot of stuff – from the historical to the mythical, but it was his ability with capturing individual spirits, free thinkers and even animals that caught my eye.

Oh, and he seems a master of the reductive process to boot, which always gets me going. So, as has become the norm, I approached him for an interview and voila! Here he talks about his process, his successe rate and all those interests that inform his stunning work…

 

When did you start linocutting?

I started in mid-2011 when I first moved to Edinburgh to join my partner Eleni. I was trying to be an illustrator at the time and was in the process of defining my style by experimenting with new techniques. After seeing the awesome linocuts my sister Chloe was doing, I had a go at it and became hooked.

Did you have any formal training?

Not really. My first linocut was in 2001 during a foundation course and even then I only did a second one in 2006 when I was studying illustration. Both were really bad! I really started from scratch when I got going again five years later and have taught myself through research and lots of trial and error.

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Who are your printing influences?

When I first started I was doing a lot of animals with anthropomorphic behaviours and my influences were a mix of traditional illustrators and whatever naturalistic linocutters showed up in the various Google searches.

Over the years, as my themes evolved, I’ve followed the work of H.J.JacksonColin Moore, Oscar Droege and John Platt as well as the many Japanese masters of the 19th century.

Unrelated to printmaking, my biggest influence aesthetically and thematically, is without doubt the great French comic artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius.

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Can we talk about the almost mythical, heroic figures in your works – why are they such a source of fascination?

I was reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy at the time and the idea of non-malicious giant beings who are somehow observed by explorer-humans, became a visual and thematic obsession which still persists. The figures appear to be either part of the surrounding environment or part of a historical and in some cases archaeological context, which is another fixation of mine.

On another note, getting scale and perspective right has always been a problem in my work and therefore the choice of large open environment and contrasting figures provides me with an artistic challenge.

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Your works almost have an ‘aged’ quality to them – historical almost. What lead to this?

I’m obsessed with stories of exploration whether these are real or imaginary and I think there’s a great deal of overlap between historical accounts and exaggerated tales and also a lot of room for narrative building. I believe my work sits somewhere between the real and the fantastical and I like providing some information of the underlying narrative, but at the same time leaving the viewer to piece in the rest.

Reduction printing can be very frustrating – do you have a very high success rate?

I couldn’t agree more! It can be soul crushing. When I finally sorted the various registration issues through the use of the Ternes Burton tabs, I’ve still had to deal with inconsistent ink transfer, bad planning, carelessness and just simple bad days.

My success rate has varied dramatically, but has generally stayed at above 50/50. For example my Winter print, which utilised two plates – one for the warm colours and one for the cool – had an amazing success rate (only two duds out of 25) and I was only using a simple L-shaped registration system.

On the other hand, my latest print, The Aviatrix Dreams, was going well until the last layer (No 10?) and then I must have lost something like eight prints out of an edition of 25.

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Your colours are very measured and studied – are there a lot of trials to get them just so?

Not really. I spend a huge amount of time planning my print on my computer and once I’ve achieved a satisfactory colour balance on screen I am able to then print out a colour swatch which I use to create my ink mixes. The colours of my final print will obviously not resemble those on screen, but at least I’m able to keep the balance just right.

For more information and to buy prints, head to Matthew’s site, and you can follow him on Twitter right here.

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Love that Matthew is in a dressing gown here…

Pressing Matters magazine – exclusive interview with founder John Coe

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As you might have seen, if you’re a printer of any stripe, there’s an actual physical magazine out now, all about the art form. It’s a beautiful beast indeed, with more pictures than words and a very heavyweight paper stock…

But what makes someone start a magazine in an era when sales are supposed to be on the decline? And how can you fill a magazine solely about printing? To get the answers, I spoke with founder John Coe.

(full disclosure – through this here blog I was lucky enough to be involved with the launch issue!) 

 

Are you mental? Magazines died out in like, the 1990s didn’t they?

I like to think of myself as special…. but joking aside, I do have an unhealthy addiction to magazines, primarily grown out of my interest as a graphic designer. Over the years I’ve done a great deal of editorial design work, so it made sense to try my hand at creating my own magazine.

The independent magazine scene is stronger than ever, with more and more niche subjects covered and indie mag shops popping up all the time, and gallery bookshops – and even some newsagents – getting wise to it too. It’s sort of like vinyl in a way, people still want that in an age of digital overload – something they can keep, cherish and pour over for a little longer than a swipe of a finger.

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What was your previous experience in magazines?

My first foray into printed publications was with a zine called Gunfight 29, which was set up by James Lucas (who went on to found Boneshaker Magazine with me). It was about everything – from a gallery review, to interviewing bands when they came into town and so on. Just our interests, but very cut and paste.

We did a few issues together but found that for a black and white zine, we were attracting colour artwork and it was starting to be a portfolio thing for everyone else. We knocked it on the head with the agreement that if we were both excited about something else, we’d do another printed mag project together.

In late 2009, we came up with the idea of Boneshaker – a sideways look at cycling. We were interested in the human stories that came from riding/owning/fixing a bike, the sort of universal truths that we all share, but with bikes as a common theme. I was the designer for the first 12 issues and ran the project with James and Mike, the editor in chief, however when I started my own design business, it was hard to stay as involved, so I continued to do the odd layout and be involved on the periphery. They have a great team of designers and they’re on issue 19 – can you believe it?

Is there a strong magazine printing scene in Bristol?

For sure – the current crop of mags are pretty far reaching, topic wise, from magazines about graft (Elbow Grease) to craft beer brewing (Hop&Barley). Cereal Magazine is a real success story – it’s everywhere now!

There is a loose collective of magazine people called BIP (Bristol Independent Publishers) which is mainly a badge of honour/companionship for us publishers in the area – we group together for events, discuss distribution and magazine ideas. Of course there are others outside of BIP too. 

Why did you choose printmaking as the topic for this mag?  What triggered the idea?

As a graphic designer, running my own studio, I’ve been a fan of printed work of a long time and my bookcases creek with books on the various areas of printmaking. I started a year long course last year at Spike Print Studio in Bristol which covered all of the techniques and I was bitten by the bug.

I like the hands on nature of printmaking, getting inky, etc. It’s a real change from working on a Mac most of the time, so I really cherish the time to be creative away from a screen.

I’ve just signed up to a year long screenprint course too. I decided to do a mag about printmaking as, similarly to Boneshaker, I’d come across a number of interesting people doing great things in print, mainly from my own interest and curiosity and I felt that a magazine about the people, passion and process behind the scenes was a decent enough idea to have a go at.

There’s a strong community of printmakers out there and only one or two publications, each with different approaches to Pressing Matters, so I felt there was room for something new.

How long did it take from genesis to hard copy?

Well, the seed of the idea was sewn a couple of years ago, and I did the usual thing of talking about it for a long time, then I got annoyed with myself at ‘talking, but not doing’, so about six months ago I started work in earnest in collating content, contacting artists, starting on initial layout ideas, etc.

This first issue has taken about six months to get from first work to hard copy, however part of that is working out the look of the magazine, coming up with feature ideas. Issue two should take a little less time as the foundations are there.

 

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What sort of scope does the magazine have – is it for hardcore printers or beginners?

The magazine is curated by me, an over-enthusiastic printmaking student and fan… in that sense, I’m shining a light on the medium as a whole and in doing so, I’m trying to talk to artists that are into fine art printing, as much as those whose day job it is to make prints and sell them.

I hope it can be enjoyed by anyone interested in printmaking – I’ve already had great feedback from home studio printers and students who are using print in their work at university, as well as established letterpress studios. It’s for both the curious and the creative I’d say.

It looks very much like you want it to be appreciated as a sort of standalone artwork?

I was keen from the start to afford people’s artwork the space that it would have if it was in the real world (i.e. in a frame or on a gallery wall).

With Boneshaker, we had a much smaller size and always worked to the limits of the page, so with this magazine being about art, I wanted it to feel almost gallery-like in some way. These kind of niche mags work best when you can dip into them, spend a bit of time enjoying the imagery and revisit them for inspiration over time. I also spent quite a bit of time considering paper stock (geeky, I know) as it was important for me to show people’s work (and the photography) in a true and clear way. 

Can people submit their work with a view to inclusion?

Yes they can. The magazine will continue to be curated by me and a small team of key contributors, however it’s intended to be ‘about printmaker and for printmakers’, so I’m keen to hear people’s ideas and stories.

That said, even with a page count of 92 pages, space will be tight each issue, so ideas may not appear straight away in the magazine. However in my experience, the topics and ideas are often timeless, so I’m happy to hear about projects at any time.

What can we expect in issue two?

That will be coming out around October, I’ll be publishing two issues this year and will gauge the response – going quarterly is a big jump in time committed to the project, so I think bi-annually at the moment makes sense. That said, there’s already some talk of special edition publications looking more deeply (and geekily) into specific techniques.

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Where can we snap it up?

The magazine is available from our website and it’s starting to be picked up by a few stockists. We’re offering single copies for £10 plus P&P and wholesale/bulk orders of 5, 10 and 20 copies for £7 a copy (free postage, UK only) – which we hope is ideal for print studios and retailers alike.

We’re also having a launch party for issue one, at The Forge, here in Bristol on Thursday 25th May – everyone’s welcome! (see below)

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John himself….

Mark James Murphy: “Printing helped put me back on the straight and narrow…”

 

back streets of rome

Back Streets of Rome

I’ve often said printing offers me a headspace to walk into that makes me feel at peace. After getting my arse in gear enough to bring out the tools, inks and paper, once I’m in the chair, it’s like all the annoying things in the world slip away.

Not to sound too much like a hippy, but a lot of printers and artists say the same thing. If you can gee yourself up enough to do it, you come out the other end feeling enlivened.

Mark James Murphy is a printer, across many forms, who would definitely seem to agree. Based in the North East, he fuses modern cultural references with more classical forms – whether consciously or not – in his work. I caught up with him to ask about his process, personal experiences with printing, and the perils of selling….

 

What are you earliest memories of printing? 

I’d gone off the rails in my early twenties and was drinking heavily. Then I got told about a local place in town called The Art Studio, where art was used as therapy. I’d always enjoyed painting and drawing since I could first hold a pencil, so this place seemed right up my street.

It was here I met Scottish artist-in-residence, Derek Hill, a painter and master printmaker – and he first introduced me to different intaglio printing methods. I loved the whole discipline it took to reach a good print and getting to use the nice Somerset and Fabriano papers. My newfound passion for printing helped put me back on the straight and narrow.

Are you trained, or self-taught?

I didn’t attempt lino until a few years later when I began studying for my degree in Fine Art. I was self-taught basically. One day, upon asking, I was given a small scrap piece of lino and a few tools and was left to it. I recall carving a simple image of Sunderland’s Empire Theatre. The work wasn’t fantastic from a technical point of view, but I remember this strong desire to be able to produce work like I’d seen in books and that was what drove me on.

hoo-hah

Hoo-Hah

Which other printers inspire you?

There are lots of great printmakers out there. Printers who have a great work ethic and are continuously creating inspire me. While I appreciate it, I’m not bowled over by great technique, but more the substance or insight a piece offers, I think this is what sets a true artist apart from the crowd.

What’s your printing set-up?

I produce my work from home. I’ve turned a small storage room into an inking station and use the floor of my bedroom for the printing. Here I have an old cast iron press that was gifted to me by a friend and I use this for smaller work. It’s seen better days, but still functions, just about!

For larger work I set up a large, wooden registration board with small strips of lino, stuck down with duct tape as markers. The inked linoleum lies within this and after placing paper over and a dust sheet I then use a garden roller to burnish. Finishing off areas with a rolling pin or wooden spoon. So yeah, very punk rock!

You bring quite a modern feel to linocutting which I love – things like street art, TV shows – what was the thinking behind this?

I believe linocutting is often thought of as a traditional medium and perhaps a little old-hat, nice for creating pretty little pictures and as hobbyist or crafter territory. I want to show that it can be very much used as a contemporary means of expression.

i've got no strings

I’ve Got No Strings

The North East also seems a key influence…

It’s true a lot of my work is inspired by where I’m from, especially earlier on. I did a series of works exploring cultural and social identity in my home region a few years back and I often return to the North East in my art, to simply celebrate where I’m from.

You seem to favour black and white work, why is this?

I love the graphic and bold quality of a black and white print and believe nothing beats it personally.

Your monoprints are wonderfully abstract, what inspires those?

Thank you, I made these while at university – it was an experiment with colour and that technique of printing. Having made a prolific number of oil and watercolours too, I love colour and monoprinting is so close to painting.

champagne on a saturday 1

Champagne On A Saturday 1

What’s your experience of selling work online been like?

I find it quite steady moving, but it’s something that you must keep at. It’s important to maintain an online presence, through social media, and though it’s not always regular, it can pay off.

What advice would you give anyone just starting out in printing?

I’d say if it’s something you find you truly love then stick at it and while the art world is a tough nut to crack, don’t be discouraged. Find your own vision and produce work out of the passion that carries it, not because you want to sell lots and be rich and famous! Of course, that would be nice…

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To purchase any of Mark’s work visit his store here (there’s a 20% off sale on selected prints and paintings from 7th May, lasting throughout the month). There’s also a short film about Mark’s work on youtube here.

And he’s on twitter of course, as @mark_mjm.

Edward Bawden. The absolute man.

Time and time again when I interview printers about their influences, they tell me Edward Bawden (1903-89) is a key name.

I’ve been busy putting a printing magazine together lately, so sorry for the absence of Q&As, but let’s just stop and marvel at some of his linocuts for a bit eh? Take a moment. Here’s one of some lovely magpies and a peacock…

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Wow right? And here’s one of Brighton pier…

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And bloomin’ Smithfield Market…

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Gotta love those meathooks.

He’s an absolute master of the linocut art, with a unique cut-out form to many of his colours, a smashing washed out look, and a geometric mastery. Of course, he also excelled at numerous other mediums.

He looked pretty badass too…

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and he even has a mosaic type thing at Victoria Tube station (among others)…

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You can read more about him at the Tate’s page here. Frankly, I’m not surprised so many artists cite him as an influence.

Now, back to magazine stuff. Toodle pip.